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Government Develops IT Security Guidance

Federal task force making progress on policies for securing civilian and national systems, reports the Government Accountability Office.



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A federal-led joint task force has made progress on establishing guidelines for IT security policies across both national and non-national security systems, a report by the federal watchdog agency has found.

In a report published Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that a task force established in 2009 and led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed initial guidance for securing civilian IT systems that can be applied, with modifications, for national security systems.

The task force -- also comprised of the Committee on National Security Systems, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. intelligence community – has developed three initial publications setting up guidance for how to secure both types of IT systems.

The guidelines, among other things, explain how to set up a risk-management framework for federal systems; identify an updated catalog of security controls and guidelines; and update the existing security assessment guidelines for federal systems, according to the report.

Two additional publications are scheduled for release by early 2011, while others are currently under consideration, the GAO said.

Historically, civilian and national-security related IT systems have had a different set of IT security policies and guidelines. "However, over time, factors such as the increasing interconnectedness of computer systems have led to these systems facing similar threats," according to the report.

Because of this, the federal government saw the need to develop a unified security framework for both types of systems, which it believes will improve security and avoid "unnecessary and costly duplication of effort," the GAO said.

However, developing harmonized guidance is merely the first step to actually implementing the security, and more work needs to be done to ensure this happens, the agency said.

The GAO has suggested some practices to help sustain collaboration across agencies on IT security so as to avoid a slack in current progress.

Suggestions include agreeing upon specific agency roles and responsibilities; establishing compatible policies, procedures and other means to operate across agency boundaries; and reinforcing agency accountability for collaborative efforts through agency plans and reports.

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