A recent report about the worst passwords revealed that "password" was toward the top of the list for many consumers. But it turns out that "password" is also a popular password for government employees, which weakens the nation's cybersecurity.
That's one of the conclusions of the Senate cybersecurity report, which reveals that government agency systems are open to attack because they don't update with the latest security patches, have old anti-virus programs, or because employees don't choose solid passwords.
"While politicians like to propose complex new regulations, massive new programs, and billions in new spending to improve cybersecurity," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the committee, "there are very basic -- and critically important -- precautions that could protect our infrastructure and our citizens' private information that we simply aren't doing."
Systemic Change Needed
We turned to Matthew Standart, manager of Threat Intelligence at HBGary, a technology security firm. He told us the findings are not surprising.
"They reflect the overall state of security in most, if not all, organizations. Attackers are motivated to get in and they will do so by following the path of least resistance," Standart said. "These paths, or vulnerabilities, are the result of poor policy and planning, lack of resources and integration, insufficient technology and execution, or overall plain human error and negligence."
As he sees it, government agencies should lead, because technology alone won't fix the problem. Systemic change may be needed from the top down to foster a culture that is security-minded and aware, he said.
"Actions carry risk, but risk is usually ignored or discredited due to convenience or complacency. Leaders convey a message that IT and IT Security are both cost centers and an inconvenience, when their strategic alignment should be perceived as a necessary and powerful means to do business," Standart said.
"Auditors are always the laggards behind the adversaries, and leaders need to be in the right place to raise the bar and hold people accountable to be well above the bar. Organizations need to be proactive about security rather than reactive."
It's Your Problem
TK Keanini, CTO of Lancope, said the problem was that cybersecurity was an "everyone and everything problem," not just this computer or that network because it was deemed "critical infrastructure."
"Yes, it is important to call these out and label them as such but in this hyper-connected world, malicious intruders have hundreds of ways to go about their campaign, and only one needs to work. My point is that our daily lives, personal and at work, are blurring when it comes to information systems," Keanini told us.
"We cannot just think about the targets attractive to the adversaries and protect just those; because as our world becomes more and more connected, the security of a tiny component someone overlooked, or some combinatory set of minor weaknesses when combined create a major weakness, gives attackers the strategy they need for compromise.
"There can no longer be any blindspots created by complex political systems where systems A feels that is systems B's problem: Cybersecurity is everyone's problem."
Security Isn't Convenient
Aaron Titus, chief privacy officer and general counsel at Identity Finder, a sensitive data management solution provider, told us the federal government -- like all corporate and private bureaucracies -- is filled with middle managers and employees who just want to do their jobs in the easiest way possible.
"Security isn't convenient, it doesn't make money, and it is only ancillary to an agency's primary mission. When data security compliance competes with core mission objectives, it isn't hard to understand why a bureaucrat may not spend time or money on data security," he told us.
"But sensitive data management, done right, will enhance mission objectives. Sensitive data management requires engagement and creativity to analyze and respond to context-specific risks, while listening to employees who must implement data management policies without impeding their jobs. The first step to sensitive data management is to inventory all of the locations where sensitive data is stored, or has leaked."