InfraGard: Enhancing Information Sharing Through Strategic Programming, Outreach, and Communications

Posted: October 29, 2015 at 8:44 am

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By Talley Philpy, Vice President of Communications for INCRMA

InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and the private sector that is devoted to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against US critical infrastructure.  Individuals who work with or study critical infrastructure can apply to become members of their local InfraGard chapter, contingent upon the FBI’s completion of a security risk assessment. With more than 80 chapters nationwide, the InfraGard program is designed to function at the local level.

The InfraGard National Capital Region Members Alliance (“INCRMA”), based in the Washington, DC metro area, is one of the largest chapters and for good reason; perhaps nowhere is the information sharing mission more vital than in our Nation’s target-rich capital.

INCRMA partners with various government and private sector groups to offer programming that educates its members and provides opportunities for relationship-building, an essential part of information sharing. In the past year, programs have focused on such diverse topics as the future of identity, cyber incident response, and emerging trends and tactics affecting the physical protection of soft and hard targets.  Cyber-related programming tends to predominate, as the majority of INCRMA members identify themselves as information technology professionals.

Strategic Programming

In addition to offering the standard program lineup to its members, INCRMA’s Board of Directors has developed novel program tracks to more fully engage the FBI. Danielle Lindholm, Vice President of Programs and Events, has been a driving force behind new “in-reach” programs that bring private sector expertise to FBI analysts and staff: “We’ve been working with local FBI field offices to identify issues that are important to them, and we’ve in turn provided experts to teach on those topics. It’s a true two-way partnership. Most InfraGard programming across the country is outward-facing, focused on educating members, but we also have private sector expertise that we can share.”An August 2014 in-reach program on Bitcoin and virtual currencies drew more than 100 FBI attendees, and plans for more such programs are currently underway. INCRMA’s efforts can serve as a model for other InfraGard chapters across the country that are looking for new ways to cultivate information sharing.

Outreach Strategies

INCRMA’s Board of Directors has also implemented a new outreach strategy to reach large numbers of critical infrastructure partners effectively and efficiently.  Since there are already many organizations dedicated to information sharing, tapping into those networks rather than attempting to “reinvent the wheel” saves time and resources. Some information sharing organizations, like the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers, have proliferated recently; others, like professional organizations, have existed for a long time. Establishing a relationship with the head of a professional organization makes more sense than attempting to reach out to an association’s individual constituents, which may number in the hundreds. With this view in mind, INCRMA President Kristina Tanasichuk recently met with representatives of the American Public Works Association and the American Water Works Association to talk about how INCRMA can address their concerns and what they might be able to bring to the table. As with the in-reach programming, this strategic outreach to professional associations could serve as a model for other InfraGard chapters struggling to engage with and meet the needs of numerous stakeholders.

Local fusion centers also provide opportunities for strategic outreach. There are more than 70 fusion centers across the United States that are responsible for gathering, analyzing, and sharing information on threats impacting their area of operations. Like professional associations, fusion centers maintain deep connections with communities pertinent to InfraGard, including law enforcement, critical infrastructure, and emergency response personnel.

Innovating Communications

As technological advances enable new forms of communication and render others obsolete, InfraGard’s membership outreach efforts are challenged to keep pace with the changing landscape, particularly in regard to social media. While some InfraGard members keep a low social media profile due to security concerns, privacy protections on networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are available and expanding with customer demand. Moreover, the growing pervasiveness of social media and its basic function as an information sharing tool potentially make it one that InfraGard could co-opt to enhance awareness and build rapport among members, particularly of younger generations. INCRMA and a few other InfraGard chapters have made some inroads into social media networking, and many more chapters are considering how to establish a social media presence that engages and positively impacts membership. The INCRMA Board of Directors is developing a communications strategy that better incorporates social media and leverages its information sharing power, with an eventual goal to share social media best practices with other InfraGard chapters.

Other means of communications, particularly secure communications, may appeal to InfraGard members wishing to discuss sensitive information over a trusted network.  InfraGard’s secure online portal has suffered a number of setbacks since its deployment, but there are commercially available listservs and internet forums that members could use to communicate securely. While information sharing is driven by members, InfraGard’s leadership can help facilitate that by providing some convenient, simple, and secure communications tools to members.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, the goal of INCRMA’s programming, outreach, and communications strategies is to enable information sharing in support of critical infrastructure protection (“CIP”). Information sharing is essential to CIP, and success stories, beginning with InfraGard’s founding, continue to prove that point. The InfraGard program was established in 1996 after information technology professionals helped the FBI’s Cleveland office solve a cybersecurity case.[1] In 2007, less than ten years after the FBI nationalized the InfraGard program, emergency support teams in Minneapolis drew on their local InfraGard network to rapidly access a secure area near the site of a major bridge collapse.[2] A university professor and InfraGard member in Alabama assisted the FBI in identifying a cybercrime ring in 2012.[3]

We must continue to find ways to break down barriers to information sharing and streamline the process in an age of rapidly increasing complexity. The security of our critical infrastructure depends on it.


[1] Elaine Pittman, “InfraGard Increases U.S. Security One Relationship at a Time,” Emergency Management, Aug. 13, 2012,  http://www.emergencymgmt.com/safety/InfraGard-Increases-US-Security-Relationship.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “University Professor Helps FBI Crack $70 million Cybercrime Ring,” NBC News, Mar. 21, 2012, http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/21/10792287-university-professor-helps-fbi-crack-70-million-cybercrime-ring.

Write to the Editors at ciprpt@gmu.edu