Editor's note: Improving FISMA

CISOs are looking for ways to complement the FISMA regime with a program that emphasizes continuous monitoring

What is it about our human psyche that makes procedure a substitute for a solution? You see it in legal circles, where justice and public safety often take a back seat to following the book, as if it’s the book that deters a criminal act. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, we’ve seen it applied to information security, to the extent that merely documenting your agency’s prior safety record is tantamount to declaring victory over the bad guys who never sleep.

The Federal Information Security Management Act was a federal response to a real problem — the fact that agencies and their computer systems are under constant threat from cyber terrorists. But for many a chief information security officer — the person appointed to oversee an agency’s threat response — FISMA guidelines often seem like a never-ending stream of paperwork designed to document what didn’t happen last year. More hours are spent compiling certification and accreditation reports than are devoted to finding and deterring malicious acts.

Now some CISOs are looking for ways to complement the FISMA regime with a program that emphasizes continuous monitoring. As contributing writer John Moore reports in our cover story, some agencies are adopting a strategy that depends, in part, on a package of 20 security practices, named the Consensus Audit Guidelines or the 20 critical security controls.

CAG states that enterprises should focus on a few key controls that block the most common types of known attacks, and those controls should be monitored around the clock.

It’s a notion that has critics, to be sure. But CAG has found favor with the Office of Management and Budget, and it is being practiced in key venues such as the State Department, which must guard locations that span the globe. What’s more, it has the ring of real problem-solving and the smell of true vigilance.


About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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