INFORMATION SECURITY: Agencies Need to Improve Cyber Incident Response Practices – GAO

From the highlights of a newly released GAO report:

Twenty-four major federal agencies did not consistently demonstrate that they are effectively responding to cyber incidents (a security breach of a computerized system and information). Based on a statistical sample of cyber incidents reported in fiscal year 2012, GAO projects that these agencies did not completely document actions taken in response to detected incidents in about 65 percent of cases (with 95 percent confidence that the estimate falls between 58 and 72 percent). For example, agencies identified the scope of an incident in the majority of cases, but frequently did not demonstrate that they had determined the impact of an incident. In addition, agencies did not consistently demonstrate how they had handled other key activities, such as whether preventive actions to prevent the reoccurrence of an incident were taken. Although all 6 selected agencies that GAO reviewed in depth had developed parts of policies, plans, and procedures to guide their incident response activities, their efforts were not comprehensive or fully consistent with federal requirements. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conduct CyberStat reviews, which are intended to help federal agencies improve their information security posture, but the reviews have not addressed agencies’ cyber incident response practices. Without complete policies, plans, and procedures, along with appropriate oversight of response activities, agencies face reduced assurance that they can effectively respond to cyber incidents.

DHS and a component, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), offer services that assist agencies in preparing to handle cyber incidents, maintain awareness of the current threat environment, and deal with ongoing incidents. Officials from the 24 agencies GAO surveyed said that they were generally satisfied with the assistance provided, and made suggestions to make the services more useful, such as improving reporting requirements. Although US-CERT receives feedback from agencies to improve its services, it has not yet developed performance measures for evaluating the effectiveness of the assistance it provides to agencies. Without results-oriented performance measures, US-CERT will face challenges in ensuring it is effectively assisting federal agencies with preparing for and responding to cyber incidents.

INFORMATION SECURITY: Agencies Need to Improve Cyber Incident Response Practices
GAO-14-354: Published: Apr 30, 2014. Publicly Released: May 30, 2014. (pdf, 55 pp.)

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