Looking beyond the cyber framework

With final comments on the NIST plan due Dec. 13, industry and agency experts are contemplating what comes next.

cyber attack button

With the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the final stages of putting together a formal release of an overarching federal cybersecurity framework, those in industry and government tasked with safeguarding cyber assets are looking ahead to what comes next. 

The formal framework is due in mid-February under a presidential executive order issued earlier this year, but several draft versions and ongoing dialog between stakeholders have defined the process so far. Most involved in the process are familiar with the framework’s principles, but questions are arising on some of the specifics, such as how a cybersecurity market will develop and what companies can gain from implementing.

 “We’re very much, if you will, all-in on the voluntary approach,” Michael Daniel, White House cybersecurity coordinator, said at a Dec. 5 Security Innovation Network event in Washington. “And that means that we’re in fact relying on the market being a primary driver and self-interest being a primary driver in the framework, because everybody has to manage their cyber risks.” 

The market’s role in the framework’s success continues to emerge as February draws closer, and as organizations figure out how they will integrate the guidance into current practices. Executives and officials are looking at factors such as cybersecurity insurance and government incentives, two increasingly hot-button issues. 

“There are times, particularly when protecting critical infrastructure, where the framework will need a boost,” Daniel said. “Part of that is looking at incentives.”

The development of an insurance market, the use of federal grants, process preferences, liability protections, public recognition, streamlined requirements, recovery rates and research and development all are being considered, he said.  

Daniel acknowledged that the most interest lies in liability protections, but said that is also the incentive “most fraught with peril” and most in danger of spawning unintended consequences. 

The insurance market remains largely undeveloped, except for a nascent market specifically centered on data breaches. Officials hope the framework will drive the market, and some in industry say it’s a waiting game to see what happens after February, once there is a barometer for how well organizations are protecting their cyber assets. 

“I think over time translating [metrics] into something that might be used on a broader basis would be useful. It’s the right thing to think about; it’s the next big challenge, but at the same time we don’t have the data,” Bob Butler, chief security officer of data center technology firm IO and former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for cyber policy, said Dec. 5 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We haven’t figured out a good model yet to provide the heuristics to help us with insurance valuation in this space.” 

But in the government, hopes are high that the framework will take off with a combination of inherent incentives – critical protections, financial gains – and those federally provided.

 “I’d recommend focusing on this as a list of ways to build a market around investing in cybersecurity,” Phyllis Schneck, deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity for the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, said at the SINET event. “These are ways to invest for our companies to protect themselves...ways to build new science, new innovation."  

"It’s not focused on compliance, checking off boxes in a 50-pound document you never want to read," Schneck said. It’s focused on looking at what fits your business, identifying your risks and resiliency, protecting what you need to and going out there and building stuff. And sell it.” 

Final public comments for the framework are due Dec. 13. More information can be found at http://www.nist.gov/itl/cyberframework.cfm.

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