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OK, Mr. President, those cybersecurity guidelines you ordered are HERE

New Framework aims to lock down US critical infrastructure

Photo of the White House at dusk

The Obama administration has taken wraps off the Cybersecurity Framework, a new set of voluntary guidelines outlining ways that organizations involved in energy, water, transportation, and other critical infrastructure can shore up their digital security.

The guide is the result of a yearlong collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and private sector companies, stemming from President Obama's executive order on "Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity" from last February.

In that order, the President said the threat from cyber attacks was growing and that the government needed to work together with industry to protect assets that would have "a debilitating impact" on national security, the economy, or public health and safety if they were disabled or destroyed.

To that end, NIST has produced a rather dry but detailed 41-page document outlining the collective wisdom of the nation's infrastructure security brains.

"For organizations that don't know where to start, the Framework provides a road map," the White House said in a press release. "For organizations with more advanced cybersecurity, the Framework offers a way to better communicate with their CEOs and with suppliers about management of cyber risks."

The Framework itself comprises three components: the Core, Implementation Tiers, and Profiles.

The Framework Core describes high-level activities that organizations can engage in to help identify cybersecurity risks, protect against attacks, detect incidents when they do occur, respond to them, and recover from any damage that may result.

Framework Implementation Tiers then describe specific security processes in levels of increasing rigor, ranging from "partial" (Tier 1) to "adaptive" (Tier 4). Organizations select which tiers are most appropriate for them based on their unique business objectives, legal and regulatory requirements, and other constraints.

Finally, Framework Profiles can be used to describe the current state of an organization's security practices, and an organization's current profile can be compared to a target profile to measure how far along it is in its security program objectives.

NIST cautions that the Framework doesn't offer a checklist of activities or a one-size-fits-all solution for cybersecurity. Rather, organizations can use it as a tool for evaluating their existing procedures and practices and toughening them up as need be.

Also, the guidelines are labeled "version 1.0" and the White House says they are hardly set in stone.

"As the Framework is put into practice, lessons learned will be integrated into future versions," the document's introduction explains. "This will ensure it is meeting the needs of critical infrastructure owners and operators in a dynamic and challenging environment of new threats, risks, and solutions."

The full Framework and its appendices are available in PDF, Epub, and Excel formats from the NIST website, here.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has launched an effort called the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community C3 Voluntary Program – yes, that's actually pronounced "C cubed" – aimed at increasing awareness of the Framework and hooking up critical infrastructure organizations with the resources they need to implement it. More information on that program can be had here. ®

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