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FISMA Mandates Monthly Security Reports For Agencies

Move from annual reports to consistent CyberScope submissions expected to lighten agencies' compliance burden, tighten federal cybersecurity.

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Federal agencies must begin reporting security data to an online compliance tool as part of fiscal year 2011 requirements for the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) outlined new requirements for FISMA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security standard for federal IT solutions. One of them calls for agencies to establish monthly data feeds to CyberScope, a compliance tool developed to help the feds to better and more actively monitor cybersecurity.

The tool was announced in late 2009 under then U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, who at the time said it would help the feds not merely "collect information for information's sake," but work to actively improve its security posture.

Indeed, CyberScope represents a major shift in the way federal agencies report FISMA compliance in that it replaces once-a-year compliance reporting with a more operational, consistent approach.

Previously, agency auditors would have to sift through mounds of paper-based reports to do security analysis. The new tool will make this analysis more efficient and less expensive, as well as provide a more accurate picture of agency security.

Agencies, too, will benefit from a lighter reporting burden and can submit security information more nimbly and in real time through CyberScope.

Other requirements outlined in the memo include response to a set of monthly security posture questions presented in the tool. The questions address areas of risk and are aimed at assessing the implementation of security capabilities and measure their effectiveness, according to the DHS.

Agencies also must engage in CyberStat accountability review sessions and interviews to help them develop "focused action plans for improving their information security posture," according to the memo.

CyberStat sessions will feature representatives from the DHS, Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Staff (NSS), and teams from each agency to examine security program data and help solve any problems identified in the sessions. The goal of the sessions is to bolster overall security performance, according to the memo.

The sessions will do that by highlighting capability areas where agencies must put more focus on security; help them remove any stumbling blocks that may exist to meeting FISMA requirements; and give kudos to agencies in areas where they're meeting their goals for compliance, according to the DHS.

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