FISMA tightens criteria

"Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems"

Federal agencies, which scored poorly on their annual security report cards this year, will encounter even tougher grading standards next year.

Officials can expect to be graded on the impact that a serious security breach in any of their major applications or systems would have on their mission. Many agencies may be unprepared to provide that information, even though the law requires it, said Marianne Swanson, senior advisor for information technology security management at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Computer Security Division.

Speaking today in Washington, D.C., at an executive briefing organized by the nonprofit Potomac Forum, Swanson said that agencies had had some lead time to prepare for the new reporting requirement, which is mandatory under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002. But the lead time has run out.

Swanson said she informally surveyed about 70 federal chief information security officers recently and found that only about 40 percent of them had begun the now-mandatory process of categorizing their major applications and general support systems according to the impact that a serious breach in those systems could have on their agencies’ ability to operate.

About 10 percent of those in the room had completed the process of categorizing their systems as described in Federal Information Processing Standard 199, a standard that is mandatory for federal agencies. Federal officials have one year after NIST releases a FIPS standard to apply that standard to their existing systems.

Swanson also warned chief information officers that tougher grading standards await them when minimum security control standards for major federal systems become mandatory.

"That’s the doozy in our minds," Swanson said, referring to Special Publication 800-53, which will be become a mandatory FIPS standard by December 2005.

Federal agencies will have until December 2006 to apply 800-53 requirements to their existing systems.

NIST officials are planning a June release for a draft document that would provide guidelines for testing the soon-to-be mandatory security controls, Swanson said.

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