INTERVIEW: Bruce A. Brody, cybersecurity strongman
VA cyberchief takes on a big job
Bruce A. Brody took over a newly created position'associate deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity'at the Veterans Affairs Department in March.
Bruce A. Brody
Previously, he was director of Information Superiority Investment Strategy at the Defense Department, where he made recommendations for the department's $50 billion annual expenditure on information resources.
Brody worked in various capacities at Defense. From 1996 to 1998, he directed major studies of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence.
At the Defense Information Systems Agency, he directed the Multilevel Security Division from 1994 to 1995 and the Joint Information Management Center in 1996.
From 1980 to 1990, Brody worked in a variety of positions in the national intelligence community. An Air Force veteran, he was commissioned in 1978.
Brody holds a master's degree with an emphasis on information security from Eastern Michigan University. He is also a graduate of the Defense Systems Management College's Advanced Program Management Course.
GCN staff writer Preeti Vasishtha interviewed Brody at his Washington office.GCN: Talk about the role of the Office of Cyber Security at the Veterans Affairs Department. BRODY:
The office was established in late March and has about 18 people. We are charged with ensuring the confidentiality, integrity and availability of veterans' records and assuring timely and uninterrupted access to that information. We are charged with ensuring that the records we are entrusted to maintain are free from any financial fraud, waste and abuse.GCN: What's your work as the cybersecurity chief?BRODY:
The primary thing we are trying to do is remove the deficiencies that have been identified across the VA environment. The Office of the Inspector General and the General Accounting Office have brought to our attention numerous deficiencies in our computing resources.GCN: What kind of deficiencies are you talking about?BRODY:
We have specific weaknesses in each of the six categories in the Federal Information System Controls Audit Manual.
We've had problems in the past with password policies not being properly implemented, in fact, all security policies not being properly implemented.
We've had problems with access control, change controls, segregation of duties, continuity planning, all of which add up to constitute a material weakness in VA's ability to protect its information.
So my primary job is to remove the material weakness. Beyond that I have broad categories of responsibilities. For instance, I am building security in the One VA enterprise architecture.
Being able to build it from a start is actually an advantage I have over a number of my counterparts, because building security into a legacy environment is a lot more difficult and expensive than building security from scratch. I am very fortunate in having that opportunity, but at the same time, I have a legacy environment that I have to deal with.
Putting controls in the legacy environment is the No. 1 challenge that I am faced with: which controls, where to put them, how to do it. These are the issues we struggle with on a daily basis.GCN: VA is one of the few agencies that has hired a senior-level executive to lead cybersecurity efforts. Does this add any pressure?BRODY:
First of all, it's an honor to be selected to join the secretary's team and to be given the challenge that we have. The pressure is no different. The accountability is pretty clear.
I am accountable for information security here, and I am accountable for removing the deficiencies that have been identified. So, is that pressure? Some would view that as being under a lot of pressure. I view that as being fortunate to have the opportunity to succeed.GCN: How does your experience in the Defense Department help you in your current position?BRODY:
I have been fortunate that the 20 years that I spent in the Defense and intelligence community taught me a lot about security and the value of information. The value of information is a key component of risk assessment. Without that background, you go into a risk management situation at a slight disadvantage.
My work in various parts of Defense taught me a great deal about security technologies and the kinds of approaches that are used in environments where information that you are protecting can have life-or-death consequences. So I bring the strengths of working in that environment here though VA presents its own set of unique challenges.GCN: VA has a history of security problems. What kind of an approach have you taken to tackle these?BRODY:
The first step is to understand the problem. Thanks to the volumes of reports we got from GAO and the inspector general, I was able to pretty quickly assemble the problems into a set of categories that made it very clear what we had to deal with.
The next thing that I tried to do was to organize the office against that set of problems. I have technology implementation, testing and evaluation on one side of the organization; compliance support, certification and accreditation on the other side.
We have an action plan that is being readied. It's in its fourth draft. We have a capital plan coming as well that will be a One VA capital security plan.GCN: On a scale of 1 to 10, how deep is the problem?BRODY:
It's quite deep. I'd say 11.GCN: How do you convince the veterans that their information is protected?BRODY:
By showing results. Right now, today, it's not. That's the struggle we are in. At some point, hopefully in the near future, that information will be protected to the best of anyone's ability to protect it. What I hope is that by showing these results, the veterans will be very confident that their records are being protected.GCN: Is motivating employees to think of security as each one's responsibility a big challenge?BRODY:
The one thing that I do know about VA employees is that they are very motivated. I've been here five months, and in this period I have become very impressed with the motivation and dedication of VA employees.GCN: Are you looking at how other departments are tackling their security problems?BRODY:
That's an important thing. Coming from Defense, I know what's going on there. But it's only recently that I have gotten involved with what's going on at the Commerce Department and Energy Department and a number of other areas. I stay in touch with colleagues at the Defense Department, National Security Agency, National Institute of Standards and Technology and other departments to see how they are dealing with the same issues.
What I am looking for are best security practices. If I can find them and adopt them, then I don't have to invent them. And where I do invent a best practice, I want to share it with a colleague. It's a two-way street.GCN: The capital investment plan was set for completion last month. What's the next step?BRODY:
If that plan is approved, some additional funds will be released for the priorities that we have identified. We are working off a budget that came from a capital plan that was approved last year. That plan obviously did not foresee the requirements of the new enterprise architecture, it did not foresee the requirements of the Government Information Security Reform Act and it also was a little deficient in a few other areas.
So what we have done is correct some of that, and the new plan will get us to what I call full compliance. If we stay at our current level, we are at partial compliance.GCN: How are things different at VA since you joined?BRODY:
The pace has quickened. People working on the security issues have a lot more responsibility than a few months ago.
The arrival of the new CIO, John Gauss, has been a tremendous shot in the arm.
Many workers feel the security program is going to do the right thing. It's an attempt to solve a lot of issues in a short period of time, but it listens to everyone in the field and aims to get the best security in place for veterans. That feeling is echoed throughout the entire 220,000 employees in VA.