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Software patching must work like car safety recalls, says US cyber boss

Adds infosec regulation coming to more industries but with a light touch, more collaboration


Black Hat Asia Software made unsafe by dependencies should be fixed without users needing to interact with the source of the problem, according to US National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, who serves in the Executive Office of the President.

Speaking to The Register at the Black Hat Asia conference in Singapore on Friday, Inglis said that when a faulty component in a car needs to be replaced, the manufacturer who chose that component takes responsibility for securing safe parts and arranging their installation. He contrasted that arrangement with the fix for the Log4j bug, which required users to seek assistance from both vendors that used the open-source logging code and source software from the Log4j project itself.

Inglis wants vendors to take responsibility for their choices so that addressing security issues is easier and users' systems – and the US – can achieve better resilience with less effort.

The director said such a change is the sort of thing he considers a necessary regulatory requirement for the digital age because to date some sources of problems have evaded responsibility or the costs of their errors.

The Biden administration has already shown its intention to increase technology regulation with initiatives such as the Executive Order aimed at modernizing national defenses in the wake of attacks on SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange, and the incident that closed the Colonial Pipeline. Another possible action has seen the SEC float shorter compulsory reporting windows for public companies hit by infosec incidents, as well as periodic market updates on security efforts.

Inglis told The Register more regulation is coming, and while he wants watchdogs to have the "lightest possible touch," he also hopes to impose a "capital cost" on businesses to ensure they invest to improve their capabilities.

The director could offer no time frame for the delivery of new regulations, saying the administration is considering the needs of many industries.

One activity he wants to see more of is collaboration between government and the private sector, and more collaboration among agencies.

Inglis feels such efforts are essential because no entity knows or understands everything it needs to improve its information security. The director described collaborations in which entities each bring their own view of a situation to the table, and each gains the fuller view needed to tackle problems only after sharing information.

"We often overestimate what a government would know, or underestimate what the private sector knows," he told the conference.

He instead hopes organizations can share "a degree of professional intimacy such that we can discover things together that no one of us can do alone… so we discover something no one could have discovered alone."

National security agencies in the UK and Israel do this well, he said. And the US's efforts are improving thanks to the work of the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative run by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

"The concept is beginning to work," he said. ®


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