Cybersecurity, Critical Infrastructure Organizations, and the U.S. Government

    To address these issues, President Obama and various senators and congressman have proposed several cybersecurity programs such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and an increase in threat intelligence sharing between critical infrastructure organizations and federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Of course, federal cybersecurity discussions are nothing new. Recognizing a national security vulnerability, President Clinton first addressed critical infrastructure protection (CIP) with Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD-63) in 1998. Soon thereafter, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre cautioned the U.S. Congress about CIP by warning of a potential “cyber Pearl Harbor.” Hamre stated that a devastating cyber-attack, “… is not going to be against Navy ships sitting in a Navy shipyard. It is going to be against commercial infrastructure.”

    Security professionals working at critical infrastructure industries have been directly or indirectly engaged with U.S. Federal Government cybersecurity programs and initiatives through several presidential administrations. Given this lengthy timeframe, ESG wondered whether these security professionals truly understood the U.S. government’s cybersecurity strategy.

    According to Figure 4, the results are mixed at best. One could easily conclude that the data resembles a normal curve in which the majority of respondents believe that the U.S. government’s cybersecurity strategy is somewhat clear while the rest of the survey population is distributed between those that believe that the U.S. government’s cybersecurity strategy is very clear and those that say it is unclear. ESG views the results somewhat differently, however. In spite of over 20 years of U.S. Federal cybersecurity discussions, many security professionals remain uncertain about what the government plans to do in this space. Clearly, the U.S. Federal Government needs to clarify its mission, its objectives, and its timeline with cybersecurity professionals to gain their trust and enlist their support for public/private programs.

    Figure 4. Opinion about U.S. Federal Government’s Cybersecurity Strategy

    While critical infrastructure security professionals may be tentative about the Federal Government’s strategy, they would also like to see Washington become more engaged. Nearly half (45%) of critical infrastructure organizations believe that the U.S. Federal Government should be significantly more active with cybersecurity strategies and defenses while 38% believe that the U.S. Federal Government should be somewhat more active with cybersecurity strategies and defenses (see Figure 5).

    Figure 5. Critical Infrastructure Organizations Want More Cybersecurity Involvement from the U.S. Federal Government

    Finally, ESG asked the entire survey population of security professionals what types of cybersecurity actions the U.S. government should take. Nearly half (47%) believe that Washington should create better ways to share security information with the private sector. This aligns well with President Obama’s executive order urging companies to share cybersecurity threat information with the Federal Government and one another. Cybersecurity professionals have numerous other suggestions as well. Some of these could be considered government cybersecurity enticements. For example, 37% suggest more funding for cybersecurity education programs while 36% would like more incentives like tax breaks or matching funds for organizations that invest in cybersecurity. Alternatively, many cybersecurity professionals recommend more punitive or legislative measures—44% believe that the Federal Government should create a “black list” of vendors with poor product security (i.e.,  the cybersecurity equivalent of a scarlet letter), 40% say that the Federal Government should limit its IT purchasing to vendors that display a superior level of security, and 40% endorse more stringent regulations like PCI DSS or the institution of laws with higher fines for data breaches (see Figure 6).

    Figure 6. Critical Infrastructure Organizations Suggestions for U.S. Government Cybersecurity Actions