Feds Look To Big Data On Security Questions

Government IT leaders believe continuous monitoring and advanced analytics can help agencies better understand their networks and security.

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

March 3, 2014

3 Min Read
(Image courtesy of DARPA)

Government IT leaders believe the growth of big data analytics may provide new tools in combating cyber security threats, according to a new report.

The new report -- based on conversations with18 federal government IT leaders with expertise in big data, cybersecurity, and operations -- found that agencies are exploring the opportunities and threats emerging at the intersection of their big data and cybersecurity initiatives.

Experts from agencies including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), General Services Administration (GSA), and NASA, discussed the emerging interplay between these two disciplines and other trends in a study conducted by MeriTalk, underwritten by Northrop Grumman.

[Are you about to choose a big data platform? Read: Big Data Platform Comparisons: 3 Key Points.]

Federal agencies report a continuing shift to virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI) for greater data centralization and deploying "cloud hubs"-- a private-cloud infrastructure. Agencies are also expanding their cloud offerings, including the availability of analytics-as-a-service. The surveyed executives said they are deploying this information architecture in part to support big data implementations.

According to the report, continuous monitoring and advanced analytics can help agencies gain "unprecedented understanding of their networks and security posture." As big data and security infrastructures evolve, agencies will require dashboards that can aggregate input from different analytical tools.

"The technology that enables large-scale data analytics is rapidly evolving and still relatively expensive. Successive waves of hardware and software innovation in this space will drive out complexity and cost over time," Joseph Hungate, principal deputy inspector general of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, said in the report.

Down the road, "intelligent analytics" -- an engine that can ask and answer inquiries and issue alerts without requiring human input -- could act in lieu of highly trained data scientists, some government executives predicted. Most agencies today report that they don't have analytics engines that can interact with data and alert of impending danger at the same level as human scientists.

The report made several recommendations to agencies based on feedback from federal IT experts, such as:

  • Develop a comprehensive enterprise information architecture strategy that incorporates both big data and cybersecurity.

  • Ensure that the agency adequately classifies the risk level of its data analytics and takes steps to mitigate risks.

  • Invest in tools to apply analytics to continuously monitor data.

  • Test dashboards that offer new insights and help track the return on investment for big data and cyber efforts.

The report reflects mounting interest in understanding the rise of big data and its impact on federal agencies. The White House in January launched a review of the growing use of big data analytics and its impact on privacy. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is conducting an in-depth study, which will be used to create a comprehensive report that encompasses future technological trends and key questions surrounding the collection, availability, and handling of big data.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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