President Biden Signs Expansive Executive Order to Improve Cybersecurity for Federal Networks

On May 13, 2021, President Biden signed an expansive Executive Order that aims to significantly bolster cybersecurity protections for federal networks, improve threat information sharing between the government, law enforcement and the private sector, and introduce a cyber threat response playbook to accelerate incident response and mitigation.

The 34-page Executive Order includes short time frames for making significant improvements to cybersecurity, with all elements of the Executive Order due to be implemented within the next 360 days and the first elements due in 30 days.  The Executive Order was penned following a series of damaging cyberattacks that impacted government departments and agencies, such as the SolarWinds Orion Supply chain attack and attacks on Microsoft Exchange Servers. The recent DarkSide ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline served as yet another reminder of the importance of improving cybersecurity, not just for the Federal government but also the private sector which owns and operates much of the country’s critical infrastructure.

President Biden is planning to lead by example and is urging the private sector and critical infrastructure firms to follow the lead of the Federal government in improving resilience to cyberattacks and preparing for attacks to ensure that disruption to operational capabilities is kept to a minimum.

The key elements of the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity are:

  • Removing barriers to threat information sharing to make it easier for private sector companies to report threats and data breaches that could potentially have an impact on Federal networks.
  • Modernizing and implementing stronger cybersecurity standards in the Federal government. This includes widespread use of multifactor authentication, more extensive use of data encryption, the adoption of a zero-trust architecture, and a more rapid transition to secure cloud services.
  • The creation of a standard cyber incident response playbook. Government departments and agencies need to know, in advance, how to respond to threats. The playbook will ensure a rapid and uniform response to any cybersecurity incident.
  • Improvements to investigative and remediation capabilities. Detailed security event logs must be maintained by federal departments and agencies to ensure that cyberattacks can be easily investigated and remediated. Breach investigations have previously been hampered due to the lack of robust and consistent logging.
  • Improving software supply chain security. All software sold to the U.S. government will need to adhere to new security standards. Developers will be required to maintain greater visibility into their software solutions and make security data publicly available. The government will also launch a pilot “energy star” label program to demonstrate whether software was developed securely.
  • A Cybersecurity Safety Review Board will be created that consists of government and private sector leads that will meet following any significant security breach to analyze what has happened. Recommendations can then be made and implemented to ensure similar attacks are prevented in the future.
  • Improvements to cyber incident detection capabilities. A government-wide endpoint detection and response system will be implemented, along with robust intra-governmental information sharing.

“This Executive Order makes a significant contribution toward modernizing cybersecurity defenses by protecting federal networks, improving information-sharing between the U.S. government and the private sector on cyber issues, and strengthening the United States’ ability to respond to incidents when they occur,” explained the Biden Administration in a statement about the Executive Order. “It is the first of many ambitious steps the Administration is taking to modernize national cyber defenses.”

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.