Natalie Givans | Security gets into the mix
- By William Jackson
- Apr 24, 2008
Natalie Givans, a vice president at Booz Allen
Hamilton's information and mission assurance and resilience
group, has gained experience during her career in analyzing and
designing security for a variety of government and commercial
information and communication systems.
From 2000 to 2005, she was on the board of the International
Systems Security Engineering Association, which developed the
System Security Capability Maturity Model. Givans has said
information security is a matter not only of technology but also of
leadership, economics, policy and culture.
GCN: You have worked in the information security field for
more than 20 years. What changes have you seen?
I started at Booz Allen 24 years ago. Back then, we were working
on crypto devices, things like the STU-3, the Secure Telephone
Unit, at all levels of government ' primarily point
solutions. That was the extent of the security industry. I found it
difficult to talk with commercial organizations ' energy
utilities, financial services companies ' about their
responsibilities to protect resources in what was becoming an
electronic world. They didn't understand anything beyond
scrambling the bits. We were ahead of our time in terms of our
concerns. With the fact that everything is connected to everything
now, the threats are coming from within the network as well as from
outside. It's on everybody's mind now.
GCN: You have said that information security involves more
than technology. But is the technology available today adequate for
GIVANS:Information security involves
protection of information in the classic sense, such as encrypting
it. It also involves information and network integrity and their
availability as well as the accountability of the processes and
We have a lot of technology, but a lot of it is still point
solutions focused on just one of those problems, not at their
integration in an enterprise or at a national security level. We
have a lot of crypto devices, firewalls, identity and access
management, including biometrics, smart cards and audit software to
see what is going on in the network. My real concern is the
integration of that technology.
The [Defense Department] called this defense in depth years ago
' it's not a new idea.
GCN: How do agencies get the funding they need for properGCN: How do you measure security? What metrics do you
GIVANS: Agencies need to be able to tie
information and infrastructure security to the mission they are
trying to accomplish. Be able to explain what the risks are to the organization and
tie information security requirements to that.
Too often this focus is separate: There are a group of people who worry about
information security but who are not linked to the rest of the organization. Agencies need to link different elements, to show not only compliance but show how the money spent on security is going to be an enabler of their mission.
I worked years ago on what has become an
[International Organization for Standardization] standard, the
Systems Security Engineering Capability Maturity Model. We had a
large metrics working group on that. In the software world, it was
fairly easy to demonstrate that higher maturity levels yielded
In the security world, we had a lot of debates about that.
It wasn't really clear that the more process you had, the
better the security would be. In fact, there were times we could
prove that really wasn't the case.
The metrics working group had to take this on. We determined
that security measurements typically focused on areas that were
easy to measure and on what was obvious. Organizations easily can
measure the number of people trained or the number of devices
installed or the number of intrusions that are detected.
The problem is [that] the metrics that people collect do not
necessarily point to better security; they point to better
I think it is important for organizations to identify the goals
for their missions, and the threats they are seeing to those
Then they tie their improvements to those. For example, we asked
organizations to identify the specific configuration management
weaknesses that were exploited within their organization and to
train their personnel on how and why they needed to close those
vulnerabilities. Then give them a deadline, give them resources and
then audit and make them accountable.
That string of events would lead to real knowledge of security
GCN: How do you translate a security policy into a culture
that supports security?
GIVANS: It starts at the top.
If you look at the nation, it starts with the president. What we
find in any organization is that which is measured is improved, and
what leadership talks about are the things people pay attention to.
So first, the most senior leaders must publicly embrace and
advocate security. They also have to ensure there is adequate
funding to implement these policies and that people are adequately
trained. And there has to be accountability, a way to tie the
stakeholders' incentives to the desired level of security
GCN: Is security training being adequately addressed in most
GIVANS: Probably not, but it varies greatly
from organization to organization. There are examples where
agencies are putting a lot of effort into it. When we have a lot of
budget constraints, training of any kind tends to take a back seat.
There is a need to work out what kind of training is needed for
each kind of employee. In some cases, you can get by with an
awareness campaign; in other cases, security professionals must
Certification can be a driver for education. One example of that
is the Defense directive requiring certification of the information
assurance workforce in a certain time frame. Recently, this was
picked up as a requirement that contractors also must achieve
certification. Obviously, organizations still need to provide the
funding for that to happen.
GCN: Are there any government success stories that stand out
GIVANS: I would say [the National Institute
of Standards and Technology] is a great example.
Under [the Federal Information Security Management Act], they
have focused on working across the community to establish the right
kinds of guidance, standards and tools that help normalize the
requirements. They have everything from performance measurement
guides to information security handbooks to recommended security
controls. I think that is a great enabler. Another is the
Information Assurance Technical Analysis Center sponsored by [the
Defense Technical Information Center and the Director of Defense
Research and Engineering office]. Their emphasis is on capturing
I-A best practices and standards.
GCN: What is the greatest security challenge facing the
government in the coming years?
GIVANS: The big area
is the defense of our infrastructure.
There should be a lot of concern about the risk to our financial
systems, our control systems and our networks from both inside and
outside the enterprise. We see more incidents, such as the loss of
information, but more scary is the lack of availability of the
infrastructure when you really need it. That to me is the big
threat. We need to focus on better tools for the prediction,
prevention and reconstitution of our infrastructure. We need to
focus on resilience, not just protection, because we are going to
get attacked, the systems will go down, and what will be important
is how fast you can respond and recover.