Nothing easy about security

Information security experts offer no easy answers for agencies trying to improve their security grades.

The maze of requirements imposed by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 has created confusion about interpretation, said Les Cashwell, a security analyst and chief executive officer of Cashwell & Associates, a consulting company. "It's not perfect legislation, but at least it's something," Cashwell said, speaking today in Arlington, Va., at a seminar sponsored by e-Security Inc.

With tongue in cheek, Cashwell offered a graphic depiction of FISMA as a beast with long, sharp teeth and many eyes. Besides doing good, Cashwell said, FISMA created "a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork." Deciding how much detailed security information to report to senior managers is "a huge challenge," he said.

Addressing agency officials who wanted to know how to improve their FISMA grades, security analysts at the seminar urged federal managers to adopt a consistent approach to certifying and accrediting their information systems as required under FISMA. A consistent approach has proved difficult for many federal agencies struggling with how large or small to define a "system," Cashwell said.

Analyst Michael Rasmussen, director of research at Forrester Research Inc., said FISMA and other security requirements may soon create a need for organizations to hire chief operational risk officers. Some organizations already have hired officers to coordinate the physical, legal, personnel, information and information-systems dimensions of security, Rasmussen said. It is a practice, he predicted, that would be common in five years.

Rasmussen advised agencies to focus on creating "good enough" security to meet FISMA requirements. "We don't need to build a Fort Knox," he said.

Featured

  • Comment
    Diverse Workforce (Image: Shutterstock)

    Who cares if you wear a hoodie or a suit? It’s the mission that matters most

    Responding to Steve Kelman's recent blog post, Alan Thomas shares the inside story on 18F's evolution.

  • Cybersecurity
    enterprise security (Omelchenko/Shutterstock.com)

    Does Einstein need a post-SolarWinds makeover?

    A marquee program designed to protect the government against cybersecurity threats is facing new scrutiny in the wake of Solar Winds Orion breach, but analysts say the program was unlikely to have ever stopped the hacking campaign.

Stay Connected