Focus on cybersecurity compliance called ineffective

Adherence to congressionally mandated IT security processes is a poor measure of the true state of cybersecurity across the government, a former federal chief information security officer said Wednesday.

Agencies are fixated on complying with statutes such as the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act and are creating piles of paperwork and checklists that indicate little about actual security levels, said Bruce Brody, vice president of information security at INPUT, a Reston, Va.-based market analysis firm.

Brody said annual cybersecurity grades determined by the House Government Reform Committee and its chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., based on FISMA compliance, also have little meaning. For fiscal 2004, the federal government achieved an overall grade of D+, up from a D the previous year.

"When the annual FISMA grades are released -- which could be imminently -- you have to ask yourself, what do those grades really mean?" Brody said. "The high grades could mean a lot of compliance, but not a lot of security. The low grades could mean that there's plenty of security in place, but it just wasn't verified on paper properly."

Brody, who has served as the chief cybersecurity officer at the Energy and Veterans Affairs departments, spoke to members of the press after a three-hour closed-door meeting consisting of chief cybersecurity officers for the Federal Communications Commission, Senate and departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

The workshop was hosted by the Information Security Forum, a nonprofit association of cybersecurity companies, the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium and INPUT.

Brody said the government officials and private sector security professionals at the meeting discussed what "five years of FISMA has given" agencies. The topic produced a great deal of discussion and some mixed opinions, he said.

A survey of cybersecurity officers conducted in August 2005 found that agencies are spending more time complying with FISMA each year.

Marc Noble, the FCC's chief security officer and the only workshop attendee available to speak to the media after the meeting, said he hopes to come up with a risk-based solution to secure his agency's IT systems, rather than focusing on regulatory compliance.

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