Feds face mandatory security controls

Federal officials will soon be required to become experts in triage as they try to make their agencies comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act.

"We don't have unlimited funds to throw at this security problem," said Ron Ross, project leader for the FISMA Implementation Project at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. To be successful, he said, agencies should concentrate resources on protecting systems whose loss would cause serious or catastrophic consequences.

Beginning in January 2006, agencies must set up 17 minimum security controls on all major applications and general support systems, Ross said, speaking earlier this month at an information security training workshop in Washington,D.C., sponsored by the nonprofit Potomac Forum.

"It's not going to be easy to put in all these controls and get them working," Ross said. But making the effort is too important to ignore. "We're trying to establish a federal level of due diligence for all these systems," he added.

Security controls are measures to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information. The more important an application or system is to an agency's mission, the stronger the controls must be, Ross said.

The security controls are described in NIST's "Special Publication 800-53: Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems."

An example of a security control would be the use of a scanning tool to detect exploitable vulnerabilities in a system.

Ultimately, a senior official must take responsibility for whatever security vulnerabilities remain in an agency's systems after all reasonable protections have been applied.

Most systems are too complex to be completely secure, Ross said. Most security analysts like NIST's risk-management approach for creating the standard.

"This is going to be a very important standard because it hits all of the critical elements necessary to create an effective security program," said Paul Proctor, Gartner's vice president of the risk and privacy practice.

"The thing that comes closest to it is a British standard — BS 17799-2," Proctor said. But he said he likes the NIST standard better. "Put it down to personal preference," he added.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.