The Executive Order on Cybersecurity: Breaking it Down

Don Maclean, July 31st, 2017

Executive Order Cybersecurity

On May 11, 2017, the White House issued the catchily-titled “Presidential Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure”, otherwise known as “The EO”. The order is a broad and comprehensive document, imposing numerous requirements and policy changes throughout the Federal government. We can divide the document into four main categories, or work streams:  accountability, modernization, vulnerabilities, and transparency. Let’s take a look.

Check out my on-demand webinar “Addressing Executive Order on Cybersecurity Requirements to Mitigate Risk“.
View now

Accountability is primarily the mandate that agency heads be responsible for the security of their systems and data. It’s a broad mandate ripe for further definition. More concretely, it requires a report from every agency on the risk posture of their systems, including a justification of all accepted risks. It also mandates identity and access management and privilege management, and requires the use of the Cybersecurity Framework (not to be confused with the NIST Risk Management Framework) for managing security and risk in Federal IT systems.

No matter the framework, assessing risk and justifying risk acceptance require thorough knowledge of a system and its vulnerabilities. To be accountable, it’s also necessary to know who has access to a system, what they can do, and what they actually have done. Compliance with the EO will be much easier for agencies with the relevant tools.

The EO also urges modernization, not as a one-time effort, but as an ongoing business practice. It’s essential to stay current, but ongoing modernization will require changes to procurement cycles and other long-standing government practices. Great idea, but will it happen? It’s too soon to tell.

The EO also includes some very specific mandates about vulnerabilities. Sensibly, it requires repair of known vulnerabilities, with a focus on patch and configuration management. This goal is quite realistic, and could lead to a more solid security posture for our nation. It also requires the appropriate tool set.

Finally, transparency. The EO asks agencies to be more open about sharing, including best practices, and vulnerabilities they have found and fixed. Achieving this goal requires a difficult culture shift, but would move us toward a stronger security posture.

Compliance with the broader elements of the EO will require some unlikely culture shifts. The more specific mandates, however, are quite achievable for organizations with the relevant tools at hand.

To explore these work streams further and learn more about how BeyondTrust solutions can address the requirements of the EO check out this on-demand webinar. Or contact us to take a deeper dive into the unique needs of your agency.