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ITL Bulletin for September 2008




ITL Bulletin for September 2008
ITL Bulletin for September 2008



Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon 

ITL BULLETIN FOR SEPTEMBER 2008

USING PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENTS TO EVALUATE AND STRENGTHEN INFORMATION SYSTEM
SECURITY

Shirley Radack, Editor
Computer Security Division
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
U.S. Department of Commerce
 
Performance measurements are valuable tools that produce useful, timely 
information about the security of information systems for the decision 
makers of organizations. When organizations can measure and evaluate the 
performance of their information security practices, they can take steps 
to strengthen the overall security of their information and their 
information systems.

Organizations that collect, analyze, and report performance-related data 
can use that data in many internal operations and processes. Performance 
measurements enable an organization to improve its accountability for 
information security and to bolster the effectiveness of its information 
security activities. In addition, the organization can use the 
performance data to demonstrate compliance with laws, rules, and 
regulations, and to provide quantifiable inputs for decisions on 
resource allocations. Ultimately, the organization can assess the impact 
that information system and program security activities have on its 
ability to carry out its mission, and to demonstrate that its 
information security practices contribute to successful operations of 
the organization.

To help organizations measure and evaluate the performance of their 
security controls, policies, and procedures, the Information Technology 
Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 
recently updated its guide to the effective use of performance 
measurements to improve information security.

 

Federal Requirements for Measuring Information System Performance

Performance measures are especially useful for federal managers who must 
meet regulatory, financial, and organizational requirements for their 
information security practices. Federal government organizations are 
required to measure their performance in general, and their information 
security performance in particular, under the provisions of legislation, 
including the Clinger-Cohen Act, the Government Performance and Results 
Act (GPRA), the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA), and the 
Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). NIST has developed 
standards and guidelines for conducting information system security 
programs to help federal agencies meet these legislative reporting 
requirements, as well as the requirements of the Office of Management 
and Budget (OMB) to report annually on the status of agency information 
security.

Performance measurement programs help federal agencies operate more 
securely and more efficiently. Using performance measurement tools, 
agencies can link the implementation of their information security 
programs to the agency's strategic planning efforts, and can tie the 
effectiveness of their security controls to the agency's success in its 
mission-critical activities.

Information security measurements can provide quantifiable data for 
assessing individual information systems, as well as enterprise-wide 
information security programs.  Performance measurements help agencies 
apply the risk management approach to information security, the process 
for identifying the risks to information and information systems, 
assessing the risks, and taking steps to reduce risks to an acceptable 
level.  Performance measurements also support the security certification 
and accreditation process.

Measurements can be used throughout the system development life cycle 
(SDLC) to monitor the implementation of appropriate security controls. 
Different measures may be needed for the different activities of the 
SDLC, from system acquisition and development through implementation and 
assessment. By collecting, analyzing, and reporting appropriate security 
information, agencies can improve the cost-effective integration of 
information security into the system development effort, rather than 
adding costly controls later on.

 

NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-55, Revision 1, Performance 
Measurement Guide for Information Security

Issued in July 2008, NIST SP 800-55, Revision 1, Performance Measurement 
Guide for Information Security, was written by Elizabeth Chew, Marianne 
Swanson, and Kevin Stine of NIST and by Nadya Bartol, Anthony Brown, and 
Will Robinson of Booz Allen Hamilton. SP 800-55, Rev. 1, expands upon 
NIST's previous work on the measurement of information security, and 
supersedes NIST SP 55, Security Metrics Guide for Information Technology 
Systems, which had been issued in July 2003. The new guide also 
supersedes NIST Draft SP 800-80, Guide to Developing Performance Metrics 
for Information Security. NIST SP 800-55, Revision 1, is available from 
the NIST website http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsSPs.html. 

The revised guide provides specific advice on developing, selecting, and 
implementing information system-level and program-level performance 
measures, and then using the performance measures to evaluate the 
adequacy of existing security controls, policies, and procedures. The 
information helps managers decide what security controls are 
nonproductive and where to invest in additional information security 
resources. The performance measures also help managers select and 
prioritize security controls for continuous monitoring. The guide 
explains the measurement development and implementation processes and 
how measures can be used to adequately justify information security 
investments and support risk-based decisions.

One section of the guide describes the roles and responsibilities of the 
agency staff members who develop, implement, and manage the information 
security measures.  While information security is the responsibility of 
all members of the organization, staff members such as the agency head, 
chief information officer, and other security officials have a direct 
interest in the success of the information security program, and in the 
establishment of an information security measurement program. Another 
section of the publication provides guidelines on the background and 
definition of information security measures, the benefits of 
implementation, various types of information security measures, and the 
factors that directly affect the success of an information security 
measurement program. Other topics covered in the guide include the links 
between information security and strategic planning, the approach and 
process recommended for the development of information security 
measures, and the factors that can affect the implementation of an 
information security measurement program.

The appendices to the guide provide practical examples of information 
security measures that can be used or modified to meet specific 
organizational requirements. Also included in the appendices are an 
extensive reference list and examples of minimum security requirements 
that are specified for federal agencies.

 

Performance Measurements and Security Controls

NIST SP 800-55, Rev. 1, advises organizations to design their 
performance measurement programs to support the selection and 
implementation of security controls. Security controls are the 
management, operational, and technical safeguards or countermeasures 
that protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of an 
information system and its information. Decisions on security controls 
for information systems and information support the organization's 
day-to-day operations, and protect its assets and individuals.

For federal agencies, the process for selecting security controls is 
specified in Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 199, 
Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information and 
Information Systems, and FIPS 200, Minimum Security Requirements for 
Federal Information and Information Systems. Under FIPS 199 and 200, 
federal agencies must categorize their information systems as 
low-impact, moderate-impact, or high-impact for the security objectives 
of confidentiality, integrity, and availability, and then select an 
appropriate set of security controls from NIST SP 800-53, Recommended 
Security Controls for Federal Information Systems, to satisfy their 
minimum security requirements.

NIST SP 800-55, Rev. 1, uses the security controls identified in NIST SP 
800-53 as a basis for developing measures that support the evaluation of 
information security programs. The performance measurement guide also 
lists other potential measures that agencies can tailor, expand, or use 
as models for developing other measures.

 

Foundation for a Successful Performance Measurement Program

Some of the factors that help shape a successful performance measurement 
program include the following:

Strong upper management support is critical to the implementation and 
the success of the information security program. A strong commitment to 
information security within the highest levels of the management of an 
organization helps to protect the security program from organizational 
pressures and budget limitations.

Information security policies and procedures that are enforced and 
backed by management are essential for an effective information security 
measurement program.  Information security policies delineate the 
information security management structure, assign information security 
responsibilities, and lay the foundation needed to reliably measure 
progress and compliance. These policies and procedures help to assure 
that data is available and can be used for measurement processes.

Quantifiable performance measures are necessary in order to capture and 
provide meaningful performance data. Quantifiable information security 
measures must be based on information security performance goals and 
objectives, and must be easily obtainable, feasible to measure, and 
repeatable. The information provided should demonstrate performance 
trends and facilitate decisions for future resource investments.

Periodic results-oriented analysis of the measures data must be a 
consistent part of the information security measurement program. The 
analyses are used to apply lessons learned, improve the effectiveness of 
existing security controls, and plan for the implementation of future 
security controls to meet emerging information security requirements. 
All stakeholders and users must be committed to the accurate collection 
of data that is meaningful and useful in improving the overall 
information security program.

The success of the information security measurement program can be 
judged by the results that are produced, and by their use in supporting 
the decisions affecting the organization's information security posture, 
its budget and personnel requests, its allocation of available 
resources, and the preparation of required reports on information 
security performance.

 

Developing a Performance Measures Program

Investing time early in the development of a performance measures 
program is more effective than retrofitting requirements once the effort 
is under way. Important considerations for setting up an information 
security performance measures program include:

* Selecting the measures most appropriate for the organization's 
  strategy and business environment, including mission and information 
  security priorities, environment, and requirements;

* Taking time to collect input and get buy-in from, and provide 
  education to, all relevant stakeholders; and

* Ensuring that appropriate technical and process infrastructure is in 
  place, including creation/modification of data collection, analysis, 
  and reporting tools.

Two processes-measures development and measures implementation-guide the 
establishment and operation of an information security measurement 
program.
 


Measures Development Process

As the first step in developing performance measures, an organization 
should select the measures that are most appropriate for the 
organization's strategy and business environment, considering mission 
and information security priorities, environment, and requirements. All 
involved stakeholders should take part in the development of the 
information security measures to ensure management and organizational 
support for the information security performance measurement program.

The measures that are selected must yield quantifiable information, such 
as percentages, averages, and numbers, and the data that supports the 
measures should be readily obtainable. Only repeatable information 
security implementation processes should be considered for measurement, 
and the measures must be useful for tracking performance and directing 
resources.

The performance measures that are developed should enable the 
organization to identify the causes of poor performance and to adopt 
appropriate corrective actions. Three types of measures can be applied:

- implementation measures can be used to demonstrate progress in 
  implementing information security programs, specific security 
  controls, and associated policies and procedures;

- effectiveness/efficiency measures can be used to assess the results of 
  the implementation of security controls; and

- impact measures can be used to assess the impact of information 
  security on an organization's mission. These measures are 
  organization-specific since each organization has a unique mission.

 

Information system security performance goals and objectives should be 
identified and documented to guide the implementation of security 
controls for an information system.  Federal organizations may choose to 
represent their goals and objectives in terms of the high-level policies 
and requirements, laws, regulations, guidelines, and guidance which they 
are required to implement.

The types of measures that can realistically be obtained, and that can 
also be useful for performance improvement, depend on the maturity of 
the agency's information security program and the implementation of 
security controls in information systems. Different types of measures 
can be used simultaneously, and the primary focus of information 
security measures may change as security controls are implemented.

Organizations should refer to their information security practices when 
developing their performance measurement programs, including the details 
of how security controls should be implemented to achieve information 
security performance goals and objectives.

The development of performance measures should focus on gauging the 
security performance of a specific security control, a group of security 
controls, or a security program. This approach will result in measures 
that help the organization determine how well it is supporting its 
strategic objectives.

Because there are so many possible measures that are based on existing 
policies and procedures, the measures should be prioritized to ensure 
that those measures selected for initial implementation reflect the 
organization's existing information security program priorities. See 
Appendix A of NIST SP 800-55, Rev. 1, for examples of program-level and 
system-level measures. Organizations can tailor and adapt these measures 
for their information security programs.

Performance targets should be established as a component of defining 
information security measures. Performance targets establish a benchmark 
by which success is measured. Success should be based on the proximity 
of the measure result to the stated performance target. The mechanics of 
establishing performance targets differ for implementation measures and 
for measures of effectiveness/efficiency and impact. Setting performance 
targets for effectiveness/efficiency and impact measures is more complex 
because these aspects of security operation do not assume a specific 
level of performance. Organizations should determine appropriate levels 
of security effectiveness and efficiency, and use these levels as 
targets of performance for applicable measures. It may not be possible 
to establish performance targets until some data is collected to 
establish a performance baseline.

Organizations should document their performance measures in a standard 
format to ensure repeatability of measures development, tailoring, 
collection, and reporting activities. A standard format will provide the 
detail required to guide the measurement collection, analysis, and 
reporting activities.

Measures that are ultimately selected for implementation will be useful 
for measuring performance, identifying causes of unsatisfactory 
performance, and pinpointing improvement areas. The measures also will 
help the organization facilitate continuous policy implementation, 
effect information security policy changes, redefine its goals and 
objectives, and support continuous improvement.

 

Implementing Performance Measures for Information Security and 
Management Improvement

To implement an information security measurement program, organizations 
should apply measures for monitoring information security control 
performance and use the results to initiate performance improvement 
actions. To make continuous use of performance measures, organizations 
should:

Prepare for data collection by identifying, defining, developing, and 
selecting information security measures. An implementation plan is 
essential to the success of the information security measurement 
program. The plan should contain provisions for continuous monitoring of 
the information security program through activities such as 
configuration management, information security impact analyses of 
changes to the information system, assessment of a subset of security 
controls, and status reporting.

Collect data and analyze results by aggregating and consolidating the 
collected data, conducting gap analyses, identifying causes of poor 
performance, and identifying areas that require improvement.

Identify the potential corrective actions for each performance issue and 
prioritize the actions, based on the overall risk mitigation goals. The 
most appropriate corrective actions should be selected for use in a full 
cost-benefit analysis.

Develop a business case, based on industry practices and on federal 
guidelines, including OMB Circular A-11, the Clinger-Cohen Act, and 
GPRA. The business case should reflect the results of the above three 
steps. Agencies frequently have guidelines for building business cases 
and the life-cycle spending thresholds to determine which investments 
and budget requests require the development of a formal business case. 
In general, the level of effort to develop the business case should 
correspond to the size and scope of the funding request.

Evaluate budget requests following the development of the business case, 
prioritize resources, and assign resources to budget requests as needed 
to implement corrective actions.

Apply corrective actions in the security program, or in the technical, 
management, and operational areas of security controls. This process is 
used to document and monitor the status of corrective actions.

 

More Information

Publications developed by NIST help information management and 
information security personnel in planning and implementing a 
comprehensive approach to information security. Organizations that use 
performance measures to quantify the performance of their information 
security programs can draw upon the results of many information security 
activities and sources of information, including:

FIPS 199, Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information 
and Information Systems, requires agencies to categorize their 
information systems as low-impact, moderate-impact, or high-impact for 
the security objectives of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

FIPS 200, Minimum Security Requirements for Federal Information and 
Information Systems, requires that agencies determine minimum security 
requirements after they have categorized their systems, and select an 
appropriate set of security controls to satisfy the minimum 
requirements. Security controls are specified in NIST SP 800-53.

NIST SP 800-30, Risk Management Guide for Information Technology 
Systems, provides guidance to organizations in identifying the risks to 
their missions brought about by the use of information systems, 
assessing the risks, and taking steps to reduce the risks to an 
acceptable level.

NIST SP 800-37, Guide for the Security Certification and Accreditation 
of Federal Information Systems, recommends procedures for the security 
certification and accreditation of information systems. Performance 
measures help to support this process.

NIST SP 800-53, Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information 
Systems, provides guidance in selecting, specifying, and tailoring 
security controls that will provide an appropriate level of security, 
based on the organization's assessment of mission risk.

NIST SP 800-53A, Guide for Assessing the Security Controls in Federal 
Information Systems, recommends assessment methods and procedures that 
can be used to determine if the security controls selected by the 
organization are implemented correctly, operating as intended, and 
meeting the security requirements of the organization. The assessment 
data produced can be used as data for information security measurement.

NIST SP 800-65, Integrating IT Security into the Capital Planning and 
Investment Controls Process, presents common criteria that organizations 
can use to prioritize security activities and ensure that identified 
corrective actions are incorporated into the capital planning process 
for cost-effective information security.

NIST SP 800-100, Information Security Handbook: A Guide for Managers, 
reviews the components essential to establishing and implementing 
effective information security programs to help managers select and 
implement appropriate security controls.

For information about NIST standards and guidelines that are listed 
above, as well as other security-related publications that support 
performance measurement programs, see NIST's web page 
http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/index.html. 

 

OMB directives and guidelines are available at 
http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/. 

 

Disclaimer

Any mention of commercial products or reference to commercial 
organizations is for information only; it does not imply recommendation 
or endorsement by NIST nor does it imply that the products mentioned are 
necessarily the best available for the purpose.

 
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