White House Executive Order – Removing Barriers to Sharing Threat Information

Tips & Advice

The latest guidance in the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity (EO), Section 2, discusses removing the barriers to sharing threat information. It describes how security partners and service providers are often hesitant or contractually unable to share information about a compromise. The EO helps ensure that security partners and service providers can share intelligence with the government and requires them to share certain breach data with executive level departments and agencies responsible for investigating and remediating incidents, namely CISA, the FBI, and the IC.  This approach will enable better comprehensive threat visibility across the Executive Branch departments and agencies to promote early detection and coordinated response actions. Indeed, the threat information sharing section will help enhance the public-private sector partnership that McAfee, and our colleagues in the cyber security industry are committed to supporting.  To achieve this goal the EO requires:

  • Elimination of contractual barriers that limit sharing across agencies through FAR modifications
  • The expansion of log retention
  • Mandatory reporting requirements for government technology and service partners
  • Standards-based incident sharing
  • Collaboration with investigative agencies on potential or actual incidents.

The EO is a positive first step towards improving incident awareness at a macro level, though the EO would be even more impactful if it pushed government agencies to share more threat information with the private sector. The U.S. government represents an incredibly large attack surface and being able to identify threats early in one agency or department may very well serve to protect other agencies by enabling stronger predictive and more proactive defenses.  While a government-built threat intelligence data lake is a critical first step, I think a logical next step should be opening the focus of threat intelligence sharing to be both real-time and bi-directional.

The EO focuses on the need for the private sector to improve its information sharing and collaboration with the government. However, the guidance is focused more on “post-breach” and unidirectional threat sharing.  Real-time, not just “post-breach,” threat sharing improves the speed and effectiveness of countermeasures and early detection.  Bi-directional data sharing opens possibilities for things like cross-sector environmental context, timely and prescriptive defensive actions, and enhanced remediation and automation capabilities.  Harnessing real-time sector-based threat intelligence is not a unique concept; companies like McAfee have started to deliver on the promise of predictive security using historical threat intelligence to guide proactive security policy decision making.

Real-time threat sharing will make one of the EO’s additional goals, Zero Trust, ultimately more achievable.  Zero Trust requires a dynamic analysis layer that will continuously evaluate user and device trust. As environmental variables change, so should the trust and ultimately access and authorization given. If the intent of threat intelligence sharing is to identify potentially compromised or risky assets specific to emerging campaigns, then it stands to reason that the faster that data is shared, the faster trust can be assessed and modified to protect high-value assets.

McAfee has identified the same benefits and challenges as the government for targeted threat intelligence and has developed a useful platform to enable robust threat sharing. We understand the value of sector specific data acting as an early indicator for organizations to ensure protection.  Focusing on our own threat intelligence data lakes, we deliver on the promise of sector-specific intelligence by identifying targeted campaigns and threats and then correlating those campaigns to protective measures.  As a result, government agencies now have the advantage of predicting, prioritizing, and prescribing appropriate defense changes to stay ahead of industry-focused emerging campaigns. We call that capability MVISION Insights.

This approach serves to drive home the need for collaborative shared threat intelligence. McAfee’s broad set of customers across every major business sector, combined with our threat research organization and ability to identify sector-specific targeted campaigns as they’re emerging, allows customers to benefit from threat intelligence collected from others in their same line of business. The federal government has a wide range of private sector business partners across healthcare, finance, critical infrastructure, and agriculture, to name a few. Each of these partners extends the government attack surface beyond the government-controlled boundary, and each represents an opportunity for compromise.

Imagine a scenario where an HHS healthcare partner is alerted, in real-time across a public/private sector threat intelligence sharing grid, to a threat affecting either the federal government directly or a healthcare partner for a different government agency. This approach allows them to assess their own environment for attack indicators, make quick informed decisions about defensive changes, and limit access where necessary.  This type of real-time alerting not only allows the HHS partner to better prepare for a threat, but ultimately serves to reduce the attack surface of the federal government.

Allowing industry partners to develop and participate in building out cyber threat telemetry enables:

  • Automation of the process for predicting and alerting
  • Proactively identifying emerging threats inside and across industries
  • Sharing detailed information about threats and actors (campaigns and IOCs)
  • Real-time insight and forensic investigation capabilities

The U.S. government can begin to effectively shift focus from a reactive culture to one that is more proactive, enabling faster action against threats (or something like this). In the next EO, the Administration should bulk up its commitment to sharing cyber threat information with the private sector. The capability to exchange cyber threat intelligence data across the industry in standards-based formats in near real time exists today.  The collective “we” just needs to make it a priority.

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