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Chuck Brooks

The Importance of Velocity in Cybersecurity

The Importance of Velocity in Cybersecurity

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Part 4 of 4 in a Blog Series on 3 Key Elements of a Cyber Resiliency Framework: (1) Verification, (2) Visibility, and (3) Velocity

In the first three parts of this blog series on cybersecurity for OT critical infrastructure infrastructures, we discussed the elements and specific roles of verification and visibility for an effective cyber-resiliency framework. However, it is also important to note the requirement of velocity in the resilience equation. You need to achieve verification and velocity at speed to be protected, monitor, and to respond to an incident.

Cybersecurity frameworks and strategies all recognize the need for speed. In the NIST Framework, rapid response and mitigation are prioritized, “Response processes and procedures are executed and maintained, to ensure timely response to detected cybersecurity incidents. Also, activities are performed to prevent expansion of an event, mitigate its effects, and resolve the incident.” Respond | NIST In NERC’s framework CIP-008-5 it mandates that “security incidents related to any critical cyber assets must be identified, classified, responded to and reported in a manner deemed appropriate by NERC.”

VELOCITY – Verification and Visibility at Speed in Protecting Digital and Physical Assets in Critical Infrastructure

The current critical infrastructure threat landscape includes sophisticated and capable hackers from state actors and organized criminal gangs. They often share the latest and most effective hacking tools and tactics among each other. A breach can have catastrophic consequences for OT industrial systems and is essential that security measures require speed to mitigate threats. This operational velocity is required for monitoring ports and services, security patch management, malicious software identification, and especially rapid incident response.

A quote from Gene Yoo at the Forbes technology Council succinctly present the stakes for both IT and OT operations: “In cybersecurity, speed defines the success of both the defender and the attacker. It takes an independent cybercriminal around 9.5 hours to obtain illicit access to a target’s network. Every minute a company does not use to its advantage gives hackers a chance to cause greater damage.” The Importance Of Time And Speed In Cybersecurity (forbes.com)

What is necessary to ensure in achieving verification and visibility at speed in cybersecurity to help reduce the threat of attackers? George Platsis, Senior Lead Technologist, Proactive Incident Response & Crisis Management at Booz Allen Hamilton, sees the need of a combination of three factors: resources, organizational structure, and environment understanding. He notes that “you can have all the resources in the world, but if your organization is not structured to execute, you will have blind spots. Proper resources give you capability. Sound organizational structures give you ability. Strong environmental understanding gives you knowledge. There is your trifecta.” He sees technology as an enabler for bolstering those three factors with velocity: “well configured automation increases your resource capabilities and possible your environmental understanding.”

Automation is also a theme articulated by Patrick C. Miller, CEO at Ampere Industrial Security and Founder and President Emeritus of the Energy Sector Consortium for velocity. He believes that getting operational/security telemetry from systems/networks, then analysis through tools and human review requires a significant amount of integration. He says that making the data useful and removing unnecessary alerts or false positives to chase down is essential for response and that it can probably cover as much as 70%-80% of the work. That automation significantly allows for greater speed. Patrick says that “the challenge is to automate where it makes sense, and with tested/proven process. All automated processes require independent monitoring, as well. Checks and/or tests to ensure the process is still functioning as expected (all controls intact and working) is crucial. This applies to the areas of 1) asset inventory; 2) phase out of fragile systems; 3) architecting networks and systems for defense; 4) change control and configuration management; 5) logging and monitoring; 6) reduction of complexity; 7) well-rehearsed incident response and recovery.”

According to Marcus Sachs, Research Director for Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, and former Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, we are making headway on verification, visibility, and velocity. If the computer knows what’s going on the machine knows it. It’s logging it. He says that “if you’re a looking at your logs, and doing log reviews, and even having a machine review your logs for you, you’re going to see things very quickly. But if you wait for the phone call, or you wait for the website that goes down to be your first indication there’s a problem and you are way behind the curve.”

Emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence are changing the game in terms of doing things faster and having the ability to monitor equipment, threats, automate incident response. The new capabilities for automation and reaction a speed is highlighted in a new Congressional Research Report on “Evolving Electric Power Systems and Cybersecurity” November 4, 2021.

The report states that “while these new components may add to the ability to control power flows and enhance the efficiency of grid operations, they also potentially increase the susceptibility of the grid to cyberattack. The potential for a major disruption or widespread damage to the nation’s power system from a large-scale cyberattack has increased focus on the cybersecurity of the Smart Grid.

The speed inherent in the Smart Grid’s enabling digital technologies may also increase the chances of a successful cyberattack, potentially exceeding the ability of the defensive system and defenders to comprehend the threat and respond appropriately. Such scenarios may become more common as machine-to-machine interfaces enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) are being integrated into cyber defenses.” R46959 (congress.gov)

In this blog series we discussed the elements of (1 Verification), (2) Visibility, and (3) Velocity for cybersecurity resilience in cybersecurity, particularly OT critical infrastructure systems. Those three elements do not stand alone as pillars and are part of a unified cybersecurity triad. It is this triad of velocity, visibility, and verification that will help critical infrastructure operators assess situational awareness, adhere to compliance mandates, align policies & training, optimize technology integration, promote information sharing, establish mitigation capabilities, maintain cyber resilience, and ultimately be more cyber secure.

The Importance of Visibility in Cybersecurity

The Importance of Visibility in Cybersecurity

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Part 3 in a Blog Series on 3 Key Elements of a Cyber Resiliency Framework: (1) Verification, (2) Visibility, and (3) Velocity

 

In its July 2021 Memo, the White House created a voluntary industrial control systems (ICS) initiative to encourage collaboration between the federal government and the critical infrastructure community. The key purpose of the initiative is “to defend the nation’s critical infrastructure community by encouraging and facilitating the deployment of technologies and systems that provide threat visibility, indications, detection, and warnings, and enabling response capabilities for cybersecurity in essential control systems and operational technology (OT) networks.” The memo further elaborated that “we cannot address threats we cannot see; therefore, deploying systems and technologies that can monitor control systems to detect malicious activity and facilitate response actions to cyber threats is central to ensuring the safe operations of these critical systems.” New cybersecurity initiative by Homeland Security, NIST to protect critical infrastructure community – Industrial Cyber

The concept of visibility, knowing what assets you must manage and protect, described by the memo is a fundamental aspect of any cybersecurity strategy, especially in regard to critical infrastructure where the costs of a breach may have devastating implications. For this reason, identifying what digital and physical assets in your network is the first basic tenet of The NIST Framework that integrates industry standards to mitigate cybersecurity risks.

NERC has also recognized the importance of visibility for compliance. Visibility of industrial cyber assets include Electronic Access Control or Monitoring Systems – intrusion detection systems, electronic access points, and authentication servers, Physical Access Control Systems – card access systems and authentication servers and Protected Cyber Assets – networked printers, file servers and LAN switches are defined by NERC CIP-002-5.1a: Bulk Electric System (BES) Cyber System Categorization under BERC Identification and Categorization. What are the 10 Fundamentals of NERC CIP Compliance? | RSI Security

VISIBILTY: The Importance of Visibility in Protecting Digital and Physical Assets in Critical Infrastructure

How do we define visibility in cybersecurity? According to Marcus Sachs, Research Director for Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, and former Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, visibility means knowledge of where you are, or what’s going on. And if you’re a believer in the NIST framework, the first step is identification of your assets. And so, if you don’t know what you own, you can’t protect what you don’t know you have. Visibility of assets, and that includes people. They’re not just wires and blinky light things, but even who has access to what, visibility of files and resources. So, visibility truly starts with knowing what you have.  Also, oftentimes it’s a user who detects something that’s not normal, and calls the help desk, and says, “hey, I see something wrong here.” And then alert help desk to say, “okay, could this be a security incident? Or is it just a user problem, or some malfunctioning software?”

Visibility can also be viewed as the fuel for managing, protecting, and analyzing operations & assets.

Patrick C. Miller, CEO at Ampere Industrial Security and Founder and President Emeritus of the Energy Sector Consortium sees visibility as getting sufficient data from target networks and systems into the analysis engine and then managing that data in such a way as to make it useful and not just “noise.” He notes that visibility is highly dependent on the organization. He believes that visibility starts with a sufficient asset inventory and that without that, the value and effectiveness of visibility goes down. He notes that tailored visibility and a solid asset inventory can be effective and enable IR teams to see what is happening to which systems.

Visibility also requires knowledge of the inventory of what may lurk in software.

Tom Alrich is Co-leader, Energy Sector SBOM Proof of Concept at National Technology & Information Administration US Department of Commerce has worked in the era of NERC CIP issues since 2008. He is focused on the software aspects of visibility. He notes that the average software product has 135 components in it and that 90% of them are open source. Tom states that lots of products have thousands of components and that each component can develop vulnerabilities. He says that “the end user has no way of tracking those without a software bill of materials (SBOM) that provides visibility into component risks.”

Visibility is a management and board issue.

Mary-Ellen Seale, The National Cybersecurity Society, and former Deputy Director of the National Cybersecurity Center at DHS says that one of the things is having visibility of the risk associated with a company or organization at the board level. So, it’s not just an IT guy or an IT team that has visibility or a company, a third party, that’s providing information to that baseline. Visibility requires actually “figuring out what are the critical activities that need to occur? What are the costs associated with that, and how do I present them to leadership to have them correct it?”

Visibility is about awareness.

Paul Ferrillo, Privacy and Cybersecurity Partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, brings a legal perspective with questions that pertain to operational visibility. “Do you know who is using your system? Is it just directors, officers, and employees? Is it vendors? Who’s accessing your system? How are they accessing your system? Is it through mainframe computer? Is it through a laptop? Is it from a BYOB device? Are they who they say they are when they’re accessing the network?

I agree with our expert commentators and with the insights provided in the White House memo, and by NIST and NERC on the topic of visibility. It is a must first step for cybersecurity in any vertical or industry. It is important for both operational teams and incident response teams to have transparent inventories of digital and physical assets to assess any vulnerabilities to threats. Mapping interactions between networks, devices, applications, and cyber-resilience roles of management should be part of any risk management strategy protecting critical infrastructure.

Next blog: Part 4: The Importance of Velocity in Cybersecurity

 

The Importance of Verification in Cybersecurity

The Importance of Verification in Cybersecurity

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Part 2 in a Blog Series on 3 Key Elements of a Cyber Resiliency Framework: (1) Verification, (2) Visibility, and (3) Velocity

The concept of verification is the process of checking and attaining information about the ability of an individual, a company, or an organization to comply with the standards. In the case of cybersecurity, verification is intertwined with compliance of regulatory standards based on industry best practices. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a good example of the linkage of verification and compliance, as are other regulatory initiatives in government such as CMMC and HIPAA.

The energy and utilities industry requires a strong adherence to verification and compliance in its security posture. Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its recommendations to help users, owners, and operators of the bulk-power system (BPS) improve their compliance with the mandatory CIP reliability standards and their overall cybersecurity posture. Staff from FERC’s Office of Electric Reliability and Office of Enforcement conducted the audits in collaboration with staff from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and its regional entities.

In its 2021 Staff Report ‘Lessons Learned from Commission-Led CIP Reliability Audits,’ the agency advised “enhancing policies and procedures to include evaluation of cyber asset misuse and degradation during asset categorization, properly document and implement policies, procedures and controls for low-impact transient cyber assets, and enhance recovery and testing plans to include a sample of any offsite backup images in the representative sample of data used to test the restoration of bulk-electric system cyber systems.”

The report also proposed improving vulnerability assessments to include credential-based scans of cyber assets and boosting internal compliance and controls programs to include control documentation processes and associated procedures pertaining to compliance with the CIP reliability standards. FERC report recommends compliance with CIP reliability standards – Industrial Cyber

Utility security can be viewed as the integration of national security into the power and electricity sectors, especially to protect the power grid. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is the regulatory authority with responsibility for the reliability of service to more than 334 million people. NERC’s standards are directly aimed at encouraging or mandating steps for utilities in protecting their operation.

NERC’s authority has led to critical infrastructure protection (CIP) standards that guide utilities’ planning and activities to eliminate or mitigate the many internal and external threat profiles. The CIP standards have evolved over time both in the scope of their focus and in the level of their authority. Utility Security: Understanding NERC CIP 014 Requirements and Their Impact (electricenergyonline.com)

VERIFICATION: Establishing a Baseline and Validating Risk Assessment Frameworks

Building effective verification begins by defining the scope of the verification process. You start by selecting those mission-critical assets — determine where they are, how critical they are to daily operations and who or what has access to them. To help initiate a strategy for verification within a physical and cyber resiliency framework for mission-essential systems such as utilities, it is helpful to understand the role of verification and compliance.

According to Marcus Sachs, Research Director for Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, and former Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, “compliance is, as everybody understands, the initial baseline. You’re required by law to be compliant with some framework. And NERC CIP is what we use for the bulk power system. I think most qualified engineers, and security professionals, know that is the baseline, the minimum that you meet.”

“NERC CIP is essentially the minimum security required as a Registered Entity under NERC,” agrees Patrick C. Miller, CEO at Ampere Industrial Security and Founder and President Emeritus of the Energy Sector Consortium. Like many cybersecurity experts, he believes that verification should be possible by any qualified party. Most organizations have SMEs within each business unit who handle the day-to-day operational aspect of compliance, but when it comes to guiding and validating evidence, that is usually performed by a central and authoritative compliance function.

According to Tom Alrich, Co-leader, Energy Sector SBOM Proof of Concept at National Technology & Information Administration US Department of Commerce, the biggest threats in the world are supply chain related, and SolarWinds and Kaseya demonstrated that not enough attention has been paid to those risks.

George Platsis, Senior Lead Technologist, Proactive Incident Response & Crisis Management at Booz Allen Hamilton states that “independent verification is your reality check. Even the best professional athletes have coaches. As good as you can be, you may have a blind spot, or something needs tweaking.”

Clearly, with the newly released FERC/NERC Staff Report on compliance and CIP reliability standards, it signals that verification will remain a key element of future policy. As our SMEs have noted in our discussion, the vulnerabilities and sophistication of potential security threats continue against CIP continue to expand. Therefore, it is important to incorporate a strategy that not only complies with best practices and standards, but also anticipates mitigating new risks. In our next blog we will discuss how visibility is essential to the risk matrix.

Next blog: Part 2: Operational Visibility to Achieve Greater Cyber Resiliency

How to Achieve Cyber Resilience

How to Achieve Cyber Resilience

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Part 1 in a Blog Series on 3 Key Elements of a Cyber Resiliency Framework: (1) Verification, (2) Visibility, and (3) Velocity

In industry and in government it is not a question of if you will be cyber-attacked and potentially breached, but when. The cyber-attack surface has grown exponentially larger in recent years with the meshing of OT and IT systems, and the greater connectivity brought by the Internet of Things. Also, the threat actors themselves, that include nation states, criminal enterprises, insider threats, and hacktivists, have become more sophisticated and capable. Their activities are increasingly being focused on critical infrastructure, including the energy and utilities industry.

The energy ecosystem includes power plants, utilities, nuclear plants, and the electric grid. Protecting the sector’s critical ICS, OT, and IT systems from cybersecurity threats is complex, as much of the energy critical infrastructure components have unique operational frameworks and access points, and they integrate a variety of legacy systems and technologies.

Because of the changing digital ecosystem, and the consequences of being breached, creating a cybersecurity framework that encompasses resiliency has a top priority for mitigating both current and future threats. There are multiple components to that framework that need to be explored. This is the first blog of a four-part series that will focus on the key elements of a cyber resiliency framework, (1) verification, (2) visibility, and (3) velocity. Another objective with this series is to intersect/combine cyber resiliency and NERC CIP compliance.

What is Cyber Resilience?

 A joint DNI, DHS Report sees cyber resilience as “important for mission-essential systems that support our national security, homeland security, essential government services, and the critical infrastructure that supports the nation’s economy. Cyber resiliency is that attribute of a system that assures it continues to perform its mission-essential functions even when under cyber-attack. For services that are mission-essential, or that require high or uninterrupted availability, cyber resiliency should be built into the design of systems that provide or support those services.“ Cyber Resilience and Response (dni.gov)

In August of 2021, NIST updated its guide on Cybersecurity Resilience by sharing a new definition: The NIST Draft “turns the traditional perimeter defense strategy on its head and moves organizations toward a cyber resiliency strategy that facilitates defending systems from the inside out instead of from the outside in. This guidance helps organizations anticipate, withstand, recover from, and adapt to adverse conditions, stresses, or compromises on systems – including hostile and increasingly destructive cyber-attacks from nation states, criminal gangs, and disgruntled individuals.” SP 800-160 Vol. 2 Rev. 1 (Draft), Developing Cyber-Resilient Systems: SSE Approach | CSRC (nist.gov)

To initiate a strategy for verification, visibility, and velocity within a cyber resiliency framework for mission-essential systems such as utilities, you also need perspectives to build on the DNI/DHS definition of what constitutes cyber resilience from practitioners in the field. We asked leading experts to share their definition of resilience in the context of a cyber system.

According to George Platsis, Senior Lead Technologist, Proactive Incident Response & Crisis Management at Booz Allen Hamilton, utilities, and individual organizations should have that candid talk and define what “cyber resilience” means to them. He notes that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory defines their Cyber and Infrastructure Resilience Program’s mission as the ability to enhance the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure systems and networks to cyber, physical, and environmental hazards and to enable their reliable and sustainable design and operation now and into the future. George interprets that as “the ability to keep the business going, regardless of hazard.”

Marcus Sachs, Research Director for Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, and former Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, sees resilience as the “ability to recover, or the ability to endure some sort of pain.” For any organization, and that includes utilities, from small distribution up to transmission and generation. If you’re able to continue to operate in the face of an adversary, or be able to recover very, very quickly, should something bad happen, that’s good resilience. Realistically, we’re going to have interruptions. So, how quickly can you recover from an interruption, is a good gauge of your resiliency.”

Patrick C. Miller, CEO at Ampere Industrial Security and Founder and President Emeritus of the Energy Sector Consortium, states that “by and large, most utilities know that resilience means continuing to operate under negative, degraded or even adversarial operating conditions. They understand this from many perspectives, with a long history of response and recovery after natural disasters and other human/animal-caused outages (car/pole, backhoe, squirrels, etc.). Adding cyber to that, whether through accidental or malicious human action, is nothing outside of their world.”

Benjamin Stirling, Former Manager of Generation Cybersecurity at Vistra, believes that frameworks for classifying Process that you are protecting are integral to cyber resilience. He says that the first step in risk analysis for OT and ICS cybersecurity is understanding and classifying the process. He notes that protecting a water treatment plant at a site versus a burner management system at a site may be two very different things. “Once you have this risk categorization piece done, then you can suggest how you’re going to protect those assets and begin to have a methodology. You can go down a path where you can have a reasonable risk-based approach to resilience.

Paul Ferrillo, Privacy and Cybersecurity Partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, perhaps has a description of the topic that many can relate. He defines cyber resilience much as a boxing match, as being able to take a punch right in the face and hitting the canvas and getting back up again. For him, resilience is getting back on the internet, doing your backups, restoring your backup tapes, and getting back into play.

All these cybersecurity experts concur that cyber resilience is generally defined as being able recover and go forward and continue to operate in the event of an incident. Sometimes that is easier said than done, especially with morphing of threats, a dearth of skilled cybersecurity workforce, and the regulatory requirements of maintaining critical infrastructure that is often owned by the private sector and government by the public sector.

Also, there is no one size cyber resilience framework that fits all cases, even in the same industry such as utilities. The ability to be cyber resilient starts with a risk management focus and allocation of resources and training to varying threat scenarios to get to the end goal of being able to recover quickly and remain operational. It also requires a customized strategy augmented by automation tools to keep systems optimally prepared and running.

In further discussions with the SME practitioners, it was clearly surmised that cyber risk management is the nexus for helping best secure cyberspace, especially in OT/ICS operating environments. This will require creating a cyber-resilience framework that will assess situational awareness, adhere to compliance mandates, align policies & training, optimize technology integration, promote information sharing, establish mitigation capabilities, and maintain cyber resilience in event of incidents. This is where the specific elements of verification, visibility, and velocity need to be enabled to achieve cyber resilience.

Next blog: Part 2: COMPLIANCE VERIFICATION to achieve greater cyber resiliency