NIST seeks help in revising contingency planning guide

Guide will offer advice on recovering system services after disruptions

Human nature and technology being what they are, the best laid plans of chief information officers, chief information security officers and systems administrators are bound to go awry from time to time, and agencies are required to have plans in place to deal with these contingencies.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is updating its seven-year-old planning guidelines and has released a draft of Special Publication 800-34, Revision 1, Contingency Planning Guide for Federal Information Systems for public comment.

“Because information system resources are so essential to an organization’s success, it is critical that the services provided by these systems are able to operate effectively without excessive interruption,” the guidelines state.

The publication provides instructions, recommendations and considerations for creating plans for interim measures to recover information system services after a disruption. The plans should coordinate a strategy, including procedures and technical measures, for the recovery of information systems, operations and data.

Plans can include restoring information systems on alternate equipment; moving some or all business processes to alternate systems, usually for short-term disruptions; recovering systems at an alternate location, usually for long-term disruptions or those that physically affect a facility; and implementing the appropriate controls based on the systems security impact level.

The guide includes sample formats for developing an information system contingency plan based on low, moderate or high impact levels, as defined in Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 199, Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems.

The guide breaks the planning process into seven steps, intended to be integrated into each stage of the system development life cycle:

1. Develop the contingency planning policy statement. A formal policy provides the authority and guidance necessary to develop an effective contingency plan.

2. Conduct the business impact analysis. The BIA helps identify and prioritize information systems and components critical to supporting the organization’s business functions. The guide provides a template for developing the BIA.

3. Identify preventive controls. Measures taken to reduce the effects of system disruptions can increase system availability and reduce contingency life cycle costs.

4. Create contingency strategies. Thorough recovery strategies ensure that the system may be recovered quickly and effectively following a disruption.

5. Develop an information system contingency plan. The contingency plan should contain detailed guidance and procedures for restoring a damaged system unique to the system’s security impact level and recovery requirements.

6. Ensure plan testing, training, and exercises. Testing validates recovery capabilities, whereas training prepares recovery personnel for plan activation and exercising the plan identifies planning gaps; combined, the activities improve plan effectiveness and overall organizational preparedness.

7. Ensure plan maintenance. The plan should be a living document that is updated regularly to remain current with system enhancements and organizational changes.

“Contingency planning is unique to each system, providing preventive measures, recovery strategies, and technical considerations appropriate to the system’s information confidentiality, integrity, and availability requirements and the impact level,” NIST said. The guidelines address specific recommendations for three platform types and provide strategies and techniques common to all systems: client-server systems, telecommunications systems and mainframe systems.

Information in the guide is consistent with other NIST documents, including SP 800-53, “Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations and FIPS 199, as well as with federal mandates on contingency, continuity of operations, and disaster recovery planning, including:

  • Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.
  • OMB Circular A-130, Management of Federal Information Resources, Appendix III, November 2000.
  • Federal Continuity Directive -1, Federal Executive Branch National Continuity Program and Requirements, February 2008.
  • National Security Presidential Directive -51/Homeland Security Presidential Directive -20, National Continuity Policy, May 2007.
  • National Continuity Policy Implementation Plan, August 2007
  • National Response Framework, March 22, 2008.

Comments on the draft should be sent by Jan. 6, 2010, to draft800-34-comments@nist.gov with "Comments SP 800-34" in the subject line.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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