New rule puts onus on contractors to tighten IT security

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It is official: The government requires minimum cybersecurity standards for contractors that store sensitive information in their IT systems.

A new rule aimed at systems that store controlled unclassified information and classified information is one result of the White House's 2010 executive order aimed at bolstering CUI protections.

"Systems that contain classified information, or CUI such as personally identifiable information, require more than the basic level of protection," a May 16 Federal Register notice states. The regulation was issued by the Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA.

Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said the rule notifies federal contractors that they must protect their information not only on defense contracts but also on civilian contracts.

The rule specifies basic requirements for contractors, including limiting system access, requiring user authentication, maintaining access logs, compartmentalizing networks, frequently scanning data and monitoring network boundaries.

According to an alert from Washington regulatory law firm Wiley Rein, the rule establishes basic safeguarding measures that are generally part of routine business practices and does not affect other information-safeguarding requirements related to CUI or classified information.

The step is one in a series of coordinated regulatory actions underway or planned to strengthen the protection of information systems, according to the Federal Register notice. The Office of Management and Budget is also honing guidance on cybersecurity protection in federal acquisitions related to CUI and for systems used "incidental to providing a product or service for an agency with particular focus on security controls, incident reporting, information system assessments and information security continuous monitoring," the notice states.

DOD, GSA and NASA officials said they will develop changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation so the OMB guidance can be implemented when it is finalized. The new rule takes effect June 15.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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