Compliance taking over IT security chiefs’ schedules

Agency chief information security officers are spending more time complying with laws governing the safekeeping of computer and network systems, according to a survey.

With the burden of complying with the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act growing, CISOs are spending an average of 3.75 hours per day on FISMA, a law written to bolster agencies' computer and network security. Last year, the survey found that CISOs spent an average of 3.06 hours on FISMA compliance.

Intelligent Decisions Inc., a technology firm based in Ashburn, Va., commissioned the 21-question survey, which was conducted through online and telephone interviews with 29 top government security officials from both large and small civilian and Defense Department agencies.

This was the second CISO survey that Intelligent Decisions conducted. The first survey found that agencies with smaller information technology budgets were spending far more time on FISMA compliance than agencies with large budgets. Smaller agencies were those with less than $1 million in annual IT expenditures.

The 2005 survey found that gap shrinking, with CISOs with smaller budgets spending between 51 percent and 59 percent of their time complying with FISMA and CISOs at larger agencies spending between 38 percent and 40 percent of their time on compliance.

"You will still see that a majority of their time is managing that compliance reporting," said Roy Stephan, Intelligent Decisions' cybersecurity director. "We've seen them come back into alignment, where larger agencies and smaller agencies are spending about the same amount of time on compliance."

According to the survey, about three-quarters of a CISO's typical day is spent on administrative tasks, which is down by about 33 percent from 2004. Strategic management tasks take up the other quarter. Intelligent Decisions speculates that IT security is becoming less like a technology program and more of a policy and process challenge for managers.

The top trends identified by the survey were the increase of wireless and mobile devices, the rise of single sign-on and multifactor authentication, and the convergence of database and network security. Other trends included the convergence of physical security and cybersecurity, the growing interest in biometric systems, outsourcing of security functions to the private sector, and an increase in public-private partnerships.

CISOs' top three concerns, according to the survey, were network security, system and application maintenance, and fulfilling FISMA requirements.

Basing its information on a Government Accountability Office report on wireless security released earlier this year, the survey found that chief among CISOs' concerns were unauthorized wireless access points and wireless devices.

Of those surveyed, 46 percent said their agency used a wireless network, but there was inconsistent implementation among agencies of basic wireless security controls.

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