Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity
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An Update on the Cybersecurity Framework and Action Items for NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently released an update on its Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (The Framework).  The Framework was first issued in February 2014 as a voluntary risk-based program to enable owners and operators of U.S. critical infrastructure to assess and remediate their cybersecurity risks.  For more detail on The Framework, see our previous blog post, “Trendy “Cybersecurity” Versus Traditional “Information Security” Two Sides of the Same Security Coin,” and article, “The Cybersecurity Framework’s Components,” Privacy and Data Protection 2014 Year in Review at 32-34.

Industry Feedback

The NIST update provides a summary of feedback concerning industry’s initial use of the Framework.   NIST reports that many users have found the Framework helpful in improving communication within and across organizations, assessing risks of current practices, and as a tool to demonstrate alignment with standards, best practices and, in some cases, regulatory requirements.

Certain users expressed concerns about the Framework.  Among the critiques offered by industry members are the following:  (1) The Tiers appear to be the least-used part of the Framework, likely because of their enterprise-level scope; (2) Examples are needed to demonstrate practical and applied uses of the Framework; (3) Some of the terminology is confusing and needs clarification; (4) Health care providers, other covered entities and business associates need practical and detailed guidance on moving from a HIPAA compliance-only strategy to a focus on being cyber secure; (5) NIST should advise as to how an organization can integrate cybersecurity into budget planning and master planning; and (6) Global alignment is important to avoid confusion and duplication of effort by other governments.

Regulatory Concerns

Concerns were raised as to whether regulating agencies or Congress will make the Framework mandatory, transforming it from a voluntary mechanism to a compliance requirement.  NIST does not answer industry’s concern that the Framework could become a de facto standard for cybersecurity or may impact legal definitions or enforcement guidelines for cybersecurity.   It merely reports that industry concern was expressed.

NIST Action Items

NIST makes clear that it will not be updating the Framework within the next year.  It stressed that more time is needed for industry to understand and use the current version of the Framework.  Toward that end, it has assigned itself certain action items in response to the industry feedback.  To continue to promote use of the Framework, NIST agrees to complete the following tasks:

  • Increase efforts to raise awareness of the Framework in the same open and collaborative manner (i.e., working with industry, academia and government at multiple levels) in which the Framework was developed;
  • Develop an outreach effort to include small- and medium-sized businesses, state and local governments, and international organizations;
  • Develop and disseminate information and training materials that include actual examples of how organizations can employ the Framework in a practical and meaningful manner;
  • Develop advice on how to integrate cybersecurity risk management with broader enterprise risk management;
  • Explore options for making Framework reference materials available in a common publicly-available [...]

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Trendy “Cybersecurity” Versus Traditional “Information Security” Two Sides of the Same Security Coin

Cybersecurity has become a dominant topic of the day.  The Snowden revelations, the mega-data breaches of 2013, the pervasiveness of invisible online “tracking” and the proliferation of “ data broker” trading in personal data – all feed into the fears of individuals who struggle to understand how their personal information is collected, used and protected.  Over the past year, these forces have begun to merge an old concern by individuals about the security of their personal information into a broader, more universal fear that the country’s infrastructure lay vulnerable.

In many respects, however, the concept of cybersecurity is not new.  Cybersecurity is a form of information security, albeit perhaps with a broader, more universal view of required security controls.  Decades-old statutes include information security requirements for certain types of information, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) addresses health information and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) addresses financial information.  Add to those statutory regimes the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) enforcement authority over corporate information security practices pursuant to Section 5 of the FTC Act (recently upheld in Federal Trade Comm’n v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp.) and certain state-based data security regulations that require corporations to safeguard personal information (e.g., 201 CMR 17.00, et seq.).  The net effect of these regulatory drivers is that many organizations have focused for decades on developing administrative, physical and technical safeguards for effective protection of personal information – resulting in a programmatic approach to information security.

Now, along comes the evolution of cybersecurity with its own emerging standards.  Organizations are asking themselves whether they need to do something different or in addition to the programmatic steps already taken to comply with information security requirements that are applicable to the organization.  The good news is that while some additional work likely will be required as described below, companies with solid programmatic approaches to information security are well on their way to meeting the following emerging cybersecurity standards.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

On February 12, 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order entitled “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.”  The Executive Order has several key components, but most importantly, it contains a requirement for owners and operators of “critical infrastructure” to develop a cybersecurity framework.  The Order directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop a baseline cybersecurity framework to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure.  NIST subsequently developed its “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” (Framework), which was released on February 12, 2014.  The goal of these efforts is to provide organizations with a cybersecurity framework as a model for their business.  While at this point, the Framework is intended to provide a voluntary program for owners and operators of critical infrastructure, it is already starting to seep into federal “incentives” used to encourage the private sector to comply with the Framework.  And the Framework itself may evolve into a sort of “security” standard of care.

SEC Cybersecurity and Disclosure Laws

In addition to the Framework, the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently [...]

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