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New Leadership brings new hope for The Department of Commerce

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Richard Brooks's picture
Co-Founder and Lead Software Engineer Reliable Energy Analytics LLC

Inventor of patent 11,374,961: METHODS FOR VERIFICATION OF SOFTWARE OBJECT AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY and the Software Assurance Guardian™ (SAG ™) Point Man™ (SAG-PM™) software and SAGScore™...

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  • Mar 7, 2021
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Congratulations to former Rhode Island Governor, Gina Raimondo, for her appointment to Secretary of the Department of Commerce (“DOC”). Secretary Raimondo describes herself in this interview: "I’m a do-er — and I’m excited to do for the American people." This is a welcomed change in attitude from the former Secretary, which is reason for new hope and optimism. The DOC has lots of responsibilities that impact the economy and strengthen the American way of life. For this article, I’m going to focus on only those DOC functions that can directly impact and improve cybersecurity protections within the Energy industry.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is vitally important to protecting the Nation’s critical computing and digital infrastructures, especially with regard to the Electric Grid. NIST is a trusted and respected advisor on all matters pertaining to Cybersecurity, from their Cybersecurity Framework to their Supply Chain Risk Management best practices guidance and their reporting of software vulnerabilities via the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and the recently revised Smart Grid Architectural Framework, containing more direct guidance regarding the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

NIST is a “vital organ” that helps keep America informed of cybersecurity threats, and protections needed to keep America safe. The role, function and purpose of NIST cannot be overstated.

The DOC has a number of ongoing initiatives that are individually important, but are also valuable contributions to overall cybersecurity protections for the software supply chain and risk management (C-SCRM). NIST has published an updated C-SCRM document, NISTR 8276, effective February 2021, that I highly recommend. It provides a basic set of C-SCRM Key Practices that capture processes, activities, and tools adopted across various industries, including Energy. Another DOC initiative that is also important to C-SCRM protections is under development within the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), called Software Bill of Materials (SBOM). An SBOM is analogous to a food label ingredients list showing what goes into a software object. Software objects are typically constructed from component parts and it’s important to know if any of those parts are installed in your computing ecosystem, when a vulnerability is reported. Knowing which components are installed help Companies determine if they are at risk when these vulnerabilities are reported.

The ability to tie together these software vulnerability reports in the NIST NVD and a software objects ingredients list is vitally important, but is not easily achievable today. My hope is that Madam DOC Secretary Raimondo will find a way to help Companies improve their cybersecurity protections by enabling greater interoperability and alignment of software vulnerability reporting and software risk management activities underway in the DOC.

Congratulations and best wishes Madam Secretary. There are many of us rooting for you.

Richard Brooks's picture
Thank Richard for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 8, 2021

I wouldn't have thought about the connection between DOC and grid security, but you make a great point: 

My hope is that Madam DOC Secretary Raimondo will find a way to help Companies improve their cybersecurity protections by enabling greater interoperability and alignment of software vulnerability reporting and software risk management activities underway in the DOC.

Has leadership at DOC ever been a particular ally / deterrent to this progress in the past decade, or are you just looking that there will finally be a connection in this area that's overdue to be made? 

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Mar 8, 2021

I think more collaboration and coordination on cybersecurity related matters would help.

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