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Trump signs executive order on cybersecurity, White House now runs the show

Promises to hold agency heads responsible for slipups

By Iain Thomson, 11 May 2017

President Donald Trump has signed his long-promised executive order on cybersecurity – and it says the executive branch will take overall command of securing America's critical IT systems.

During his campaign, Trump promised a missive on cybersecurity within 90 days of taking office, but delayed the signing in late January. Now, 111 days after swearing to protect and uphold the constitution of the United States, the order has been signed, and it signals that Trump intends his staff to take command.

"The President will hold heads of executive departments and agencies (agency heads) accountable for managing cybersecurity risk to their enterprises," the order begins.

"In addition, because risk management decisions made by agency heads can affect the risk to the executive branch as a whole, and to national security, it is also the policy of the United States to manage cybersecurity risk as an executive branch enterprise."

All federal agencies (of which there are hundreds) will have to enforce the National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document [PDF] and will report on their progress in the next 90 days.

The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget will then assess the reports and present the information to the President 60 days later. They will also produce a plan to protect the executive branch if there are holes in its security.

In addition, the Director of the American Technology Council will ask each agency for a feasibility plan for combining IT infrastructure for departments within 90 days. Agency heads will also, henceforth, give preference in IT spending to shared systems architecture.

The Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence aren't spared the report writing either. They will have 150 days to come up with a plan to protect national security IT systems and deliver it to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

But the US government can only do so much. Over 80 per cent of IT systems classified as part of the US critical infrastructure are in private hands. Trump wants the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the FBI (once he has decided who that will be) to report on strengthening these systems within 180 days.

Getting specific

Trump also wants a report, again within 90 days, on how to promote transparency in government security purchasing agreements. But the president also concentrated on specific threats.

  • He wants reports on the threats posed by botnets within 240 days from the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Homeland Security. Up to a year later the report will be published, after possible revision, so the public can learn how the US intends to combat the threat.
  • The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Homeland Security also have 90 days to report on the threat by hackers (but not squirrels) on the nation's electrical system.
  • The Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security and the head of the FBI have a similar period to review the resilience of the nation's military and industrial base to attack.
  • "To ensure that the internet remains valuable for future generations, it is the policy of the executive branch to promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet that fosters efficiency, innovation, communication, and economic prosperity, while respecting privacy and guarding against disruption, fraud, and theft," the report states, without using the term net neutrality. To ensure this, Trump wants (you guessed it) a report on how to secure the internet in the next (I'm not giving you odds on this) 90 days, this time from the Secretaries of State, the Treasury, Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the United States Trade Representative, and the Director of National Intelligence.
  • He also wants a report in the next 45 days on how the US can work with other countries to secure the internet. This will be produced by the Secretaries of State, the Treasury, Defense, Commerce, and Homeland Security, in coordination with the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI.
  • Domestic training ideas are wanted within 120 days from the Secretaries of Commerce, Homeland Security, Defense, Labor, Education, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, and maybe some other agencies. To secure the skills to do this, the Director of National Intelligence has 60 days to produce a report analyzing other countries' efforts to train an IT security workforce. He'll also work with the Secretaries of Defense, Commerce, and Homeland Security to report in 150 days on how to maintain the US' position in cybersecurity.

There was no mention of encryption, or any plans to allow law enforcement to install backdoors. Nor were there any direct plans for action – at this stage it's reports only, please.

So basically: expect no movement on cybersecurity over the next three to six months. The players will have their hands full preparing the hundreds of reports the executive order demands, and will be far too busy to cope with anything else. ®

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