Feds Making Plans for Security Clearinghouse

The federal government is developing plans for a secure network operations center for all security information flowing to and from the government.

The federal government is developing plans for a secure network operations center for all security information flowing to and from the government.

The security operations center would be separate from other such facilities at federal agencies and would not necessarily be concerned with monitoring the operations of production government networks. Instead, the SOC would be a clearinghouse that gathers and analyzes data from the private sector, mainly the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers in several major vertical industries.

The new facility will likely be located in northern Virginia, according to sources familiar with the plans. The plans are part of the Department of Homeland Securitys efforts to engage the private sector more fully in the process of defending the nations critical infrastructure. This is a key concern for the department because the lions share of the infrastructure is owned privately; the government must rely on ISPs, carriers and large enterprises for help in securing it.

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The SOC would be run jointly by personnel from the DHS and a civilian contractor that would help build the facility. The physical location of the SOC will probably be in a government-owned building, said sources close to the plan. DHS officials said that even though there are less formal information-sharing efforts between government and private industry, there still is a need for a more structured program.

"Were trying to operationalize the public/private partnership. Its been largely intangible up till now," said Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at DHS, in an interview here last week. "We want the rules of the road to be clear on this stuff. The private sector genuinely wants to make progress on this. I think, as we get more considerate of the private sector in terms of the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] exemption, things will come along."

One of the carrots the government has used to entice enterprises into sharing more data on attacks, vulnerabilities and other security concerns is an exemption to the FOIA for information pertaining to critical infrastructure protection. This exemption guarantees that data the companies turn over wont be subject to FOIA requests by news organizations.

The FOIA exemption for security information is a key part of the governments plans going forward. In the past, most enterprises and other organizations have been reluctant to hand over information about security breaches, virus attacks or other incidents theyve been involved with for fear that word might leak to the press and erode customer confidence in their business. Yoran and other government officials said they hope that the FOIA protection will allay these fears and produce more valuable data.

Details of the new SOC

  • Aggregates information from ISACs

  • Serves as clearinghouse for information sharing with private sector

  • Jointly staffed by DHS and contractors

  • Due to be up and running by late this year

Still, skepticism remains over the governments efforts in general and the plans for the SOC specifically. Relations between some of the ISACs and the DHS, based in Washington, and other agencies have been strained at times, and some security experts involved with the ISACs said theres not much reason to think the establishment of the SOC will affect any of that.

"The information flows one way right now: from us to them. I dont see how this is going to change that," said one member of the Financial Services ISAC who requested anonymity. "You want to replace one thing that doesnt really work with another one? Whatever. I cant think of a single time that theyve known about something before we did. The only real value is for them."

The ISACs, which were first built in 2000, are designed to allow organizations in industries such as health care, financial services and IT to exchange information about ongoing security issues. Most are run independently, although some, including the FS-ISAC, are run by contractors.

Officials said they hope to have plans for the SOC finalized soon and intend to fund the initiative out of the current fiscal years budget, which runs out Sept. 30.

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