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Congress Proposes FISMA Overhaul

Amendments would update the 2002 law for today's federal IT environment, transfer cybersecurity oversight from Homeland Security to OMB.

Lawmakers have proposed amendments to the 10-year-old law that sets federal cybersecurity standards to account for changes that have since occurred in the federal IT environment.

Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, unveiled the Federal Information Security Amendments Act of 2012 to overhaul the Federal Information Security Act of 2002, or FISMA.

The act--which has been posted online--points out that the federal IT environment has become increasingly interconnected over the last 10 years, and the security industry itself also has matured.

In light of these changes, the act calls for continuous monitoring and regular assessments of federal IT systems to ensure their security; mandates the establishment of baseline security controls for agencies as a framework for gauging the effectiveness of those controls; and gives agencies more authority to make decisions about using off-the-shelf security products in their respective IT systems, among other changes.

It also would transfer much of the oversight of agency cybersecurity away from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and back to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a shift from the current dynamic.

[ The Obama administration also unveiled cybersecurity directives this week. See White House Sets Cybersecurity Priorities. ]

The OMB expanded the DHS's cybersecurity profile in 2010, and the agency has been at the forefront of much of federal cybersecurity activities since then. Indeed, the DHS and the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) currently have the lion's share of overseeing agencies' FISMA guidance and implementation.

Cybersecurity has been a chief concern for the Obama administration, but despite a number of proposed laws debated in Congress, lawmakers have yet to pass comprehensive legislation to protect U.S. critical infrastructure and federal networks against cyber threats.

Last May, President Obama sent a broad cybersecurity proposal to lawmakers to overhaul the nation's cybersecurity laws as a way to speed the process along, and earlier this year various officials--including Obama's cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt--also pushed lawmakers to act.

In the meantime, agencies depend on FISMA to guide them to protect federal networks. Officials already are working to integrate some of the concepts proposed by the amendment into the law. To facilitate continuous monitoring, for instance, in 2011 the DHS outlined new requirements for FISMA agencies reporting security information monthly via data feeds to CyberScope, an internal compliance tool.

The effort to achieve and maintain compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements remains one of the primary drivers behind many IT security initiatives. In our Security Via SOX Compliance report, we share 10 best practices to meet SOX security-related requirements and help ensure you'll pass your next compliance audit. (Free registration required.)

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