National Cyber Director Chris Inglis said his office is reviewing legislation that would begin the process of requiring vendors of critical information and communications technology to make certain security features standard in their offerings.
“When you buy a car today, you don’t have to independently negotiate to get an air bag or a seat belt or anti-lock brakes because it comes built in,” Inglis said. “We’re going to do the same thing, I’m sure, in business infrastructure that has critical, life-critical, safety-critical responsibility.”
Inglis was speaking Monday at an event hosted by the Information Technology Industry Council, or ITI, as part of its effort to engage the private sector in a collaborative approach to cybersecurity.
As demonstrated through the establishment and resourcing of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the government has relied heavily on the idea that organizations would voluntarily take steps to improve the cybersecurity of their businesses. But the interdependence of various critical infrastructure sectors, and the potential for cascading effects when targeting critical information and communications technology within the ecosystem, have pushed some agencies and members of Congress to consider asserting their regulatory authority.
In the UK, the dynamic has led financial sector regulators take a more active role in supervising cloud service providers.
“We’ve determined that those things that provide critical services to the public, at some point, benefit not just from the enlightened self-interest of companies that want to offer a safe product,” Inglis said. “At some point in each of those [critical industries like automobile manufacturing] we have specified the remaining features that are not discretionary. Safety air bags and seat belts are in cars largely because they are specified as mandatory components of those cars.”
Inglis acknowledged that it would be much more difficult to determine how such mandates should apply to commercial information and communications technology, given the breadth of its use in the industry. But, he said, his office is advising on proposals that are beginning to do just that.
“We’re working our way through that right now. You can see that in the form of the various legislative and policy recommendations that come to us,” he said, noting that most policy action is in the form of proposed rules seeking advice on what counts as “truly critical.”
“I think we will find that there are some non-discretionary components that, at the end of the day, we will do as we have done in other major industries, and specify in the minimalist way that is required, those things that need to be done,” he said.
Reacting to Inglis’ comments, ITI president and CEO Jason Oxman said “it makes sense.” But the representative of a high-profile ITI member company disagreed.
“Can I just say that I really hate analogies?” Helen Patton, Cisco’s chief information security advisor, told an industry panel following Inglis’s conversation with Oxman.
The automobile analogy that refers to simple but effective measures like seat belts has long been used by proponents of regulations to improve cybersecurity, not just from the business level, such as federal agencies and other infrastructure customers. critical, but from the design phases that occur earlier in the supply. string. But Patton argued against his suitability for a cybersecurity approach that insists on facilitating subjective assessment and acceptance of risk.
“I think the problem with every analogy like that is that each individual makes a choice, whether they’re going to read a food label, wear a seat belt, use the brakes, or whatever the analogy is,” Patton said. “The reality is that when you’re trying to run a security program within an organization, you have to take into account that organization’s risk tolerance. So it’s good to give people information, but it’s really up to them whether they decide to act on it or not… not every security recommendation from a federal agency or best practice will be adopted by an organization. because they have better things to do with their time and resources.”
Inglis underscored his point by highlighting the plight of ransomware victims across the country, many of whom have been caught up in supply chain attacks, such as an incident last summer involving Kesaya, which provides ransomware management software. IT for companies.
“We need to make sure that we assign responsibility to all of them, instead of leaving it to that poor soul at the end of the whip chain who, because no one else has reduced the risk, is at that point. facing a ransomware threat that they never thought they would have to prepare for, that they have no basis to respond to because the infrastructure they are using is not inherently resilient and robust,” he said. “We need to do what we’ve done in other domains of interest, which is figure out what we owe each other.”