GAO: U.S. computer emergency readiness team is not ready

Published 18 September 2008

Government Accounting Office criticizes US-CERT for lacking “a comprehensive baseline understanding of the nation’s critical information infrastructure operations” and for not exhibiting “aspects of the attributes essential to having a truly national capability,” among other things

A U.S. government watchdog agency has taken DHS to task for failing adequately to protect the nation’s critical computer networks in a report that singles out the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. In a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, according to Nextgov, a member of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said US-CERT should do a better job of monitoring network activity “for anomalies to determine whether they are threats, warning appropriate officials with timely and actionable threat and mitigation information, and responding to the threat.” He also criticized US-CERT for weaknesses identified during a 2006 cybersecurity drill.

A draft report issued by the GAO, and reported by BusinessWeek, is considerably harsher. It claims US-CERT “lacks a comprehensive baseline understanding of the nation’s critical information infrastructure operations, does not monitor all critical infrastructure information systems, does not consistently provide actionable and timely warnings, and lacks the capacity to assist in mitigation and recovery in the event of multiple, simultaneous incidents of national significance.” It also says US-CERT “still does not exhibit aspects of the attributes essential to having a truly national capability.”

The Register’s Dan Gooding writes that DHS officials defend their capabilities but also say they are the first to admit they need to do more to safeguard the nation’s infrastructure. “We are undertaking something not unlike the Manhattan Project,” a DHS representative told BusinessWeek. “We have set a strong cyber strategy, recently created the National Cyber Security Center, and are in the process of aggressively hiring several hundred analysts to further our mission of security critical infrastructure.” Among the planned enhancements is a system known as Einstein, which collects, correlates, analyzes and shares computer security information with US-CERT members.

US-CERT was established in 2003 and shoulders primary responsibility for protecting private and government-run computer networks in the US. It is a partnership between the DHS and the public and private sectors.