IT security LOB strives for standards, consistency among agencies

HERSHEY, Pa.'To achieve the Office of Management and Budget's goal of certifying and accrediting at least 90 percent of all federal systems, agencies likely will have to wait until the IT security Line of Business consolidation effort kicks into high gear.

After three years of trying to reach the high-water mark, agencies still have not topped 85 percent, according to Glen Schlarman, chief of the information policy and technology branch at OMB.

'We are driving to 90 percent, but it is difficult to crack,' Schlarman said at the 2005 Executive Leadership Conference co-sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council and the American Council for Technology. 'It is difficult to get that last 10 percent because system inventories change and agencies have such geographically diverse infrastructures.'

Schlarman said that IT security improved over the past few years but progress has leveled off, and OMB expects the IT Line of Business effort to implement standards and consistency in four main areas, which will advance cybersecurity further.

'Maybe we collected all the low-hanging fruit,' Schlarman said. 'To get to the next level, we have to improve the quality of our reporting and that is what the Line of Business will do. It will improve everyone's performance because the baseline will be applied consistently across government.'

The IT security LOB would focus on four areas:
  • Security training, to standardize security processes, develop common criteria and help provide a career path for information security professionals in government

  • FISMA reporting, to standardize reporting processes and help ensure consistent and effective IT program management

  • Situational awareness and incident response, to improve the sharing of information about IT vulnerabilities and threats and provide resources for responding to security incidents and

  • Lifecycle security solutions, to provide a common methodology for evaluating security tools so each agency does not have to go through the process from scratch each time it acquires security products or services.

'These are four areas of weaknesses across most agencies, but these also are areas where some agencies are doing it right,' said John Sindelar, OMB's project executive for the LOB initiatives. 'This is very complex and we are doing it incrementally, and we don't want to do more than we can at this time.'

Sindelar said these four areas represent about 25 percent, or $1.4 billion, of the $4.5 billion agencies spend on IT security annually.

In the business case for the Line of Business sent to OMB in September, the interagency task force proposed that agencies implement mandatory user awareness training by April 2007, according to Sindelar. He also said at least three Centers of Excellence (COEs) should be in place by April 2007 for FISMA reporting, and by 2008 for situational awareness and incident response. By 2009, the COEs for evaluating security software and best practices should be ready, he added.

The business case still must be approved by OMB and included in the president's 2007 budget request in February 2006.

'We picked discrete areas that are the same for everyone or is a commodity,' Schlarman said. 'Other areas we looked at are more complex and the risk is too great and we decided not to go down that path.'

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