Feds lack managed response to large-scale cyber attack

GAO report cites lack of coordination between feds and civilian authorities in event of significant cyber assault

feds-lack-managed-response-to-large-scale-cyber-attack
Credit: Reuters

The Department of Defense is unclear about who would take charge and work with civilian authorities during a large-scale cyber attack on the US.

There are a number of plans and directions for how the government would respond to a cyber attack on the nation’s electric grid or other large entity but tons of clarification and specific directions need to be ironed out to respond effectively, according to a Government Accountability Office report out this week.

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The GAO’s report highlighted a number of deficiencies including the fact that some government directives say one part of the military – specifically the U.S. Northern Command would be in charge of coordinating federal and civilian help during a cyber attack. Others say that it would be the Air Force led U.S. Cyber Command that would be responsible for supporting civil authorities in a cyber incident.

Another issue is a fuzzy definition of who would be designated as the person know as a “dual-status commander” who is a leader that has authority over federal military and National Guard force in supporting civil authorities during a cyber incident (it is a common and useful position for other national emergencies such as flood response.) According to U.S. Northern Command officials, in a recent cyber exercise there was a lack of unity of effort among the DOD and National Guard forces that were responding to the emergency but were not under the control of the dual-status commander, the GAO stated.

“The DOD has developed a significant body of guidance on how the department is to effectively provide support to civil authorities in a broad range of circumstances. However, the absence of clarity in roles and responsibilities to address a cyber incident represents a clear gap in guidance. The gap, and the uncertainty that results, could hinder the timeliness or effectiveness of critical DOD support to civil authorities during cyber-related emergencies that the DOD must be prepared to provide.   Without clarifying guidance on DOD roles and responsibilities in a cyber incident, the DOD cannot reasonably ensure that the department will be able to most effectively employ its capabilities to support civil authorities in a cyber incident.”

For its part the Pentagon agreed with the conclusions of the GAO report and it expected to respond to specific challenges in the near future.

The DOD is required by Congress to develop a comprehensive plan (due in May 2016) for U.S. Cyber Command to support civil authorities in response to a cyber attack by a foreign power.

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For its part the Pentagon agreed with the conclusions of the GAO report and it expected to respond to specific challenges in the near future.

The DOD is required by Congress to develop a comprehensive plan

(due in May 2016) for U.S. Cyber Command to support civil authorities in response to a cyber attack by a foreign power.

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