Windows security standardization cited as top tech challenge

Compliance with a recent Office of Management and Budget mandate requiring the application of standard security configurations on computers using Microsoft Windows is the main challenge facing federal information technology security executives, a recent survey concluded.

Managing and testing the standard security configurations against potential vulnerabilities was at the top of the list of difficulties cited by federal chief information security officers and managers at a June 20 panel discussion hosted by Secure Elements, a Herndon, Va.-based security product vendor. Three-fourths of audience members surveyed after the discussion said they consider the OMB mandate their top priority or a very high priority, the vendor said.

In a March 20 order to chief information officers, Karen Evans, OMB's administrator of e-government and IT, said agencies must implement a standard security setting for all computers running the Windows XP and Vista operating systems no later than Feb. 1, 2008. Requirements include restricting access to authorized professionals, testing configurations in a nonproduction environment and patching vulnerabilities.

The government is dominated by computers that run on Windows. OMB officials believe that a standard security configuration will provide a basic level of protection across government, while still saving time and resources.

Half of the 15 federal CISOs and managers who responded to the survey said they believed they have the budget and staff to meet the mandate, while another quarter said they do not have the budget and staffing. A final 25 percent were not sure.

Fifty percent said their existing tools and technologies are insufficient to achieve the requirements. Another 25 percent said they have adequate tools and technologies, and the remaining quarter said they were not sure.

The survey found that none of the CISOs and managers will start moving their systems to Vista within the next six months. Half said they plan to start the transition in the next six to 12 months, while the other half was unsure about the timing.

OMB's mandate does not require agencies to move to Vista, and some agencies are reluctant to make the switch in the near future. For instance, in March Daniel Mitz, the Transportation Department's chief information officer, and David Litman, the department's senior procurement executive, issued an "indefinite moratorium" on upgrading to Vista, citing concerns about both cost and technical issues.

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