[ISN] ITL Bulletin for August 2008

From: InfoSec News <alerts_at_private>
Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2008 02:27:01 -0500 (CDT)
Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon <elizabeth.lennon (at) nist.gov>


Shirley Radack, Editor 
Computer Security Division 
Information Technology Laboratory 
National Institute of Standards and Technology
U.S. Department of Commerce 

The selection and implementation of security controls are critical 
decisions for protecting the security of an organization's information 
and information systems. 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.

The Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute of 
Standards and Technology (NIST) recently supplemented its guidance to 
federal agencies about selecting, implementing, and assessing security 
controls for their information systems.  The updated advice helps 
organizations apply measurement tools to assess the proper 
implementation, operation, and effectiveness of their security controls, 
and to correct any deficiencies in information security in a 
cost-effective manner. Security assessments make it possible for 
implementers and operators of information systems to verify that their 
systems are meeting their stated security goals and objectives. The 
assessments also provide organizations with valuable information about 
the quality of their risk management processes and about the strengths 
and weaknesses of security controls in their information systems.

Assessments also support the organization's security accreditation 
processes and its security planning processes in general. The ability to 
measure and assess is vital to the dependable operation of federal 
information systems, which support critical agency missions and 
applications in a global environment where there are constant hostile 

Security Assessments and the Federal Information Security Management Act 
of 2002 (FISMA)

The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 establishes a 
governmentwide policy for the implementation and assessment of security 
controls.  FISMA requires that federal agencies develop, document, and 
implement programs to protect their information and information systems. 
This policy applies to the systems that support the operations and 
assets of the agency, and includes those systems provided or managed by 
another agency, contractor, or other source. FISMA calls for agencies to 
apply a risk-based policy to achieve cost-effective results for the 
security of their information and information systems.

Standards and guidelines developed by NIST help agencies carry out 
effective information security programs based on assessments of risk. 
The first important step for agencies is to categorize their federal 
information systems and select security controls as specified by 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 Special Publication (SP) 800-53, Recommended Security 
Controls for Federal Information Systems, to satisfy their minimum 
security requirements.

Through their risk assessment processes, agencies can validate the 
selection of security controls and determine if any additional controls 
are needed to protect the agency's operations, taking into consideration 
the agency's mission, functions, image, reputation, its assets, and 
potential impacts of security breaches on individuals, other 
organizations, and the country in general. The security controls that 
are selected establish a level of "security due diligence" for the 
federal agency and its contractors.

In addition to the security requirements established by FISMA, agencies 
may be responsible for specific security requirements that may apply to 
different business areas within agencies, as specified by other laws, 
Executive Orders, directives, policies, or regulations. Some examples 
are the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the 
Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996, and Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-127 on Financial Management 
Systems. These measures may have additional complementary or specific 
security requirements. Agencies must ensure that all appropriate 
security requirements are addressed in agency acquisitions of 
information systems and information system services, and that all 
required security controls are implemented in agency information systems

NIST SP 800-53A, Guide for Assessing the Security Controls in Federal 
Information Systems

Issued in July 2008, NIST SP 800-53A, Guide for Assessing the Security 
Controls in Federal Information Systems, was written by Ron Ross, Arnold 
Johnson, Stu Katzke, and Patricia Toth of NIST, by Gary Stoneburner of 
the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and by George 
Rogers of BAE Systems. NIST SP 800-53A is a companion guideline to NIST 
SP 800-53, Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information 
Systems. Both of these publications emphasize the use of security 
control assessments within an effective risk management framework.

NIST SP 800-53A introduces the fundamental concepts that support the 
assessment of security controls, including the integration of 
assessments into the system development life cycle and the need for an 
organizational strategy for conducting security controls assessments. 
Other topics addressed include building an assurance case for 
effectiveness of security controls.

The process for assessing the security controls is discussed in detail 
in the new guide.  Steps in the process include the preparation for 
security control assessments; the development of security assessment 
plans; the conduct of security control assessments; the analysis, 
documentation, and reporting of assessment results; the post-assessment 
report analysis, and follow-on activities.

Both NIST SP 800-53 and NIST SP 800-53A are available at NIST's Web 
page: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsSPs.html.

The appendices to NIST SP 800-53A provide an extensive compilation of 
resources to help organizations in assessing security controls, and 
include the following useful materials:

* a list of general references, the definitions and terms associated 
  with the assessment process;

* an explanation of the acronyms used in the guide;

* a description of assessment methods;

* assessment expectations for low-impact, moderate-impact, and 
  high-impact information systems;

* a master catalog of assessment procedures that can be used to develop 
  plans for assessing security controls;

* assessment tools and techniques to identify information system 

* an assessment procedure work sheet for identifying and selecting the 
  base set of procedures for assessing the information system security 

* a sample format for security assessment reports; and

* worked examples of assessment procedures providing the definition, 
  format, and use of assessment cases.

These worked examples, which are presented in Appendix J of the guide, 
are the result of the collaborative efforts of experienced assessors 
from several federal organizations.  They participated in the Assessment 
Case Development Project that was organized by NIST. These assessors 
provided a set of assessment cases for each assessment procedure in the 
catalog of procedures that are listed in the publication. The assessment 
cases promote ongoing community-wide review of and comment on the 
assessment cases and support the continuous improvement of the 
assessment process to achieve more consistent, cost-effective security 
assessments of federal information systems.


Implementing the Risk Management Framework

The Risk Management Framework, developed by NIST, delineates a multistep 
process for categorizing systems and for selecting, implementing, 
assessing, and managing controls throughout the life cycle of an 
information system. NIST SP 800-53 covers the steps in the Risk 
Management Framework for determining needed security controls, selecting 
an initial set of baseline controls, and supplementing the security 
controls as needed based on the organization's assessment of risk.  The 
steps include:

* categorizing information and information systems in accordance with 
  FIPS 199;

* selecting an initial set of baseline security controls based on FIPS 
  199 impact levels;

* tailoring the baseline security controls;

* supplementing the security controls, as necessary, based on an 
  organizational assessment of risk.

* implementing controls; and

* assessing controls and monitoring security.

NIST SP 800-53 provides tailoring guidance to enable agencies to adjust 
security controls to fit their mission requirements and operational 
environments. Tailoring involves scoping the assessment procedures to 
match the characteristics of the information system under assessment. 
The tailoring process provides organizations with the flexibility needed 
to avoid assessment approaches that are unnecessarily extensive or more 
rigorous than necessary. Under the tailoring guidance, agencies can 
eliminate unnecessary controls, incorporate compensating controls when 
needed, and specify agency-specific conditions. This approach gives 
agencies flexibility to respond to known threats and to take action on 
agency-identified risks. NIST SP 800-53A also supports these tailoring 

NIST SP 800-53A covers both the security control assessment and 
continuous monitoring steps in the Risk Management Framework and 
provides guidance on the security assessment process, including how to 
build effective security assessment plans and how to manage assessment 

When using the Risk Management Framework to supplement their security 
controls, organizations can add assessment procedures or assessment 
details to meet their risk management needs. These decisions can help an 
organization maximize its flexibility in developing security assessment 
plans and apply the results of risk assessments effectively.

While flexibility continues to be an important factor in developing 
security assessment plans, consistency of assessments is also an 
important consideration. NIST SP 800-53A provides an assessment 
framework and initial starting point for assessment procedures that are 
essential for achieving the needed consistency.

The findings produced by the assessors of security controls are used 
primarily in determining the overall effectiveness of the security 
controls in an information system and in providing credible and 
meaningful inputs to the organization's security accreditation process. 
The accreditation process covers the official management decision of a 
senior agency official to authorize the operation of an information 
system and to accept the risk to agency operations, agency assets, or 
individuals based on the implementation of an agreed-upon set of 
security controls. The information and supporting evidence needed for 
security accreditations are often developed during the security 
certification process, which is a comprehensive assessment of the 
management, operational, and technical security controls to determine 
the extent to which the controls are implemented correctly, operating as 
intended, and meeting the security requirements for the system.

A well-executed assessment of controls contributes to the accreditation 
and certification processes by helping to determine the validity of the 
security controls contained in the agency's security plan and in 
facilitating a cost-effective approach to correcting any deficiencies in 

A new publication in development at NIST, draft SP 800-39, Managing Risk 
from Information Systems: An Organizational Perspective, will provide 
guidance for implementing the risk management framework, and advise 
agencies on developing a structured, yet flexible approach for managing 
the risks that result from the incorporation of information systems into 
the mission and business processes of organizations.


NIST Recommendations for Assessing Security Controls

NIST recommends that organizations carry out the following activities in 
assessing their security controls:

Prepare for security control assessments by assuring the cooperation and 
collaboration of all parties having a vested interest in the security 
status of the organization's information systems. Issues to be addressed 
include costs, schedules, and the time frame for the performance of the 
assessments. Organizational activities that should be in place include 
policies covering security control assessments; steps in the Risk 
Management Framework; assignment of responsibility for common controls; 
agreement on scope of assessments; establishment of time frame for 
assessments; identification of an assessment team; and establishment of 
communications with all appropriate parties.

Organizations should use NIST SP 800-53A in conjunction with an approved 
security plan to develop assessment procedures that will be the starting 
point for input to the development of a security assessment plan. The 
procedures should be designed to produce the information necessary for 
determining the effectiveness of the security controls employed in the 
information system.

Develop security assessment plans that will provide the objectives for 
the security control assessment and produce a detailed roadmap of how to 
conduct such an assessment. The output and end result of the security 
control assessment is the security assessment report, which documents 
the assurance case for the information system and is one of three key 
documents in the development of documentation for security 
accreditation. The security assessment plan should take into 
consideration the extent of the assessment, the controls to be assessed, 
the procedures to be used, and approvals of agency authorities.

Carry out the assessment plans in accordance with the agreed-upon 
milestones and schedule. Assessment objectives are achieved by applying 
the designated assessment methods to selected assessment objects and 
compiling the information necessary to make the determination associated 
with each assessment objective. Assessors examine each determination 
statement contained within an assessment procedure and produce findings 
of "satisfied," indicating that the control produces an acceptable 
result, or "other than satisfied," indicating that the control may be 
deficient or that insufficient information was available to make a 

The assessor's findings should be unbiased and factual in reporting what 
was found concerning each security control assessed. For each finding of 
"other than satisfied," assessors should indicate the parts of the 
security control that are affected by the finding, how the control 
differs from the planned or expected state, and the potential for 
compromises to confidentiality, integrity, and availability of 
information and systems.

Security control assessment results should be documented at the level of 
detail appropriate for the assessment in accordance with the reporting 
format prescribed by organizational policy, NIST guidelines, and OMB 
policy. The reporting format should also be appropriate for the type of 
security control assessment conducted, such as self-assessments, 
independent verification and validation, independent assessments by 
assessors or assessment teams, or independent audits of security 
controls by auditors or inspectors general.

Analyze assessment reports and conduct follow-on activities. The results 
of the security control assessment influence the organization's security 
plan and its plan of action and milestones. Appropriate officials such 
as the system's authorizing official, chief information officer, senior 
agency information security officer, and system owners, should be 
involved in decisions to mitigate risks and to correct weaknesses and 
deficiencies to the organization's information and information systems. 
It may be necessary to involve the agency's senior leadership to ensure 
that resources are effectively allocated in accordance with 
organizational priorities, providing resources first to the information 
systems that support the most critical and sensitive missions for the 
organization or correcting the deficiencies that pose the greatest 
degree of risk.  Security plans, security assessment reports, and plans 
of action and milestones should be updated to reflect the results of the 
security control assessment.

More Information

See http://csrc.nist.gov/sec-cert/ca-compliance.html for additional 
information on FISMA, and NIST's activities to support federal agencies 
in the implementation of strong information security programs.

Assessment cases, based on the assessment procedures in NIST SP 800-53A 
and developed by an interagency task force, are available to all public 
and private sector organizations. See 

NIST's Information Security Automation Program (ISAP) and Security 
Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) also support and complement the 
process for achieving consistent, cost-effective security control 
assessments. ISAP/SCAP improve the automated application, verification, 
and reporting of commercial information technology product-specific 
security configuration settings, thereby helping to reduce 
vulnerabilities when products are not configured properly. More about 
ISAP/SCAP is available at http://nvd.nist.gov/scap.cfm.

Information about the NIST Risk Management Framework can be found at 

Draft NIST SP 800-39, Managing Risk from Information Systems: An 
Organizational Perspective, is available at 



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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Received on Tue Sep 02 2008 - 00:27:01 PDT

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