News / Science & Technology

Obama Administration Offers Companies Broad Standards to Improve Cybersecurity

Reuters
The U.S. government on Wednesday released the final version of standards meant to help companies in nationally critical industries better defend against cyber attacks, and officials now face the challenge of getting the private sector to adopt the voluntary measures.

Criticized for being too vague and toothless, the so-called cybersecurity framework turned a vast amount of industry input into guidelines designed for 16 different sectors whose disruption could be devastating to the country.

The release from the National Institute of Standards and Technology comes exactly one year after President Barack Obama issued an executive order directing the agency to compile voluntary minimum cybersecurity standards as one step to counter the lack of progress on cybersecurity law in Congress.

“While I believe today's Framework marks a turning point, it's clear that much more work needs to be done to enhance our cybersecurity,” Obama said in a statement.

“I again urge Congress to move forward on cybersecurity legislation that both protects our nation and our privacy and civil liberties,” he said. “Meanwhile, my Administration will continue to take action, under existing authorities, to protect our nation from this threat.”

The framework, drafted by the nonregulatory government agency in consultation with thousands of industry experts, offers broad benchmarks for companies to measure the effectiveness of their cyber defenses.

The Obama administration had faced intense pushback from the private sector on its earlier effort to mandate cyber defense standards, which contributed to stalled legislation. Now, the White House hopes companies voluntarily adopt the framework they have helped draft.

“This voluntary Framework is a great example of how the private sector and government can, and should, work together to meet this shared challenge,” Obama said, and a senior administration official called the framework the beginning of a “continuing common-sense conversation” about protecting the nation's critical assets from cyber attacks.

“I think that the NIST standards will become over the next year or two, while we are waiting for legislation, the de facto best practices, just because they are accessible and current,” said Jonathan Fairtlough, managing director at Kroll Advisory Solutions' cyber investigations practice.

Will private sector adapt standards?

Cybersecurity experts warn that relentless efforts to hack into U.S. banks and financial institutions, the power grid and other critical infrastructure, paired with instances of disruptive attacks abroad, pose a national security threat.

The issue recently became a household topic after hackers stole about 40 million credit and debit card records and 70 million other records with personal customer data from the third-largest U.S. retailer, Target Corp.

Many experts have expressed alarm about the lack of awareness or reluctance among some companies' leadership to spend more money on cyber defenses. The framework could force the issue into more executive suites, analysts say.

“At a minimum, it's going to force this conversation up the food chain, out of the CEO office into the boardroom,” said Tom Kellermann, a former member of Obama's Commission on Cyber Security and software company executive now with professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal.

But it is unclear whether the private sector, always concerned about liabilities attached to any standards, would widely adopt the voluntary framework.

The departments of Homeland Security, Commerce and Treasury are reviewing potential incentives for adoption, though some companies worry that incentives will come with strings attached and prompt more regulatory oversight or threat of lawsuits.

The White House has emphasized the voluntary nature of the framework and the need for companies to view cybersecurity as a business decision, part of its risk-management strategy.

“We may not ever know how widely the framework has been adopted, because obviously there's not a requirement,” a second senior Obama administration official said on Wednesday. “There's an enlightened sense here that we're counting on.”

Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday also launched a program called Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community that would help companies reach out to the government for assistance in adopting the framework, and that participation may help gage the popularity of the standards, the official said.

Questions about effectiveness

But it is also unclear how effective the framework will prove in practice.

“At that high level, they got it right. ... Further down, it gets murky really fast,” said Andrew Ginter, vice president of industrial security at Waterfall Security Solutions, whose clients include power plants and water-treatment facilities.

“The NIST framework never uses the word 'firewall.' It's that abstract,” he said, referring to a common standard component of network security.

The framework offers sweeping categories such as “access control” or “data security” to evaluate how effectively a company identifies and protects network assets, and detects, responds to and recovers from breaches, on a one-to-four-tier scale for implementation.

The categories then break into subcategories, such as keeping inventories of used software platforms and applications, ensuring that top executives know roles and responsibilities, and setting information security policies.

The document also incorporates how the companies could do that while protecting privacy and civil liberties.

The framework builds on and references existing regulations, many of which were developed for specific sectors, such as energy and financial services.

“It can get really quite hard” studying and balancing various existing standards, said Dave Burg, who advises corporations on cybersecurity strategies at consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. “This framework will provide a very nice baseline against which companies can test themselves.”

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs