Rick Driggers’ journey from combat control to infrastructure cybersecurity


After enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces right out of high school and choosing the difficult path of a combat controller, Diggers became a key player in establishing the Department of Homeland Security. From there, he moved to CISA for over 15 years, held key positions in the US Air Force, and is now the Head of Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity at Accenture Federal Services.

Rick Diggers in his early days in the United States Armed Forces

Driggers has worked with federal, state and local offices to understand the security posture of US infrastructure, most of which runs on legacy technology that was never originally intended to be connected to online networks. Securing this infrastructure has taken time and the industry is starting to feel the momentum. “If I look at an organization’s cybersecurity posture through a maturity and readiness lens, it really gives me the flexibility to make adjustments based on emerging threats and risks,” Diggers said, “C’ is much better than, you know, playing hitting a mole with vulnerabilities, which unfortunately a lot of organizations do.

Exploring what makes the agile and cybersecurity mindset possible, Driggers says it depends on people, processes, and technology, not just technology working alone — and that’s just one of them. 3 main challenges to secure organizations.

Top 3 Organizational Cybersecurity Challenges

Diggers speaking at the CyberTech Europe 2022 conference

Current cybersecurity gaps are particularly challenging for organizations that see their systems and operations taken offline. When working with government organizations, a hack can go beyond ransomware to expose a person of interest’s personal information or even government secrets.

When the stakes are so high, it becomes a team effort to ensure that this important data is only accessible to authorized users. To achieve this, organizations should focus on the following:

Culture

From the outset, it is important to recognize that securing computer networks and OT (Operational Technology) networks are not the same thing. While IT practitioners often focus on securing private data, OT cybersecurity professionals focus more on operational readiness and availability. They have different issues to tackle and approach them from different angles.

Executives need to recognize this and encourage opportunities for them to collaborate on sorting out organizational issues in a way that allows them to better understand each other.

People, Process and Policy

Working towards a common goal requires each team member to be in a role that matches their skill set. Employees need to be in the right place at the right time, able to understand challenges and act on them, without irrelevant decision-makers holding things back.

Visibility

Streamlining processes requires a clear understanding of what each department and team member does, to enable them to work as efficiently as possible while creating opportunities to recognize their own cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Additionally, it creates opportunities for teams to reduce duplicate efforts.

“I think gaining visibility helps a lot in managing many technical aspects. This will help free up resources to apply to real security practices to reduce risk,” Driggers said. “In my mind, it all really starts with visibility. If you can’t see it, you can’t protect it.

Protecting infrastructure for the future

Rick Diggers on C-SPAN when he worked for Homeland Security

The first step in securing any piece of technology is to ensure that cybersecurity is part of early development, not an afterthought where discovered vulnerabilities can render a device insecure or even unusable.

For example, the promise of 5G technology and the ability to connect fleets of devices to cellular networks are increasing attack surfaces to unprecedented levels. How do you secure these spaces on such a large scale? “Future security challenges in this space, particularly with respect to the development of new or existing critical infrastructure, are to continuously evolve our security solutions to not only ensure the integrity, reliability and security of all of these connected technologies, but we need to keep our people safe and private,” Driggers said.

A big part of that is the Biden administration’s Executive Order 14028, which laid the foundation for cybersecurity documentation and ultimately much of the progress we see today with software BOM documentation. (SBOM). Moreover, everything has been done from a supply chain perspective, not only for software supply chains, but also for software development environments. It gives language advice and clear risk advice to manufacturers on how to speak with their customers.

To achieve this, SBOMs are essential for identifying potential vulnerabilities, gaining insight into mitigation techniques, and securing organizations in an organized manner. Ultimately, the more visibility and communication about potential threats that exist within an organization’s culture, whether through meetings or documentation, the more secure it will be.

Click here to listen to the full episode.

Written by David Leichner (CMO), Shlomi Ashkenazy (Head of Brand) and Rafi Spiewak (Director of Content) at Cybellum

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