Drill shows limits in cyber-physical infrastructure defenses

Response to an attack that hits a city's critical physical and cyber infrastructure can straddle local and federal jurisdictions, making coordination among those groups critical but tricky, according to participants in a recent resilience exercise.

The July 2018 Jack Voltaic 2.0 drill -- which involved 44 organizations and 200 participants from eight different critical infrastructure sectors -- demonstrated gaps in operational and legal authorities as well as confusion about first response.

"The assumption is that [the Department of Homeland Security] will be there," Houston Police Department CTO Mike Bell said at a Feb. 6 AFCEA event devoted to lessons from the exercise. But that's not entirely the case, as City of Houston personnel, regional emergency management officials and the Army Cyber Institute discovered during the exercise.

One of the biggest problems with response is figuring out whom to notify, Bell said. That can be complicated, as the lines between responders and their capabilities can be difficult to determine, he said. For instance, federal law enforcement can have a hard time responding to a mounting, but imminently dangerous cyber threat, because the threat actors may not have violated any criminal statutes.

Municipalities embroiled in a combined cyber and physical critical infrastructure attack can't solely depend on Computer Emergency Readiness Teams sent by the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, said Bell. "They can give advice, but not a lot." NCICC can provide national view of what's going on but is not resourced for big response to local attacks, he said.

DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is working to "create a visible logical, useful connection" that state and local governments, as well as industry, can turn to for help, NCCIC Director John Felker said.

The report on the exercise recommends closer coordination among federal civilian and defense agencies and state and local governments. One idea is to have the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and DHS work together to develop a campaign to integrate the Jack Voltaic model into the exercise framework at the national level.

The report also recommends legislation to create National Guard civil support teams that can serve state governors to bridge federal and non-federal response efforts during cyber incidents.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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