Security's goal is to protect the mission, expert says

Security's goal is to protect the mission, expert says

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

When Rich Pethia recently asked a large military audience whether the Internet was essential to conducting their daily work, practically everyone raised a hand.

But when he asked how many of the attendee's top managers had given advance approval for the stampede to the Net, no hands went up.

'We've become dependent on the Net; we can't go back,' Pethia, a security expert at the Software Engineering Institute, a federally funded R&D center at Carnegie Mellon University, said at SEI's open house in Arlington, Va. 'We've become dependent without making a conscious decision and evaluating the risk as we normally would.

'The Net is basically doubling every 10 or 12 months. We don't even know where the end points are. Traditional security depends on closed systems and tight administration. We've walked away from what we know how to do. Now we have to build trustworthy systems from untrustworthy components.'

Pethia said the information technology environment of the new millennium is already here: open, distributed systems with unknown perimeters, unknown users and no control, subject to internal as well as coordinated external attacks.

'The fortress approach is no longer feasible or adequate,' he said. 'Current security is like a cookie with a hard, crusty outside and a soft, chewy center.'

To be survivable, he said, systems need the three R's: resistance to attacks, recognition of attacks and restorability after attacks.

Pethia likened survivable systems to highways and bridges, which are built of vulnerable materials but are relatively trustworthy infrastructures.

'The mission must survive,' he said, 'not any individual component, not even the system.' Under attack, a system should deliver 'graceful degradation of services' rather than sudden failure, he said.

Future survivable systems will exhibit diversity, redundancy, deep-down trust validation, risk management and good contingency planning, he said.

SEI hosts the General Services Administration's Federal Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center, and Pethia said 40 percent of the 175 incidents brought to FedCERT's attention each week have an offshore component that is getting harder to trace.

To bolster survivability, he said, SEI is building a network emulation test bed with 150,000 nodes. So many nodes are necessary, he said, because the 'massive interconnectivity of power, water and communications leads to trouble in lots of places at once.'

SEI designed the Capability Maturity Model followed by many large software development organizations to improve quality. Among government CMM-rated software shops, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, has the top CMM rating, Level 5.

More details are posted at


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