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The Executive Order – Improving the Nation’s Cyber Security

On May 12, the President signed the executive order (EO) on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. As with every executive order, it establishes timelines for compliance and specific requirements of executive branch agencies to provide specific plans to meet the stated objectives.

It is clear from the EO that the Executive Office of the President is putting significant emphasis on cyber threat intelligence and how it will help government agencies make better decisions about responding to cyber threats and incidents.  The EO also focuses on how federal agencies will govern resource access through Zero Trust and how to comprehensively define and protect hybrid service architectures.  These are critical aspects as government agencies are moving more and more mission-critical applications and services to the cloud.

The call to action in this executive order is long overdue, as modernizing the nation’s cybersecurity approach and creating coordinated intelligence and incident response capabilities should have occurred years ago. Requiring that agencies recognize the shift in the perimeter and start tearing down silos between cloud services and physical data center services is going serve to improve visibility and understanding of how departments and sub-agencies are being targeted by adversaries.

I am sure government leaders have started to review their current capability along with their strategic initiatives to ensure they map to the new EO requirements.  Where gaps are identified, agencies will need to update their plans and rethink their approach to align with the new framework and defined capabilities such as endpoint detection and response (EDR) and Zero Trust.

While the objectives outlined are critical, I do believe that agencies need to take appropriate cautions when deciding their paths to compliance. The goal of this executive order is not to add additional complexity to an already complex security organization. Rather, the goal should be to simplify and automate wherever possible. If the right approach is not decided on early, the risk is very real of adding too much complexity in pursuit of compliance, thus eroding the desired outcomes.

On the surface, it would seem that the areas of improvement outlined in the EO can be taken individually – applied threat intelligence, EDR, Zero Trust, data protection, and cloud services adoption. In reality, they should be viewed collectively. When considering solutions and architectures, agency leaders should be asking themselves some critical questions:

  1. How does my enterprise derive specific context from threat intelligence to drive proactive and predictive responses?
  2. How can my enterprise distribute locally generated threat intelligence to automatically protect my assets in a convict once, inoculate many model?
  3. How does threat intelligence drive coordinated incident response through EDR?
  4. How do threat intelligence and EDR capabilities enable informed trust in a Zero Trust architecture?
  5. How do we build upon existing log collection and SIEM capabilities to extend detection and response platforms beyond the endpoint?
  6. How do we build a resilient, multi-layered Zero Trust architecture without over complicating our enterprise security plan?

The executive order presents a great opportunity for government to evolve their cybersecurity approach to defend against modern threats and enable a more aggressive transition to the cloud and cloud services. There is also significant risk, as the urgency expressed in the EO could lead to hasty decisions that create more challenges than they solve.  To capitalize on the opportunity presented in this executive order, federal leaders must embrace a holistic approach to cybersecurity that integrates all the solutions into a platform approach including robust threat intelligence.  A standalone Zero Trust or EDR product will not accomplish an improved or modernized cybersecurity approach and could lead to more complexity.  A well-thought-out platform, not individual products, will best serve public sector organizations, giving them a clear architecture that will protect and enable our government’s future.