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Trump Administration Faces Herculean Cyber-Security Task

Federal government agencies have the lowest security score among 17 different industry groups followed by ratings firm SecurityScorecard.

Trump Cyber Policy 2

As Donald President Trump takes office, his administration will have to take on the complex task of securing the U.S. government’s information technology and networks, currently rated last among 17 different industry groups, according to ratings firm SecurityScorecard.

In updated ratings released on Jan. 15, the company found that more than 70 percent of U.S. government agencies were slow to patch both medium- and high-severity software vulnerabilities. Furthermore the majority of agencies had exposed network ports.

So it no wonder that more than 80 percent of the federal organizations had an instance of malware communicating outside of the network in the last year, Alex Yampolskiy, CEO and Founder of SecurityScorecard, told eWEEK.

“If there is malware inside the organization, they are not doing a great job isolating malicious code or catching the infection, so we can assume maybe that more is going on,” he said.

The evaluation confirms what other security experts have pointed out for many years—defense is difficult, and the government continues to struggle with defending its networks and data. In the past two years, the U.S. government has suffered significant breaches of both the Internal Revenue Service and the Office of Personnel Management, leading to leaks of sensitive data on taxpayers and on background checks into current and prospective federal employees, respectively.

The problems pre-date the Obama administration’s tenure, however. In 2008, for example, the Pentagon suffered a major attack when malware was introduced into its network through an infected USB drive and spread throughout the network, requiring months to clean up. Following that incident, the military banned USB drives.

The size of U.S. agencies and their associated infrastructure makes them difficult to maintain and secure, Yampolskiy said.

“Government organizations take a very long time to patch, even high-severity vulnerabilities—in many situations it takes months and months and months,” he said. “They have a very big attack surface. They do not do a good job patching the holes in exposed software.”

Federal agencies need to focus on triaging and managing vulnerabilities, blocking attacks and unifying the oversight of each organization’s information security teams, Yampolskiy said. SecurityScorecard’s monitoring discovered that more than half, 51 percent, of U.S government organizations used out-of-date browsers—a practice which makes them more vulnerable to attacks using older, well-known vulnerabilities.

Over the past year, there have been some small improvements, but it is hard to know whether the agencies have established metrics to measure the improvement, Yampolskiy said.

“Establishing a clear set of metrics is very important in order to drive improvements in security,” he said.

A little more than a third of federal agencies had signs of a malware infection in the past month, while 11 percent had suffered a leak of their passwords, the company found.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...