Cyber Policy

NIST's latest cyber guidelines stress resiliency, privacy controls

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Officials from the National Institute of Standards and Technology are calling the latest update to its security controls catalog the most comprehensive since the guideline was first conceived in 2005.

The guideline, designed for federal agencies but commonly adopted elsewhere in the IT community, is Special Publication 800-53, Revision 4: Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations.

Its latest revisions were published April 29 and were led by NIST with assistance from the Department of Defense, the intelligence community and the Committee on National Security Systems as part of the Joint Task Force, an interagency group created in 2009. The revisions came in response to more advanced, frequent and sophisticated cyber-attacks that put federal agencies squarely in the crosshairs of would-be attackers.

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"This historic update to NIST Special Publication 800-53 moves beyond good cyber security hygiene and continuous monitoring into the space of system resiliency and strengthening the IT infrastructure to achieve that resiliency," said Ron Ross, Federal Information Security Management Act Implementation Project Leader, in a statement.

"In the modern world of complex systems and total dependence on IT, cyber security hygiene alone cannot stop cyber-attacks. Good architecture and engineering can," Ross said. "You can't control the threat, but you can control how you defend your information systems and networks using best practices in architecture and engineering."

What's new

Overlays are introduced in this revision. According to the document, overlays provide a "structured approach to help organizations tailor security control baselines and develop specialized security plans that can be applied to specific" missions, environments or technologies. Overlays allow organizations to take advantage of expanded security and privacy controls.

The document provides a holistic approach to information security and risk management through a "Built it Right" strategy coupled with a wide range of security controls for continuous monitoring. A system adhering these guidelines receives information in near real-time. It also includes eight new families of privacy controls, including controls that address areas like mobile and cloud computing, applications, trustworthiness, assurance, resiliency of information systems and advanced persistent threat.

"Continuing to be in a reactive mode regarding cyber-attacks will never prove successful," Ross said. "Organizations need to be more proactive in how their information systems and networks are designed and developed from an architecture and engineering perspective."

In addition, Special Publication 800-53's update includes several new features. They include:

• Assumptions relating to security-control baseline development;

• The ability to tailor the controls to align with the enterprise's mission;

• Additional assignment and selection statement options for security and privacy controls;

• Descriptive names for security and privacy control enhancements;

• Consolidated tables for security controls and control enhancements by family with baseline allocations;

• Tables for security controls that support development, evaluation and operational assurance; and

• Mapping tables for international security standard ISO/IEC 15408, which are known as the Common Criteria.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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