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8/25/2009
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White House Overhauls Cybersecurity Reporting

Federal agencies will be required to submit standardized cybersecurity reports via new software, rather than spreadsheets.

The White House will soon require federal agencies to report their compliance with cybersecurity regulations using a new software tool, according to a memo issued by the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday.

The new system, a test version of which will be available this month, will collect information agencies are required under the Federal Information Security Management Act to report annually, including an inventory of systems, assessments of the sensitivity of those systems, descriptions of cybersecurity methods and tools used as well as other data points, including an update on reduction of agency holdings of personally identifiable information.

"The purpose behind the tool is to move away from paperwork submission to a more analytical platform that would allow us to see how agencies are performing, what we should focus on, and to improve the ability for US-CERT to monitor performance across the federal government," federal CIO Vivek Kundra said in a brief interview.

Going forward, the Office of Management and Budget will be working closely with federal chief information security officers to "rationalize" FISMA reporting to make sure reports are focused on quantitative and qualitative measurements of the extent and effectiveness of agency security efforts, Kundra said.

Though a series of National Institute of Standards and Technology requirements and guidelines regulate federal cybersecurity minimums under FISMA, critics have long argued that FISMA is largely a checklist exercise that doesn't require proper cybersecurity measures are put into place, demand continuous monitoring of security and risk, and assess the effectiveness of security measures put into place.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress that would amend FISMA or require additional cybersecurity measures, and NIST is working to overhaul its FISMA guidance.

Reporting categories and questions are largely unchanged from last year, but the new tool will allow agencies to enter data manually or upload it automatically. In past years, agencies have sent this data to the Office of Management and Budget with spreadsheets, and agencies like the Government Accountability Office and US-CERT have had to manually merge the data before they could perform any analysis.

Since the new tool is not yet available, federal agencies will have additional time this year before they have to report their cybersecurity compliance. Typically, FISMA reports are due in September, but they will be due this year on November 18, and only via the new automated tool.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on leading-edge government IT -- and how the technology involved may end up inside your business. Download the report here (registration required).

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