Ooh, “The Word” is out on S 3474

Posted September 19th, 2008 by

Federal Computer Week: Senate Panel Rejects Weakening S 3474

Gene Schultz: Goodbye FISMA (as We Know It)

Let’s talk through the FCW article first, shall we?   =)

“The measure would amend the original FISMA legislation, which outlined compliance activities for agencies to meet each year. However, many agencies have turned FISMA compliance into a paperwork exercise, Carper said.”

Um, no, I don’t get that.  The original FISMA is an information security management law, this law mostly formalizes the role, responsibility, and authority of the CISO.  They intentionally named it FISMA 2008 to make people think that it was ammending the original FISMA, but it doesn’t do that.

Don’t believe the hype, this will not change the original FISMA, it’s just an addition.

“Carper said CIOs primarily develop and oversee policy, but the CISO handles the daily information security activities. He suggested that a CISO council could have a sunset date of two or three years. If the council demonstrated benefits, it could be extended, Carper said.”

OK, fair enough on the cost and coordination, but what the CISO council objectionists don’t understand is that the CIOs don’t know all of the nuts and bolts of security, that’s why we have CISO as a mandatory position in this bill–so that the CIO has a subject-matter-expert to help them out.  Yes, it’s that specialized as a profession.

Now for Gene Schultz:

“First and foremost, to comply with this statute involves generating huge amounts of paperwork to document actions (or lack thereof) taken to address the many areas that FISMA describes. A completely ineffective security practice can get high FISMA marks, as has happened numerous times before.”

OK, this is a little lesson on FISMA paperwork:  people are doing 4x what they should be doing for the following reasons:

  • The people doing the writing do not know what they are actually doing
  • The agency’s security program is not mature enough to have shared/common controls
  • In the world of auditors, if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist
  • CYA purposes–I told you this was a risk

So you think you’re going to do any better with any other framework/law and the same people executing it?

“Two US Senators, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Tom Carper of Delaware, have recently introduced a Senate bill that would render the 2002 version of FISMA obsolete.”

No, to be bluntfully honest, the old version of FISMA will still be around.  Somebody’s been drinking the kool-aid from the lawmakers and the press machine.  If anything, this adds more junk that you can get audited on and an additional layer of paperwork to demonstrate that you have met the provisions of FISMA 2008.

Post No Bills photo by striatic.

Note to our nation’s Lawmakers: as long as you approach information security from the compliance angle, we as a government are doomed to failure and to turn the entire thing into the checklist activity because the people who evaluate compliance are auditors who only know checklists–it’s not a law problem, it’s a people and skills problem.

This bill is actually pretty good with the exception of divorcing the mission owners from the security of the systems that support their mission.

However, if you think that you can reduce the compliance trap by adding more things that will end up on a compliance checklist, you have to be kidding yourself or you don’t understand the auditor mentality.

I keep reconvincing myself that the only way the government can win at security is to promote programs to develop people with security skills.  Of course, that isn’t as sexy as throwing out a bill that you can claim will make FISMA obsolete.

And finally, for those of you playing along at home, the Thomas entry for S 3474, the bill’s page on Washington Watch and the bill’s page on GovTrack.

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Posted in FISMA | 3 Comments »

Next Up in Security Legislation: S3474

Posted September 15th, 2008 by

And here we have it, a bill introduced by Senators Carper and Lieberman to increase security in the Government, known as FISMA 2008. I’m still waiting on the text to appear on the Thomas entry, but I’ll go through the major provisions from the congressional record.

Article from NextGov

Thomas Reference

Congressional Record of the Bill’s Introduction and text (Starts on CR 8388 and goes through CR 8391)

Major provisions:

  • Changes some definitions of “assessment”, “audit” and “evaluation”. OK, I had to do some research on this one.  Thankfully, this is all online.  Sidenote: it’s not Section 3545 as per the bill, it’s Section 3535.  Basically this is just rewording and rescoping of annual audits to be written the way it should have been in the first place.
  • Creates a CISO position at each agency. Hey, I thought this was already created by FISMA.  What we need is not CISOs that work for the CIO, what we need are agency CSOs (I’ll even take an agency Chief Risk Officer) that have authority over all of security, not just IT geek concerns.
  • Creates a CISO Council. Fantastic idea, how come I didn’t think of it?
  • Qualifications for CISOs. Not a bad idea, but the bill doesn’t elaborate too much.
  • Responsibilities for CISOs. This is an interesting section.  Much of this is in guidance from NIST/DISA/CNSS already.  I like most of these measures, but I’m not sure that they need to be codified into law except for the pieces that reside outside of the agencies, like the coordination with US-CERT.  Putting the CISO’s responsibilities into law does give the CISO more teeth if they need it, but you have to wield the law carefully.

The Law

The Law photo by F.S.M.

From the NextGov article and the congressional record:

“Our bill empowers chief information security officers to deny access to the agency network if proper security policies are not being followed. If we are going to hold these hardworking individuals accountable in Congress for information security, then we should give them the authority to do so,” said Carper.

Um, yeah, we’ve given them the authority in this bill, but my problem is that it completely removes the DAA/AO/mission owners from the picture–the CISO is now responsible for the secure operations of IT systems and has disconnect authority.

I think that philosophically this bill is a step backwards.  The more progressive thought is that security is the responsibility of the agency head and the mission owners and that the CISO just provides support as a subject matter expert.  Under this bill, we’re back to a world where the CISO is the sole decision-maker when it comes to security.  Wow, that’s so… 1990’s-ish.

However, we all know that the CISOs are the people getting the security job done from day to day, and this bill makes sense if you assume that the agency heads and DAAs/AOs have 0 interest or skills to assist in the security of their data.  That might or might not be true, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Questions for today are these (and yes, I want to hear what you think):

  • Are we willing to scrap the “business/system owner” concepts that our security management processes are modeled around?
  • Are we willing to admit that the DAA/AO concept is a failure because of lack of understanding and capabilities on their part?
  • Are the mission owners willing to take an outage on their supporting IT infrastructure because the CISO took the system offline because they didn’t secure the system properly in the first place?
  • Can we rely on a management technique where the stakeholders are removed from the decisionmaking of a trained expert?

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Posted in FISMA, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 4 Comments »

Backtrack 3 USB Slides

Posted September 12th, 2008 by

Just a quick slideshow I threw together for a class on making a Backtrack 3 bootable USB drive.  I sanitized it for public use, but I figure there’s some reusable content that somebody will thank me for later.

Backtrack 3 USB

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: usb pen-test)

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Posted in Odds-n-Sods, Technical, What Works | 1 Comment »

Imagine that, System Integrators Doing Security Jointly with DoD

Posted September 11th, 2008 by

First, some links:

Synopsis: DoD wants to know how its system integrators protect the “Controlled Unclassified Information” that they give them.  Hmm, sounds like the fun posts I’ve done about NISPOM, SBU and my data types as a managed service provider.

This RFI is interesting to me because basically what the Government is doing is collecting “best practices” on how contractors are protecting non-classified data and then they’ll see what is reasonable.

Faustian Contract

Faustian Contract photo by skinny bunny.

However, looking at the problem, I don’t see this as much of a safeguards issue as I do a contracts issue.  Contractors want to do the right thing, it’s just that they can’t decide if security is which of these things:

  • A service that they should include as part of the work breakdown structure in proposals.  This is good, but can be a problem if you want to keep the solution cheap and drop the security services from the project because the RFP/SOW doesn’t specify what exactly the Government wants by way of security.
  • A cost of doing business that they should reduce as much as possible.  For system integrators, this is key:  perform scope management to keep the Government from bleeding you dry with stupid security managers who don’t understand compensating controls.  Problem with this approach is that the Government won’t get all of what they need because the paranoia level is set by the contractor who wants to save money.

Well, the answer is that security is a little bit of both, but most of all it’s a customer care issue.  The Government wants security, and you want to give it to them in the flavor that they want, but you’re still not a dotorg–you want to get compensated for what you do provide and still make a profit of some sort.

Guess what?  It takes cooperation between the Government and its contractors.  This “Contractor must be compliant with FISMA and NIST Guidelines” paragraph just doesn’t cut it anymore, and what DoD is doing is to research how its contractors are doing their security piece.  Pretty good idea once you think about it.

Now I’m not the sharpest bear in the forest, but it would occur to me that we need this to happen in the civilian agencies, too.  Odds are they’ll just straphang on the DoD efforts. =)

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Posted in Outsourcing, Risk Management | No Comments »

Oh Lookie, Somebody’s Doing What I Said To Do….

Posted September 10th, 2008 by

Not to turn my blog into a place for twitter-short posts, but check out this announcement  by Cisco WebEx about their security management, audits, and SAS-70 stukas.

Fruck, it’s almost like somebody’s reading my posts on cloud computing and the Government.  This is good as long as WebEx can execute.  =)

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Posted in Outsourcing, Uncategorized, What Works | No Comments »

LOLCATS Take on the Pre-Election Slowdown

Posted September 10th, 2008 by

Not exactly security-related, but relevant nonetheless.  And by transition, we mean the activity where all of the senior people in the executive branch rearrange themselves and are replaced by the new president’s appointees like a warped version of “upset the fruit basket”.

funny pictures

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Posted in IKANHAZFIZMA | No Comments »

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