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Spam, phishing, spyware pose threats to government cybersecurity

By Jim Kouri
web posted April 30, 2007

Federal agencies are facing emerging cybersecurity threats that are the result of increasingly sophisticated methods of attack and the blending of once distinct types of attack into more complex and damaging forms.

Examples of these threats include spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail), phishing (fraudulent messages to obtain personal or sensitive data), and spyware (software that monitors user activity without user knowledge or consent).

To address these issues, security experts were asked to determine (1) the potential risks to federal systems from these emerging cybersecurity threats, (2) the federal agencies' perceptions of risk and their actions to mitigate them, (3) federal and private-sector actions to address the threats on a national level, and (4) government-wide challenges to protecting federal systems from these threats.

Spam, phishing, and spyware pose security risks to federal information systems. Spam consumes significant resources and is used as a delivery mechanism for other types of cyberattacks; phishing can lead to identity theft, loss of sensitive information, and reduced trust and use of electronic government services; and spyware can capture and release sensitive data, make unauthorized changes, and decrease system performance.

The blending of these threats creates additional risks that cannot be easily mitigated with currently available tools. Agencies' perceptions of the risks of spam, phishing, and spyware vary.

In addition, most agencies were not applying the information security program requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) to these emerging threats, including performing risk assessments, implementing effective mitigating controls, providing security awareness training, and ensuring that their incident-response plans and procedures addressed these threats.

Several entities within the federal government and the private sector have begun initiatives to address these emerging threats. These efforts range from educating consumers to targeting cybercrime. Similar efforts are not, however, being made to assist and educate federal agencies. Although federal agencies are required to report incidents to a central federal entity, they are not consistently reporting incidents of emerging cybersecurity threats.

The Office Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) share responsibility for the federal government's capability to detect, analyze, and respond to cybersecurity incidents. However, governmentwide guidance has not been issued to clarify to agencies which incidents they should be reporting, as well as how and to whom they should report.

Without effective coordination, the federal government is limited in its ability to identify and respond to emerging cybersecurity threats, including sophisticated and coordinated attacks that target multiple federal entities.

The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2005, approved unanimously by the Committee on Homeland Security and passed 424-4 by the House of Representatives, creates an Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity with the necessary powers and duties to effectively carry out the cybersecurity missions of the Department. The newly created position will allow for higher level input into national policy decisions and provide a single visible point of contact within the federal government to improve interactions with the private sector-directly.

Sources: Department of Homeland Security, Government Accountability Office, Office of Budget and Management, National Security Institute, Computer Crime Research Center, National Association of Chiefs of Police ESR

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a staff writer for the New Media Alliance. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com and PHXnews.com. He's also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he's syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri's own website is located at http://jimkouri.us.


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