By Daniel Pulliam
dpulliam @ govexec.com
February 22, 2006
Adherence to congressionally mandated IT security processes is a poor
measure of the true state of cybersecurity across the government, a
former federal chief information security officer said Wednesday.
Agencies are fixated on complying with statutes such as the 2002
Federal Information Security Management Act and are creating piles of
paperwork and checklists that indicate little about actual security
levels, said Bruce Brody, vice president of information security at
INPUT, a Reston, Va.-based market analysis firm.
Brody said annual cybersecurity grades determined by the House
Government Reform Committee and its chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.,
based on FISMA compliance, also have little meaning. For fiscal 2004,
the federal government achieved an overall grade of D+, up from a D
the previous year.
"When the annual FISMA grades are released -- which could be
imminently -- you have to ask yourself, what do those grades really
mean?" Brody said. "The high grades could mean a lot of compliance,
but not a lot of security. The low grades could mean that there's
plenty of security in place, but it just wasn't verified on paper
Brody, who has served as the chief cybersecurity officer at the Energy
and Veteran Affairs departments, spoke to members of the press after a
three-hour closed-door meeting consisting of chief cybersecurity
officers for the Federal Communications Commission, Senate and
departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Transportation and Housing
and Urban Development.
The workshop was hosted by the Information Security Forum, a nonprofit
association of cybersecurity companies, the International Information
Systems Security Certification Consortium and INPUT.
Brody said the government officials and private sector security
professionals at the meeting discussed what "five years of FISMA has
given" agencies. The topic produced a great deal of discussion and
some mixed opinions, according to Brody.
A survey of agency cybersecurity officers conducted in August 2005
found that chief information security officers are spending more time
complying with FISMA each year.
Marc Noble, the FCC's chief security officer and only workshop
attendee available to speak to the media after the meeting, said he
hopes to come up with a risk-based solution to secure his agency's IT
systems, rather than focusing on regulatory compliance.
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