Cybersecurity

OMB developing cyber guidance for contractors

Shutterstock image: the White House. 

The Office of Management and Budget is drafting guidelines intended to bolster the cybersecurity of contractors in the aftermath of damaging compromises of federal information via third-party vendors.                                 

The draft guidance will be published at CIO.gov, according to a Federal Register notice. “The increase in threats facing federal information systems demand that certain issues regarding security of information on these systems is clearly, effectively and consistently addressed in federal contracts,” the notice stated.

Hackers have exploited contractors’ cyber vulnerabilities in some of the biggest attacks on federal networks, including a pair of breaches of the Office of Personnel Management that compromised the personal information of some 22 million people. Hackers accessed the OPM network via credentials from an employee of KeyPoint Government Solutions, a background check firm.

Before the revelations of those colossal breaches, OPM said it was reviewing contracting practices after separate hacks of KeyPoint and U.S. Investigations Services, another background check firm that no longer works with OPM.

The Federal Register notice described how cyber threats to federal IT systems have “dramatically increased as agencies provide more services online, digitally store data, and rely on contractors for a variety of these information technology services.”

Yet contractors trying to report a breach of their computer systems have struggled with a patchwork of confusing regulations, according Robert Nichols, a partner at Covington and Burling.

“Contractors are likely to welcome government guidelines for vendor cybersecurity standards -- so long as they are clear and reasonable,” Nichols told FCW in an email. “The [National Institute of Standards and Technology] framework and standards are helpful, but their application requires a high degree of judgment and decision making. Hopefully, the new guidelines will create a bright line standard that, when met, will demonstrate that a contractor has acted responsibly with regard to cybersecurity.”

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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