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Feds Update Cybersecurity Compliance Handbook

The federal government will soon finalize the most comprehensive overhaul to its internal cybersecurity guidelines since initial release.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The federal government has nearly finalized its first major overhaul to the primary handbook to federal cybersecurity standards in nearly four years, and its most significant update since the initial release of that handbook in 2005.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on Wednesday released the final public draft of the 455-page final public draft of NIST Special Publication 800-53, Revision 4, Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations, and announced that it was seeking comments on the document.

Special Publication 800-53 is the definitive catalog of security controls necessary to meet the federal government's internal cybersecurity requirements such as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), and has begun to be adopted even by state and local governments and some private companies.

The latest version of the document focuses on a two-fold approach to security: secure development followed by continuous monitoring. "There's a balanced approach here," said NIST fellow Ron Ross, who heads the federal government's implementation of FISMA. "It's just as important to build a stronger IT infrastructure as it is to monitor it when it's in place."

[ What is the government doing to thwart cyber criminals? Read New Defense Budget Aims To Improve Cybersecurity. ]

Information technology and cybersecurity have undergone significant change over the last four years, both inside of government and out, and Revision 4 includes changes to account for the increasing ubiquity of mobile technology and the improved maturity of cybersecurity monitoring tools. However, there are no separate controls for cloud computing -- those are contained in documentation for the GSA-managed FedRAMP security authorization program.

Revision 4 includes a new construct called "overlay" that allows agencies to deploy just a subset of the 800-plus cybersecurity controls depending on their mission and technology needs. It also increases the focus on building secure technology the first time around by ensuring things like secure coding, and includes a new appendix of privacy controls.

Special Publication 800-53 is the product of a collaboration among NIST, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Intelligence Community, as well as the input of thousands of comments received from the general public after release of the first public draft of Revision 4 in February 2012.

Comments on the final draft of Revision 4 are due March 1, and Ross said that NIST plans to publish the final document by the end of April. Ross said he doesn't anticipate major changes to the document before then, but adds that NIST will be looking for errors and "showstopper issues" as part of the review of the final round of comments.

Whatever the case, future updates likely won't take four years to complete. To keep up with the rapidly changing threat landscape and technology in the cyber realm, Ross said, Special Publication 800-53 might move to a model of frequent updates.

InformationWeek's 2013 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2013 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for 2013 Government IT Innovators closes April 12.

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