DHS seeks to share top-secret info with banking and finance cybersecurity pros

The Department of Homeland Security works with financial institutions to thwart cyber attacks and plans to do so more and more in the future, according to DHS testimony to Congress, including sharing top secret cyber intelligence.

"To achieve our shared goals, we need to increase the sharing of timely and relevant intelligence information concerning cybersecurity threats with financial sector stakeholders," says DHS Acting Deputy Under Secretary Greg Schaffer of the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Schaffer was testifying for a House Financial Services subcommittee on financial institutions.

MORE TESTIMONY: US agencies making progress on cybercrime, officials say 

He says DHS will help with cyber intelligence and analysis to directly deal with specific threats, "while increasing public awareness of the important role cybersecurity plays in ensuring safe and reliable banking and financial services."

He says DHS offers direct assistance to individual companies by assisting in analysis and improving their cybersecurity posture and responds with help to companies that have been compromised.

For example, in June 2010, US-CERT and the FBI addressed a threat posed by attackers who had created phony online accounts. A response described as "cross-sector and interagency" prevented financial losses, as far as anybody knows, Schaffer says.

The help took the form of analyzing the threat, developing mitigation strategies and plans to prevent recurrences. That experience was directly applied a year later to another institution and included bringing in officials from the first institution to help out, he says.

In December 2010, US-CERT helped out with another incident in which it discovered related exploits against other institutions. In that case, DHS coordinated efforts among US-CERT, the FBI and the NSA to provide technical expertise and coordinate a team of network analysts. The group came up with a mitigation strategy.

DHS runs pilot programs to share best practices for managing risks associated with cybersecurity. DHS provides top secret/sensitive compartmented information clearance to key banking and financial IS figures so US-CERT can share more sensitive intelligence with the private institutions.

DHS has a formal private sector security-clearance pilot program that finds qualified financial IS professionals who can help analyze and respond to threats to critical information systems in banking and finance, he says.

The department is expanding the program to other areas considered part of the nation's critical infrastructure with an online collaboration portal for discussing threats and potential threats to those networks. "The portal will have the capability to process Protected Critical Infrastructure Information while offering timely and actionable analysis and mitigation products for critical infrastructure participants based on stakeholder contributions and unclassified government reporting," Schaffer says.

In order to broaden this collaboration, DHS is seeking laws that clearly authorize greater sharing, he says. "Some institutions have concerns about the privacy implications of sharing information with the government or about brand damage that may result from reporting an incident," he says.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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