Cybersecurity

NIST's dream: Integrating security into design

keyhole digital

The National Institute of Standards and Technology hopes its new guidelines for IT security will beget a systems engineering process in which security is intrinsic to product design rather than an afterthought.

The guidelines, posted May 12, offer best practices for information systems security based on international engineering standards. They are the culmination of a two-year process that co-author Ron Ross said was not reactive to specific cyber threats like Heartbleed but rather underpinned by broad security principles.

"I think every ... industry will look at this a little differently, depending on what niche they occupy," said Ross, who is a fellow in NIST's Computer Security Division.

Given the Pentagon's active role in developing the guidelines, defense firms might take a particular interest in how the document is applied. NIST worked "really closely" with DOD in developing the engineering guidelines, Ross said, building on a task force formed with intelligence agencies in 2009 to standardize information security for the federal government.

With a massive federal procurement footprint, how the defense industry applies the new guidelines could serve as an example to others, he added. The final document will have an appendix dedicated to engineering processes for DOD programs.

The guidelines are voluntary and applicable to federal agencies and private firms, which will have to weigh the trade-off between compliance expenses and the branding benefits from touting NIST-compliant products. "We don't want to tell industry how to do their job … but we can ask them to use best practices and point them to things that we think are appropriate," Ross said.

He called investing in an extra layer of security for federal agencies "the heavy lift [that] may be necessary to survive in the modern world of cyber threats."

Public comments on the NIST draft document are due July 11. The agency expects to issue a final version in December.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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