Cloud Security , Critical Infrastructure Security , Government

Report: US Cybersecurity Makes Major Gains Amid New Threats

First-Ever US National Cybersecurity Posture Report Highlights AI, Cloud Migrations
Report: US Cybersecurity Makes Major Gains Amid New Threats
The United States is "in the midst of a fundamental transformation" in national cybersecurity, the Office of the National Cyber Director said. (Image: Shutterstock)

The United States' cyber posture has made steady and significant improvements over the past year despite an ever-changing threat landscape and emerging technologies that stand to reshape the global digital ecosystem, according to the nation's first-ever federal cybersecurity posture report.

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The U.S. is "in the midst of a fundamental transformation" in national cybersecurity, the Office of the National Cyber Director said in a Tuesday report that assesses a wide variety of cybersecurity threats. The office also released an accompanying update to the 2023 National Cyber Strategy Implementation Plan that adds 31 new initiatives to the strategy and directs six federal agencies to lead cyber initiatives for the first time.

Despite the White House advancing "an affirmative vision for a safe, prosperous and equitable digital future," National Cyber Director Harry Coker acknowledged in a letter accompanying the report that "the threats we face remain daunting, our defenses are not impregnable and our work continues to evolve to meet the changing landscape."

ONCD described artificial intelligence as "one of the most powerful, publicly accessible technologies of our time" and said advances throughout 2023 in large-language models and other foundational algorithms "presented opportunities and challenges for cyber risk management at scale." The report warned that cybercriminals with limited resources and technical expertise can use AI to conduct malicious cyber activity, while AI-enabled surveillance and censorship have enabled authoritarian regimes "to more effectively and efficiently target journalists, dissidents and human rights defenders."

The implementation plan prioritizes defending critical infrastructure and essential services, calling for healthcare and public health sector-specific cybersecurity performance goals and the establishment of an Education Facilities Subsector Government Coordinating Council. The plan also calls for the adoption of cybersecurity best practices across the water and wastewater systems sector.

ONCD focused on the increasing reliance among critical infrastructure owners and operators on third-party cloud service providers and said that cloud migrations and hybrid deployments can often introduce complex centralized logging and authentication regimes that can allow threat actors to hack identity management systems.

"The 2023 PRC compromise of U.S. government communications demonstrates the necessity of maintaining comprehensive logging," the report says. "As organizations migrate increasing amounts of data and processes to the cloud, this shift introduces new cross-sector dependencies and complicates systemic risk identification and management."

The report "repeatedly highlights the ongoing migration of government, businesses and utilities to cloud service providers as both a positive step and one that requires greater attention to detail on the security front," said Mark Montgomery, senior director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation.

"The inaugural posture report does a good job highlighting the threat to the United States and clearly identifies nation-state actor manipulation of our critical infrastructure and ransomware attacks by criminals as the two most pressing threats," Montgomery said.

The implementation plan emphasizes strengthening collaboration across government and between the public and private sectors to disrupt and dismantle international threat actors. The strategy also highlights the importance of the U.S. Cyber Trust Mark, a cybersecurity labeling program for smart devices. The program "will help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions, differentiate trustworthy products in the marketplace and create incentives for manufacturers to meet higher cybersecurity standards."

About the Author

Chris Riotta

Chris Riotta

Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Riotta is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president. His reporting has appeared in NBC News, Nextgov/FCW, Newsweek Magazine, The Independent and more.

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