oversight

Posthearing Questions from the September 17, 2003, Hearing on Implications of Power Blackouts for the Nation's Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection: The Electric Grid, Critical Interdependencies, Vulnerabilities, and Readiness"

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-12-08.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




          December 8, 2003

          The Honorable Dave Camp
          Chairman, Subcommittee on Infrastructure and
            Border Security
          Select Committee on Homeland Security
          House of Representatives

          The Honorable Mac Thornberry
          Chairman, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity,
            Science, and Research and Development
          Select Committee on Homeland Security
          House of Representatives

          Subject: Posthearing Questions from the September 17, 2003, Hearing on
                   “Implications of Power Blackouts for the Nation’s Cybersecurity and
                   Critical Infrastructure Protection: The Electric Grid, Critical
                   Interdependencies, Vulnerabilities, and Readiness”

          As requested in your letter of November 5, 2003, this letter provides our responses for
          the record to the questions you posed to GAO. At the subject hearing, we discussed
          the challenges that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) faces in integrating
          its information gathering and sharing functions, particularly as they relate to fulfilling
          the department’s responsibilities for critical infrastructure protection (CIP).

              GAO released a report on information sharing in August of this year. It found
              that “no level of government perceived the [information sharing] process as
              effective, particularly when sharing information with federal agencies.” How
              does [this] finding relate to what happened during the August 2003 blackout?

          In our August 2003 report on information sharing, we identified initiatives that had
          been undertaken to improve the sharing of information to prevent terrorist attacks
          and surveyed federal, state, and city government officials to obtain their perceptions
                                                                         1
          on how the current information-sharing process was working. Our survey showed
          that none of the three levels of government perceived the current information-sharing
          process to be effective when it involved the sharing of information with federal
          agencies. Specifically, respondents reported that information on threats, methods,


          1
          U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: Efforts to Improve Information Sharing Need to Be
          Strengthened, GAO-03-760 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 27, 2003).



                                                                                                         GAO-04-300R
and techniques of terrorists was not routinely shared, and the information that was
shared was not perceived as timely, accurate, or relevant. Further, 30 of 40 states and
212 of 228 cities responded that they were not given the opportunity to participate in
national policy making on information sharing. Federal agencies in our survey also
identified several barriers to sharing threat information with state and city
governments, including the inability of state and city officials to secure and protect
classified information, their lack of federal security clearances, and a lack of
integrated databases. Further, this report identified some notable information-sharing
initiatives. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that it
had significantly increased the number of its Joint Terrorism Task Forces and,
according to our survey, 34 of 40 states and 160 of 228 cities stated that they
participated in information-sharing centers.

Performed primarily before DHS began its operations and not focused on the federal
government’s CIP efforts, this report did not specifically relate to the impact of these
information-sharing challenges on any specific events, including the August 2003
blackout. However, as indicated in our written statement for the September 17
        2
hearing, our past information-sharing reports and testimonies have identified
information sharing challenges and highlighted its importance to developing
comprehensive and practical approaches to defending against potential cyber and
other attacks, as well as to DHS meeting its mission.

    A June 2003 GAO report on federal collection of electricity information found
    significant gaps in collection for information needed by different federal
    agencies. The report does not mention DHS. In light of the Department’s
    responsibilities with respect to the electrical component of critical
    infrastructure, what can you say about the kinds of information it needs, and
    whether it has the ability to obtain that information?

With the ongoing transition (or restructuring) of electricity markets from regulated
monopolies to competitive markets, accurate information on electricity trading and
pricing is becoming more critical not only for evaluating the potential benefits and
risks of restructuring, but also for monitoring market performance and enforcing
market rules. Our June 2003 report focused on describing the information that is
collected, used, and shared by key federal agencies—such as the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission and the Energy Information Administration within the
Department of Energy—and the effect of restructuring on these agencies’ collection,
use, and sharing of this information.3 In the aftermath of electricity price spikes and
other efforts to manipulate electricity markets in California, our work focused on the
oversight of restructured electricity markets—not the physical security of the
system’s components. With this focus, we did not include DHS in the scope of our
work.



2
  U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: Information Sharing Responsibilities, Challenges, and
Key Management Issues, GAO-03-1165T (Washington, D.C.: Sep. 17, 2003).
3
  U.S. General Accounting Office, Electricity Restructuring: Action Needed to Address Emerging Gaps in Federal
Information Collection, GAO-03-586 (Washington, D.C.: Jun. 30, 2003).



Page 2                                                                                           GAO-04-300R
However, we have made numerous recommendations over the last several years
related to information sharing functions that have been transferred to DHS. One
significant area concerns the federal government’s CIP efforts, which is focused on
the sharing of information on incidents, threats, and vulnerabilities, and the providing
of warnings related to critical infrastructures both within the federal government and
between the federal government and state and local governments and the private
sector. Although improvements have been made, further efforts are needed to
address the following critical CIP challenges:

•      developing a comprehensive and coordinated national plan to facilitate CIP
       information sharing that clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of federal
       and nonfederal CIP entities, defines interim objectives and milestones, sets
       timeframes for achieving objectives, and establishes performance measures;

•      developing fully productive information sharing relationships within the federal
       government and between the federal government and state and local governments
       and the private sector;

•      improving the federal government’s capabilities to analyze incident, threat, and
       vulnerability information obtained from numerous sources and share appropriate,
       timely, useful warnings and other information concerning both cyber and physical
       threats to federal entities, state and local governments, and the private sector; and

•      providing appropriate incentives for nonfederal entities to increase information
       sharing with the federal government and enhance other CIP efforts.

Regarding the kinds of information that DHS needs, the Homeland Security Act and
other federal strategies acknowledge the importance of information sharing and
identify multiple responsibilities for DHS to share information on threats and
vulnerabilities for all CIP sectors. In particular:

•      The Homeland Security Act authorizes DHS’s Under Secretary for Information
       Assurance and Infrastructure Protection to have access to all information in the
       federal government that concerns infrastructure or other vulnerabilities of the
       United States to terrorism and to use this information to fulfill its responsibilities
       to provide appropriate analysis and warnings related to threats to and
       vulnerabilities of critical information systems, crisis management support in
       response to threats or attacks on critical information systems, and technical
       assistance upon request to private-sector and government entities to respond to
       major failures of critical information systems.

•      The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace encourages DHS to work with the
       National Infrastructure Advisory Council and the private sector to develop an
       optimal approach and mechanism to disclose vulnerabilities in order to expedite
       the development of solutions without creating opportunities for exploitation by
               4
       hackers. DHS is also expected to raise awareness about removing obstacles to

4
    The White House, National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace (Washington, D.C.: February 2003).



Page 3                                                                                           GAO-04-300R
    sharing information concerning cybersecurity and infrastructure vulnerabilities
    between the public and private sectors and is encouraged to work closely with
    private-sector information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs) to ensure that
    they receive timely and actionable threat and vulnerability data and to coordinate
    voluntary contingency planning efforts.

•   The National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures
    and Key Assets describes DHS’s need to collaborate with the intelligence
    community and the Department of Justice to develop comprehensive threat
    collection, assessment, and dissemination processes that are distributed to the
                                          5
    appropriate entity in a timely manner. It also enumerates several initiatives
    directed to DHS to create a more effective information-sharing environment
    among the key stakeholders, including establishing requirements for sharing
    information; supporting state and local participation with ISACs to more
    effectively communicate threat and vulnerability information; protecting secure
    and proprietary information that is deemed sensitive by the private sector;
    implementing processes for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating threat data to
    integrate information from all sources; and developing interoperable systems to
    share sensitive information among government entities to facilitate meaningful
    information exchange.

Other efforts may help to identify specific information needs for the critical
infrastructure sectors, including the electric power sector. For example, we are
currently beginning work to determine the status of the ISACs in undertaking the
voluntary activities suggested by federal CIP policy to gather, analyze, and
disseminate information to and from infrastructure sectors and the federal
government. In addition, according to the chairman of the recently established ISAC
Council, the mission of the council is to advance the physical and cybersecurity of the
critical infrastructures of North America by establishing and maintaining a
framework for interaction between and among the ISACs. Council activities include
establishing and maintaining a policy for inter-ISAC coordination, a dialog with
governmental agencies that deal with ISACs, and a practical data and information
sharing protocol (what to share and how to share).

Finally, as we discuss in more detail in the response to the next question, Congress
and the administration have taken steps to help improve information sharing. These
include the incorporation of provisions in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to
restrict the use and disclosure of critical infrastructure information that has been
voluntarily submitted to DHS. However, the effectiveness of such steps may largely
depend on how DHS implements its information sharing responsibilities and the
willingness of the private sector and state and local governments to share such
information. It may also require the consideration of various public policy tools, such
as grants, regulations, or tax incentives.



5
 The White House, National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets
(Washington, D.C.: February 2003).



Page 4                                                                                            GAO-04-300R
    The creation of “Critical Infrastructure Information” provides companies with
    a mechanism to voluntarily give this information to the federal government. Do
    you think that private companies will avail themselves of this opportunity? Do
    you think that Critical Infrastructure Information protections are sufficient?
    What other incentives might the federal government use to obtain this
    information for homeland security purposes? Should the federal government
    require the submission of this information so as to inform the Department of
    Homeland Security of potential cross-sectoral weaknesses and vulnerabilities?

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 includes provisions that restrict federal, state,
and local governments’ use and disclosure of critical infrastructure information that
has been voluntarily submitted to DHS. These restrictions include exemption from
disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, a general limitation on use to CIP
purposes, and limitations on use in civil actions and by state or local governments.
The act also provides penalties for any federal employee who improperly discloses
any protected critical infrastructure information. In April 2003, DHS issued for
comment its proposed rules for how critical infrastructure information volunteered
by the public will be protected. At this time, it is too early to tell what impact the act
will have on the willingness of the private sector to share critical infrastructure
information or whether the protections that these provisions provide are sufficient.

Regarding other incentives that the federal government might use and the need to
require submission of critical infrastructure information, the National Strategy for
Homeland Security states that, in many cases, sufficient incentives exist in the
                                                       6
private market for addressing the problems of CIP. However, the strategy also
discusses the need to use all available public policy tools to protect the health, safety,
or well-being of the American people. It mentions federal grant programs to assist
state and local efforts, legislation to create incentives for the private sector, and, in
some cases, regulation. The National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical
Infrastructures and Key Assets reiterates that additional regulatory directives and
mandates should only be necessary in instances where the market forces are
insufficient to prompt the necessary investments to protect critical infrastructures
and key assets. The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace also states that the
market is to provide the major impetus to improve cybersecurity and that regulation
will not become a primary means of securing cyberspace.

Last year, the Comptroller General testified on the need for strong partnerships with
those outside the federal government and stated that the new department would need
to design and manage tools of public policy to engage and work constructively with
third parties.7 We have also previously testified on the choice and design of public
                                                8
policy tools that are available to governments. These public policy tools include
grants, regulations, tax incentives, and regional coordination and partnerships to
motivate and mandate other levels of government or the private sector to address

6
  The White House, National Strategy for Homeland Security (Washington, D.C.: July 2002).
7
  U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: Proposal for Cabinet Agency Has Merit, But
Implementation Will Be Pivotal to Success, GAO-01-886T (Washington, D.C.: June 25, 2002).
8
  U.S. General Accounting Office, Combating Terrorism: Enhancing Partnerships Through a National
Preparedness Strategy, GAO-02-549T (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 28, 2002).



Page 5                                                                                        GAO-04-300R
security concerns. Some of these tools are already being used, for example, in the
water and chemical sectors.

Without appropriate consideration of public policy tools, private-sector participation
in sector-related information sharing and other CIP efforts may not reach its full
potential. For example, we reported in January 2003 on the efforts of the financial
services sector to address cyber threats, including industry efforts to share
information and to better foster and facilitate sector-wide efforts.9 We also reported
on the efforts of federal entities and regulators to partner with the financial services
industry to protect critical infrastructures and to address information security. We
found that although federal entities had a number of efforts ongoing, Treasury, in its
role as sector liaison, had not undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the public
policy tools that potentially could encourage the financial services sector to
implement information sharing and other CIP-related efforts. Because of the
importance of considering public policy tools to encourage private-sector
participation, we recommended that Treasury assess the need for public policy tools
to assist the industry in meeting the sector’s goals. In addition, in February 2003, we
reported on the mixed progress that five ISACs (including the Electricity ISAC) had
made in accomplishing the activities suggested by Presidential Decision Directive
(PDD) 63.10 We recommended that the responsible lead agencies assess the need for
public policy tools to encourage increased private-sector CIP activities and greater
sharing of intelligence and incident information between the sectors and the federal
government.

    In the absence of a comprehensive critical-infrastructure risk assessment from
    the DHS, can you let the committee know, in your opinion, which of the critical
    infrastructure sectors pose the greatest national security concern? Rank—in
    relative order starting with the highest concern—the top five critical
    infrastructure sectors that you believe pose the greatest risk. Briefly discuss the
    reasons for your selections and rankings. In each of the sectors you describe,
    what has the private sector done since 9/11 to increase protection? What key
    initiatives have the Administration and the DHS pursued to improve protection
    and since when?

Much of our work on federal CIP has focused on cybersecurity and the overall threats
and risks to critical infrastructure sectors. This work did not include assessments of
specific sectors that would enable us to identify or rank which of the sectors pose the
greatest national security concern or greatest risk. We believe that all the critical
infrastructures are important in that, as defined by the USA PATRIOT Act and
highlighted in the National Strategy for Homeland Security, they represent “systems
and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the
incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact
on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any
combination of those matters.” Further, determining which sectors pose the greatest

9
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Critical Infrastructure Protection: Efforts of the Financial Services Sector to
Address Cyber Threats, GAO-03-173 (Washington, DC,: Jan. 30, 2003).
10
   U.S. General Accounting Office, Critical Infrastructure Protection: Challenges for Selected Agencies and
Industry Sectors, GAO-03-233 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 28, 2003).



Page 6                                                                                               GAO-04-300R
risk would require not only an assessment of individual sector security, but also
consideration of the interdependencies among sectors. For example, assuring electric
service requires operational transportation and distribution systems to guarantee the
delivery of the fuel that is necessary to generate power. Also, the devices that control
our physical systems, including our electrical distribution system, transportation
systems, dams, and other important infrastructures, are increasingly connected to the
Internet. Thus, the consequences of an attack on our cyber infrastructure could
cascade across many sectors.

The administration has taken a number of steps to improve the protection of our
nation’s critical infrastructures, including issuance of the National Strategy to Secure
Cyberspace and the complementary National Strategy for the Physical Protection of
Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets. Called for by the National Strategy for
Homeland Security, these two strategies identify priorities, actions, and
responsibilities for the federal government, including lead agencies and DHS, as well
as for state and local governments and the private sector. However, we have not
undertaken an in-depth assessment of DHS’s cyber CIP efforts that could enable us to
describe what DHS or the private sector have done to improve protection.

    In past testimony and reports, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has
    identified a number of significant CIP challenges, including:
    i) Clear delineation of CIP roles and responsibilities for federal, state, local,
           and private sector actors; clarification of how CIP entities will
           coordinate their activities
    ii) Clear definition of interim objectives and milestones
    iii) Clear timeframes for achieving objectives
    iv) Establishment of performance metrics
    v) Improvement in analytical and warning capabilities
    Please provide a detailed list of what significant interim objectives and
    milestones the DHS Infrastructure Protection Office has in place to improve
    critical infrastructure protection. What firm timeframes does the Office of IP
    have in place for these objectives? What performance metrics does the Office of
    IP have in place to measure its progress against objectives, milestones, and
    timeframes?

We have made numerous recommendations over the last several years related to
information-sharing functions that have now been transferred to DHS, including
those related to the federal government’s CIP efforts. As you indicate, among the
challenges we have identified is the need for a comprehensive and coordinated
national plan to facilitate CIP information sharing that clearly delineates the roles and
responsibilities of federal and nonfederal CIP entities, defines interim objectives and
milestones, sets timeframes for achieving objectives, and establishes performance
measures. We also identified the need to improve the federal government’s
capabilities to analyze incident, threat, and vulnerability information obtained from
numerous sources and share appropriate, timely, useful warnings and other
information concerning both cyber and physical threats to federal entities, state and
local governments, and the private sector. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 makes


Page 7                                                                        GAO-04-300R
DHS and its Information Assurance and Infrastructure Protection directorate
responsible for key CIP functions for the federal government, including developing a
comprehensive national plan for securing the key resources and critical
infrastructure of the United States.

The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and the National Strategy for the
Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets issued in February
2003 by the President identify priorities, actions, and responsibilities for the federal
government, including federal lead departments and agencies and DHS, as well as for
state and local governments and the private sector. Both define strategic objectives
for protecting our nation’s critical assets. The cyberspace security strategy provides a
framework for organizing and prioritizing the individual and concerted
responsibilities of all levels of government to secure cyberspace. The physical
protection strategy discusses the goals and objectives for protecting our nation’s
critical infrastructure and key assets from physical attack. However, as we have
previously testified, neither of the strategies (1) clearly indicates how the physical
and cyber efforts will be coordinated; (2) defines the roles, responsibilities, and
relationships among the key CIP organizations, including state and local governments
and the private sector; (3) indicates time frames or milestones for their overall
implementation or for accomplishing specific actions or initiatives; or (4) establishes
performance measures for which entities can be held responsible.

We have not undertaken an in-depth review of the department’s cyber CIP efforts,
which would include an assessment of its progress in developing a comprehensive
national plan that addresses identified CIP challenges and the development of
analysis and warning capabilities.

    How is the DHS Office of IP organized to coordinate with private sector
    Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs)? Are the ISACs the best
    organizations to lead sector-based industry efforts to share critical
    infrastructure information? What role do you see for the ISACs going forward?
    Is the federal government doing enough to support ISAC efforts? Do you see [a]
    role for federal funding of ISACs?

According to an official in the Infrastructure Protection Office’s Infrastructure
Coordination Division, this division is responsible for building relationships with the
ISACs and is currently working with them and the sector coordinators (private sector
counterparts to federal sector liaisons) to determine how best to establish these
relationships. In addition, this official said that DHS’s interagency Homeland Security
Operations Center provides the day-to-day operational relationship with the ISACs to
share threat and warning information.

As mentioned previously, we are currently beginning work that will focus on the
status of ISAC efforts to implement the activities suggested by federal CIP policy.
This work should provide more information about obstacles to greater information
sharing, the role of the ISACs in sharing critical infrastructure information, and the
assistance provided to these organizations by DHS and other federal lead agencies.
Such federal assistance could include funding, such as the examples of ISAC funding


Page 8                                                                        GAO-04-300R
                                                           11
that we discussed in our February 2003 report. Specifically, the Energy ISAC
reported that in the fall of 2002, the Office of Energy Assurance (then within the
Department of Energy and now transferred to DHS) had agreed to fund ISAC
operations—an agreement sought so that membership costs would not prevent
smaller companies from joining. The new, cost-free Energy ISAC began operations
and broad industry solicitation for membership in February 2003. Further, for the
Water ISAC, the Environmental Protection Agency provided a grant for system
development and expanded operations.

     This month, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released a
     Progress Report on its 2001 Report Card on America’s Infrastructures. In this
     report, the ASCE examined current status and trends in the nation’s
     deteriorating infrastructure. In their assessment, the Energy infrastructure
     received a D+. Roads and bridges received a D+/C. Does the poor state of a
     number of our infrastructure sectors have serious negative implications for the
     security of those sectors against potential terrorist attack? What is the
     relationship between reliability and security when it comes to critical
     infrastructure protection?

The ASCE’s 2003 progress report on its 2001 report card does not discuss the
implications of deteriorating infrastructure conditions and security against potential
                 12
terrorist attack. Further, GAO has not specifically assessed whether the poor state
of infrastructure sectors may have serious negative implications for security against
potential terrorist attack. However, the relationship between reliability and security
may be an appropriate consideration as DHS and the critical infrastructure sectors
identified in federal CIP policy continue their efforts to assess the vulnerabilities of
these sectors to cyber or physical attacks.



We are sending copies of this letter to DHS and other interested parties. Should you
or your offices have any questions on matters discussed in this letter, please contact
me at (202) 512-3317. I can also be reached by e-mail at daceyr@gao.gov.

Sincerely yours,




Robert F. Dacey
Director, Information Security Issues



(310517)

11
 GAO-03-233.
12
 American Society of Civil Engineers, 2003 Progress Report: An Update to the 2001 Report Card, September
2003.



Page 9                                                                                          GAO-04-300R
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