State and local governments are closer than ever to having a single view available of the cyber-attacks and security vulnerabilities they are facing, thanks to groundbreaking work by a cross-sector organization that’s bringing them together.

The not-for-profit Multi-State Information and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) is on the cusp of significant growth, said the organization’s chair, Will Pelgrin, and new participants will be able to utilize a new threat monitoring center recently launched by MS-ISAC that will give state and local governments better security intelligence in near real-time.

By June 2011, 14 states, seven local governments and one U.S. territory will have their active threat monitoring done at the new MS-ISAC operations facility, Pelgrin said. In 2003, MS-ISAC began with just a handful of participating governments. Now all 50 states and many local governments have partnered at some level with the organization.

Pelgrin attributed the organization’s growing presence and increasing participation to three factors: more public awareness of cyber-security’s importance, more funding from Congress, and the deteriorating fiscal condition of state and local governments.

“I’m grateful that we’re in a time and place and moment that this new organization -- this new not-for-profit -- is helping to fulfill part of the need [for threat monitoring], and to help support the private sector and public sector going forward,” said Pelgrin, who leads MS-ISAC as the head of the Center for Internet Security. He was formerly the chief information security officer of New York State.

Jointly funded by federal as well as state and local funds, MS-ISAC became a nonprofit in August. That same month, MS-ISAC opened its new 24/7/365 operations center in East Greenbush, N.Y, in time for Cyber Storm III, a nationwide cyber-security exercise. A ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 18 celebrated the center’s official opening. National cyber-security czar Howard Schmidt and other federal officials attended.

The operations center in upstate New York is manned by a few dozen workers, including MS-ISAC personnel, private-sector representatives and security details from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Secret Service and state police. The Air Force will be added soon, according to Pelgrin.

“This 24-hour watch center has been created to provide a common picture for states, local, territorial and tribal governments of the cyber-threats, risks and vulnerabilities,” he said, “and for us to provide proactive [measures] and mitigation steps as situations may arise. I’m a big believer that the collective view is much more valuable then the singular view.”

Pelgrin said MS-ISAC’s not-for-profit status, which has been lauded by the Obama administration, will spur more cross-sector collaboration. And the new building will encourage data sharing in a nonthreatening environment. “We’ve always been perceived, and in reality are a trusted partner with the private side,” Pelgrin said. “This [new facility] allows it to be in an environment that transcends to be a neutral space for all.”

MS-ISAC’s mission encompasses threat detection, prevention and protection, and recovery for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. The organization has made a real-time dashboard of top cyber-threats available online in real time. Increasingly MS-ISAC’s relationship with federal government also has solidified, Pelgrin said. The organization has recently collaborated with the Department of Homeland Security on white papers about important cyber-security topics like Web 2.0 vulnerabilities. Soon MS-ISAC also will have a physical presence in the federal government’s joint operations center, he said.

The partnerships and the new 24/7 facility will improve the “cyber-postures” of state and local governments, Pelgrin said. Adding more states and locals to MS-ISAC’s threat monitoring program will improve the center’s intelligence gathering because states’ cyber-security is interconnected.

“Why that’s important is that we have geographically a wide breadth and distribution of information flow that gives us situational awareness of these pieces of the puzzle which are essential to see what’s going on in our environment,” Pelgrin said.

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor