IMSI unveils training tool

Integrated Management Services Inc. (IMSI) has developed an off-the-shelf version of a computer-based security training program that already is being used by a number of agencies.

The Computer Security Awareness Tool (CSAT) is designed to help agencies make their employees aware of critical information systems security issues and of how to address them.

The Office of Management and Budget made such training mandatory for agencies three years ago as part of Circular A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources." IMSI created CSAT so that agencies can shift that instruction from the classroom down to the desktop - a move that can save the agency time and money, said Jim Litchko, IMSI's general manager for corporate development, Arlington, Va.

IMSI tailored CSAT to conform to security guidelines developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

NIST's 800-16 publication, released in March 1998, spells out principles for training staff members according to their roles within their organizations and for measuring the results of that training. Accordingly, the product is geared toward five levels of employees: end users, security officers, senior managers, program managers and systems administrators.

Course topics include computer security basics such as threats and vulnerabilities; security policies; security planning and management; good computer security practices; contingency planning; and security in the system development life cycle, including how a system's security is reviewed, certified and accredited.

IMSI believes that the computer-based course is competitively priced against classroom training. CSAT costs $40,000 for the first 2,000 students, with additional students - up to 30,000 - costing $5 to $10 each. Running a live, half-hour computer-awareness class, by contrast, can cost an agency $50,000 to $100,000, Litchko said. In the training materials, IMSI also adds agency logos and cases relevant to the buying organization.

IMSI designed the course to be easily accessible over a network, Litchko said. The Defense Information Systems Agency gives away a security training course on CD, but the product has high-intensity graphics that make it difficult to use the course over a network, and the product provides "no central management" to tell who has taken the training, Litchko said.

CSAT is designed to run on an agency's World Wide Web server, enabling users to access lessons through a browser interface, from a CD-ROM or from a compressed downloadable file on a user's desktop.

Federal Customers

The Small Business Administration acquired the software before it was made into a commercial product. "We wanted CBT based on the latest OMB guidance," said Howard Bolden, SBA's computer security program manager.

The computer-based training approach has a couple of advantages, Bolden said. First, it cuts costs. "It's prohibitively expensive to conduct classes" in the traditional fashion, he said. It is better to have CBT with a monitoring device. And agencies can conduct a "nose count" to make sure that they have met their yearly retraining requirements, he said.

The desktop training approach also "allows end users to take it at their own pace," Bolden said, so that users can fit the training into their schedules. SBA plans to run CBT for end users, functional program managers, security information resource managers and systems administrators.

The Education Department also has acquired the software. The potential cost savings makes it the "best bang for the buck," said Tom Boswell, Education's director for computer security.

Given that Education has 5,000 to 6,000 employees, plus contractors, "it would cost a fortune if we trained in the classroom," Boswell said. The format also is attractive. One thing Boswell likes about the software is that it has "lots of variety," so users are not bored by it. Exercises can come in the form of crossword puzzles, for example, to keep up interest.

Education is targeting end users, and perhaps executives, with the training accessed from desktop browsers, Boswell said.

The agency will not depend on the system as the sole means to train security professionals because these individuals need much greater depth. But everybody will be exposed to the end-user course to ensure a basic level of knowledge the first time around. "We're required to provide everybody with a level of awareness and general security practices," Boswell said. "That's what this is targeted for."

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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