Biden Signs Executive Order Intended To Improve The Federal Government’s Cybersecurity – Technology



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On May 12, President Biden signed an 
executive order
 intended to improve the federal
government’s cybersecurity. This comes in the wake of
sweeping cyber incidents, such as the SolarWinds incident that
affected both public and private sector entities last year. The
executive order calls on both the federal government and the
private sector to work collaboratively to identify, deter, detect,
and respond to cyber incidents, stating that “bold changes
and significant investments” are needed to defend the
nation’s computer systems from attack.

The executive order instructs the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB) director to review and revise the federal
government’s contracts with IT and operational technology
(OT) providers. Specifically, the executive order requires the OMB
to review federal acquisition regulations to enhance
contractors’ and federal agencies’ ability to share
information about cyber incidents and threats. Subject to the final
language in the regulations, IT and OT contractors may be required
to preserve and share data with federal agencies about cyber
threats and may be required to work with federal agencies in
investigating and in responding to such incidents — actions
that go beyond the current cyber requirements embodied in FAR
52.204-21 and DFARS 252.204-7012.

The executive order also requires the federal government to
update and modernize its cybersecurity standards. In particular,
the executive order instructs federal agencies to adopt security
best practices, including “zero trust architecture” and
secure cloud services. The executive order also requires agencies
to streamline and centralize access to cybersecurity data and
invest in technology and equipment to achieve these modernization
goals. Agency heads have 60 days to report on their progress, and
they must adopt multifactor authentication and data encryption
within 180 days of the executive order.

In addition, the executive order provides a baseline security
standard for the federal government’s software supply chain
security. As the executive order acknowledges, much of the software
used by the federal government comes from third parties or other
vendors with little or no visibility into the cybersecurity
protections that are coded into the software. Software developers
(be they prime contractors, subcontractors, or supply chain
vendors) now must provide greater transparency into their products,
including a requirement to provide federal agencies with a
“software bill of materials” for each software
product.

The executive order establishes a cybersecurity safety review
board, which will be under the purview of the secretary of homeland
security. This board will be tasked with reviewing and assessing
cyber incidents that affect the federal civilian executive branch
information systems or nonfederal systems. The executive order
outlines that the cybersecurity safety review board will be
comprised of government and private sector members in a similar
fashion to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Additionally, the executive order instructs the Department of
Homeland Security, OMB, DOD, NSA, and other federal agencies to
develop a playbook to respond to cybersecurity vulnerabilities and
incidents, while further contemplating that the playbook should
outline the agencies’ plan to incorporate all appropriate
NIST standards and to respond to incidents.

The executive order instructs federal agencies to improve
detection of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and incidents on the
federal government’s networks to maximize the early detection
of vulnerabilities and incidents on its networks. In particular,
the executive order mandates that agencies will use endpoint
detection and response initiatives to support proactive detection
of cybersecurity incidents.

Lastly, the executive order intends to strengthen the federal
government’s investigative and remediation capabilities by
developing requirements for logging events and by retaining other
relevant data within federal agencies’ systems and
networks.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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