OMB to verify desktop configuration work

The Office of Management and Budget plans to validate the progress agencies have made in securing desktop computers.

Agencies filed reports in June on their progress and plans for establishing common security settings that comply with the Federal Desktop Core Configuration, and OMB plans to verify that data this fall.

Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology, said the agency most likely will confirm the reports in November or December.

The forewarning will give some agencies the time they need to verify whether they have correctly implemented the settings that they reported, she said.   

“There are some limitations as to how the agency or department has configured themselves, so they’re taking another look,” she said at a security conference sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

FDCC is a standard security configuration that agencies must implement when they update their computers to the Microsoft Windows XP or Vista operating systems. It requires a standard desktop view and should make updates, such as installing virus patches, faster and more effective.

OMB directed agencies to use the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) and related software tools to ensure that the security settings they had put in place as part of the FDCC implementation are correct, Evans said.

Agencies might need clarification about the best way to put in place and use SCAP tools, she said, adding that NIST is deciding how to share that information with agencies.

“There are gaps based on how agencies are implementing them and interpreting the results,” Evans said. The information agencies submit to OMB is “only as good as what’s been reported to them from their components,” she said.

SCAP software can help agencies improve how they apply information security, said Tim Grance, program manager for NIST’s Cyber and Network Security Program.

“The discipline of information security is still plagued with inefficiencies,” he said. SCAP software can provide transparency, interoperability, repeatability and ultimately automation, he said.  

OMB will use the Policy Utilization Assessment Program, developed by the General Services Administration, to survey a statistical sampling of an agency’s computers to verify whether they comply with the FDCC security settings.      

OMB conducted a test of the assessment program with three agencies to validate their earlier this year. Agencies reported in March that they believed they were 50 percent through FDCC implementation. The assessment program found agencies had implemented only 30 percent of the policy, Evans said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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