Justice explains C&A approach

Agencies are close to consensus on standards for security certification and accreditation

New standards for C&A

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, working with the Defense Department, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Office of Management and Budget, has established goals for transforming security certification and accreditation procedures in the intelligence community. The agencies want to:


  • Define a standard way of viewing information.

  • Accept one another’s certifications.

  • Define, document and adopt common security controls.

  • Agree on a common language and understanding of terms.

  • Create a senior executive position that will take an enterprisewide view of risks.


— Mary Mosquera

The Justice Department’s pitch to help agencies improve their security reporting is all about automation — leaving more time to do real-time monitoring.

Justice officials said they are taking information security to a new level by offering a security control application that automatically documents many of the processes necessary for certifying and accrediting federal information systems.

Certification and accreditation is one of the mandatory procedures agencies must complete and document under the Federal Information Security Management Act.

But in addition to providing documentation, Justice offers tools that monitor an information system’s security controls so C&A becomes more than a just snapshot of security at a point in time that has passed.

The purpose of C&A procedures is to demonstrate that information systems are trustworthy so agencies can establish system-to-system exchanges.

But “what happens usually has been a check-off, and you can’t get a trust relationship with that,” said Dennis Heretick, Justice’s chief information security officer.

Justice offers a security reporting service under the Office of Management and Budget’s Information Systems Security Line of Business (ISS LOB) consolidation initiative. Fifteen departments and agencies have signed up to use its shared-services center.

The Environmental Protection Agency also is an ISS LOB center for FISMA reporting. OMB has directed agencies to move to a shared-services provider for FISMA reporting by September 2008.

Agencies typically use a checklist to document that their information systems meet federal security requirements, but checklists tend to be paper exercises.

Justice is trying to make the C&A process more effective with a service that is sensitive to real-time risks.

The department is testing the security control authoring toolkit in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as part of a larger effort to establish a unified federal approach to C&A.

Justice’s security shared-services center uses the department’s Cyber Security Assessment and Management database of security requirements, controls, systems inventory and security categories.

“You can generate the controls that apply, determine which ones can be inherited from other projects or systems, and which ones may be out of scope because, say, your system is a financial system, which would bump up the controls,” Heretick said.

The service also incorporates the Risk Management Framework developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “We break those down into specific risk-control requirements, and within those controls, the expected results,” Heretick said.

ODNI is using the toolkit to document, assess and monitor its security controls. ODNI charts threats and vulnerabilities and assigns them risk values.

That testing is occurring as ODNI and Defense Department officials work to reach consensus on C&A security standards for the intelligence community.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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