Creating a National Framework for Cybersecurity: An Analysis of Issues and Options
CRS Report for Congress
Creating a National Framework
for Cybersecurity: An Analysis of
Issues and Options
February 22, 2005
Eric A. Fischer
Senior Specialist in Science and Technology
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Creating a National Framework for Cybersecurity: An
Analysis of Issues and Options
Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, concerns had been rising
among security experts about the vulnerabilities to attack of computer systems and
associated infrastructure. Yet, despite increasing attention from federal and state
governments and international organizations, the defense against attacks on these
systems has appeared to be generally fragmented and varying widely in effectiveness.
Concerns have grown that what is needed is a national cybersecurity framework —
a coordinated, coherent set of public- and private-sector efforts required to ensure an
acceptable level of cybersecurity for the nation.
As commonly used, cybersecurity refers to three things: measures to protect
information technology; the information it contains, processes, and transmits, and
associated physical and virtual elements (which together comprise cyberspace); the
degree of protection resulting from application of those measures; and the associated
field of professional endeavor. Virtually any element of cyberspace can be at risk,
and the degree of interconnection of those elements can make it difficult to determine
the extent of the cybersecurity framework that is needed. Identifying the major
weaknesses in U.S. cybersecurity is an area of some controversy. However, some
components appear to be sources of potentially significant risk because either major
vulnerabilities have been identified or substantial impacts could result from a
successful attack. — in particular, components that play critical roles in elements of
critical infrastructure, widely used commercial software, organizational governance,
and the level of public knowledge and perception about cybersecurity.
There are several options for broadly addressing weaknesses in cybersecurity .
They include adopting standards and certification, promulgating best practices and
guidelines, using benchmarks and checklists, use of auditing, improving training and
education, building security into enterprise architecture, using risk management, and
using metrics. These different approaches all have different strengths and
weaknesses with respect to how they might contribute to the development of a
national framework for cybersecurity. None of them are likely to be widely adopted
in the absence of sufficient economic incentives for cybersecurity.
Many observers believe that cyberspace has too many of the properties of a
commons for market forces alone to provide those incentives. Also, current federal
laws, regulations, and public-private partnerships appear to be much narrower in
scope than the policies called for in the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and
similar documents. Some recent laws do provide regulatory incentives for corporate
management to address cybersecurity issues. Potential models for additional action
include the response to the year-2000 computer problem and federal safety and
environmental regulations. Congress might consider encouraging the widespread
adoption of cybersecurity standards and best practices, procurement leveraging by the
federal government, mandatory reporting of incidents, the use of product liability
actions, the development of cybersecurity insurance, and strengthened federal
cybersecurity programs in the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere. This
report will be updated in response to significant developments in cybersecurity.
What Is Cybersecurity?.............................................3
Where Are the Major Weaknesses in Cybersecurity?......................6
What Components of Cyberspace Are at Risk?.......................8
Cyberspace and Critical Infrastructure ............................12
Software Design Weaknesses...................................14
Problems with Organizational Governance ........................16
Key Aspects of Governance.................................17
Extent of Problems and Response............................23
Public Knowledge and Perception................................23
What Are the Major Means of Leverage?..............................24
Strengths and Weaknesses of Standards.......................34
Strengths and Weaknesses of Certification.....................37
Benchmarks and Checklists.....................................41
Training and Education........................................43
What Roles Should Government and the Private Sector Play?..............47
Laws and Regulations.....................................48
Options for Congress......................................55
Creating a National Framework for
Cybersecurity: An Analysis of Issues and
Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, concerns had been rising
among security experts about the vulnerabilities to attack of computer systems and
associated infrastructure. There were several reasons for those rising concerns. First,
computer systems were becoming increasingly powerful and increasingly
interconnected, with many enterprises in the public and private sectors coming to rely
on them for fundamental business functions. Second, the size and reach of the
Internet was growing dramatically. Not only were more and more businesses and
households in the United States using the Internet, but the same phenomenon was
happening worldwide. Third, the number and sophistication of attacks by criminals
and vandals was growing, and many experts thought that terrorists and other
adversaries were preparing to launch attacks on computer systems via the Internet or
other means. Those trends have generally continued over the last several years.
Yet, despite increasing attention from federal and state governments and
international organizations, the defense against attacks on these systems has appeared
to be generally fragmented and varying widely in effectiveness. Even with the
establishment of the Department of Homeland Security by the Homeland Security
Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), with its consolidation of several cybersecurity efforts
within the Information Assurance and Infrastructure Protection Directorate, and the1
subsequent publication of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace (NSSC),
concerns grew that a more coordinated, coherent approach — what might be called2
a national cybersecurity framework — was needed. What such a framework should
consist of, whom it should apply to, and how it should be developed and
implemented have remained uncertain. Several processes are underway that may
contribute to the development of such a framework, ranging from some sector-
specific activities to proposals for federal legislation. The issues associated with that
development can be difficult to understand and address for several reasons, perhaps
most notably because of the sheer size, complexity, and interconnectedness of the
information infrastructure and associated technology and applications. The purpose
1 The White House, National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, February 2003,
[ ht t p: / / www.whi t e house.gov/ pci pb/ cyber s pace_st r at egy.pdf ] .2
See, for example, F. William Connor and others, Information Security Governance: A Call
to Action, Report of the Corporate Governance Task Force, April 2004, available at
[http://www.cyberpartnership.org/init-governance.html]; and Chris Klaus and others,
Recommendations Report, Report of the Technical Standards and Common Criteria Task
Force, April 2004, available at [http://www.cyberpartnership.org/init-tech.html]. These
reports discuss and examine frameworks within the scope of the issues each covers —
governance and technical standards, respectively.
of this report is to lend structure to the debate about those issues by examining some
fundamental concepts and questions relating to a framework.
A national cybersecurity framework can be thought of as the essential set of
public- and private-sector efforts required to ensure an acceptable level of
cybersecurity for the nation. To be effective, such a framework would need to
operate in at least four dimensions. One, perhaps the most obvious, consists of the
elements of cybersecurity. It includes both the general approach — e.g., goals, best
practices, benchmarks, standards — and specific areas of focus, such as technology,
process, and people. A second dimension is the components of cyberspace — what
would be covered by the framework. That includes both specific elements, such as
computer operating systems and Internet servers, and the sectors which would be
involved. A third dimension is the method of application. For example, should the
framework be required, voluntary, or ad hoc? The fourth dimension is the functions
and goals of the framework. Is its purpose to defend against crime, to improve the
environment for electronic commerce, to protect critical infrastructure, or some
combination of those?
No consensus proposal for a cybersecurity framework has yet emerged, and
suggestions tend to focus on different approaches and components. Some of those
emphasize cybersecurity policies and goals, others procedures, still others
technology. Some stress standards, others best practices or benchmarks, and still
others focus on guidelines. This diversity of possible approaches can complicate
examination of the issues. A further complication may arise from the lack of
consensus meanings for terms used to denote different approaches.
To examine what kind of framework may be needed and how it might be
implemented, it may be helpful to address three questions:
1. Where are the major cybersecurity weaknesses currently, and where might
weaknesses be anticipated in the future? The term weaknesses as used here
includes vulnerabilities and associated risks as those terms are usually
understood, but also other factors that might negatively impact cybersecurity but
might not usually be considered vulnerabilities or risks. For example,
misperceptions about risks might be a weakness. A weakness is major if failure
to address it could realistically have a significant national impact on the
economy, public safety, or other critical services. The assessment of
weaknesses will also determine the goals of a framework to a significant extent.
These could include such approaches as the adoption of standards or best
practices, improvements in software engineering, investment in training and
education, or correction of market failures.
3. What roles should government and the private sector play in the use of those
means of leverage to address current and potential future weaknesses? It might
be, for example, that market forces are sufficient to address the concerns.
Alternatively, incentives might be needed to promote voluntary measures, or
regulation might be required. Among the policy options that Congress could
consider are encouraging broader use of cybersecurity standards and best
practices in the private sector, using federal procurement practices to leverage
general improvements in products and services, encouraging mandatory
reporting of security incidents, facilitating product-liability actions in response
to inadequate cybersecurity practices, encouraging the development of
cybersecurity insurance, and strengthening federal cybersecurity programs.
This report addresses each of those questions in turn. However, before doing
so, it may be useful to discuss exactly what the term cybersecurity refers to.
What Is Cybersecurity?
One of the prerequisites for developing a common national framework for
cybersecurity is a common understanding of what this and related terms mean.
Achieving that can be difficult, for several reasons. Perhaps the major one is
complexity. There are many components of cyberspace and many potential
components of a framework. A variety of stakeholders will be involved with,
exposed to, and in some cases predisposed to focus on different parts of cyberspace,
different elements of a framework, and different approaches to security.
Consequently, attempts to create a coordinated national framework could be
Another problem is that there appears to be no generally accepted definition of
cybersecurity, and several different terms are in use that have related meanings. For
example, information security is defined in some subsections of federal copyright law
to mean “activities carried out in order to identify and address the vulnerabilities of
a government computer, computer system, or computer network” (17 U.S.C. 1201(e),
107-296, Title X, 44 U.S.C. 3532) as “protecting information and information
systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or
The term information assurance (IA) is also used. One section of federal
military law defines it to include computer and network security as well as any other
information technology so designated by the Secretary of Defense (10 U.S.C.
2200(e)). The National Security Agency (NSA) defines information assurance as
Measures that protect and defend information and information systems by
ensuring their availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and non-
repudiation. These measures include providing for restoration of information3
systems by incorporating protection, detection, and reaction capabilities.
3 Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS), National Security Agency, “National
Information Assurance (IA) Glossary,” CNSS Instruction No. 4009, May 2003,
[http://www.nstissc.gov/Assets/pdf/4009.pdf]. p. 32. The glossary defines the 5 elements
of IA as follows:
Authentication: Security measure designed to establish the validity of a transmission,
message, or originator, or a means of verifying an individual’s authorization to receive
specific categories of information (p. 4).
Assurance more generally refers to the level of confidence in the effectiveness of
security.4 Also, both information security and information assurance may not be
limited to electronic systems but may refer more broadly to the protection of
information or data in whatever format or medium it exists.
In the context of financial services, electronic security or e-security has been
defined as follows:
E-security can be described on the one hand as those policies, guidelines,
processes, and actions needed to enable electronic transactions to be carried out
with a minimum risk of breach, intrusion, or theft. On the other hand, e-security
is any tool, technique, or process used to protect a system’s information
assets.…E-security enhances or adds value to an unprotected network, and is
composed of both a “soft” and a “hard” infrastructure. Soft infrastructure
components are those policies, processes, protocols, and guidelines that create
the protective environment to keep the system and the data from compromise.
The hard infrastructure consists of the actual hardware and software needed to5
protect the system and its data from external and internal threats to security.
Neither federal law nor the NSSC define cybersecurity, and the latter uses the
term interchangeably with “cyberspace security.” The implication, presumably, is
that the former term is shorthand for the latter, which is also not defined. However,
in general usage, cyberspace is more of a metaphor than a precise concept, and it has
different meanings in different contexts. The NSSC uses it to refer to computers and
the hardware connecting them.6 In common parlance, it is often used somewhat
differently, referring to a kind of virtual space, created by computer networks, within
Availability: Timely, reliable access to data and information services for authorized users
Confidentiality: Assurance that information is not disclosed to unauthorized individuals,
processes, or devices (p. 15).
Integrity: Quality of an IS [information system] reflecting the logical correctness and
reliability of the operating system; the logical completeness of the hardware and software
implementing the protection mechanisms; and the consistency of the data structures and
occurrence of the stored data. Note that, in a formal security mode, integrity is interpreted
more narrowly to mean protection against unauthorized modification or destruction of
information (p. 34).
Nonrepudiation: Assurance the sender of data is provided with proof of delivery and the
recipient is provided with proof of the sender’s identity, so neither can later deny having
processed the data (p. 44).
4 CNSS, “IA Glossary,” defines assurance as a “measure of confidence that the security
features, practices, procedures, and architecture of an IS [information system] accurately
mediates and enforces the security policy” (p. 3).5
Thomas C. Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness: Securing Finance in
a New Age, World Bank Working Paper No. 26, (Washington, DC: The World Bank,
February 2004), p. 9.
6 “Cyberspace is composed of hundreds of thousands of interconnected computers, servers,
routers, switches, and fiber optic cables that allow our critical infrastructures to work”
(NSSC , p. vii). The NSSC also says that cyberspace refers to “…an interdependent network
of critical information infrastructures…” (p. 13). These are somewhat narrower meanings
than used in this report.
which people and computers perform various activities such as email, financial
transactions, data processing, and system control.7 In this report, cyberspace means
the combination of the virtual structure,8 the physical components that support it, the
information it contains, and the flow of that information within it.
A cybersecurity bill introduced in the 108th Congress, the Department of
Homeland Security Cybersecurity Enhancement Act — H.R. 5068/Thornberry;
reintroduced in the 109th Congress as H.R. 285 — defines cybersecurity as
…the prevention of damage to, the protection of, and the restoration of
computers, electronic communications systems, electronic communication
services, wire communication, and electronic communication, including
information contained therein, to ensure its availability, integrity, authentication,9
confidentiality, and nonrepudiation.
This proposed legislative definition is similar to the NSA definition of information
assurance described above, but with a greater stress on communications systems.10
Also, this definition emphasizes outcomes — prevention, protection, and restoration
— rather than processes to achieve those outcomes.
The potential fuzziness of the term cybersecurity could be a problem in the
context of developing a national framework to the extent that it impacts the ability
of different stakeholders to reach agreement on elements of the framework.
However, because information technology and cyberspace itself continue to evolve
rapidly, a rigid definition would likely lose its utility quickly. Keeping the concept
as flexible as possible may be beneficial.
As it is commonly used, cybersecurity appears to refer to three things:
7 One online definition is, “A metaphor for describing the non-physical terrain created by
computer systems. Online systems, for example, create a cyberspace within which people
can communicate with one another (via e-mail), do research, or simply window shop. Like
physical space, cyberspace contains objects (files, mail messages, graphics, etc.) and
different modes of transportation and delivery” (Webopedia, [http://www.webopedia.com/
TERM/c/cyberspace.html], 21 March 2002. The term was coined in 1984 by science-fiction
writer William Gibson, who apparently intended it, in his novel Neuromancer, to mean a
form of virtual reality created by a world-wide set of interconnected computers and those
who operated them. 8
The term virtual structure, as used here, refers to the apparent or perceived organization
or architecture created by or with information technology hardware and software.
9 The bipartisan bill, which received no committee or floor action in the 108th Congress,
further states, “(i) each of the terms ‘damage’ and ‘computer’ has the meaning that term has
in section 1030 of title 18, United States Code; and (ii) each of the terms ‘electronic
communications system’, ‘electronic communication service’, ‘wire communication’, and
‘electronic communication’ has the meaning that term has in section 2510 of title 18, United
This difference can be seen in the IA Glossary definition of an information system as a
“set of information resources organized for the collection, storage, processing, maintenance,
use, sharing, dissemination, disposition, display, or transmission of information” (CNSS,
“IA Glossary,” p. 33).
disruption, or other threats — computers, computer networks, related hardware
and devices software, and the information they contain and communicate,
including software and data, as well as other elements of cyberspace.11 The
activities can include security audits, patch management,12 authentication
procedures, access management, and so forth. They can involve, for example,
examining and evaluating the strengths and vulnerabilities of the hardware and
software used in the country’s political and economic electronic infrastructure.
They also involve detection and reaction to security events, mitigation of
impacts, and recovery of affected components. Other measures can include
such things as hardware and software firewalls, physical security such as
hardened facilities, and personnel training and responsibilities.
3. The broad field of endeavor, including research and analysis, aimed at
implementing and improving those activities and quality.14
The kinds of attack or disruption contemplated are generally those originating with
humans — vandals, criminals, terrorists, nation-states — but other sources are
possible, such as accidents, major weather events, or earthquakes.
This three-part sense is how cybersecurity is used in this report. In this usage,
information security, information assurance, e-security, and even cyberspace security
(as used in the NSSC) are aspects of, but not synonymous with, cybersecurity.
Where Are the Major Weaknesses in Cybersecurity?
Cyberspace is large, somewhat amorphous, and growing. It is interconnected
in ways that can be difficult to characterize or even identify. It is also global, and
most of it is in the private sector. Therefore, a thorough determination of what parts
of and activities in cyberspace should, and even can, be involved in a national
framework for cybersecurity is difficult to do. The complexity of cyberspace and its
components, even within organizations, makes it both difficult to test and to predict
how systems will behave under unusual circumstances, such as might arise from an
unanticipated cyberattack.15 However, the issue can be made more tractable by first
11 An example of this usage is “…no cybersecurity plan can be impervious to concerted and
intelligent attacks…”, NSSC, p. 3.12
A patch is a piece of software code inserted into a computer program to fix a problem,
or “bug,” in the program.13
For example, “…increase the level of cybersecurity nationwide,” NSSC, p. 2. This also
appears to be the usage in H.R. 285.
14 For example, “…programs to advance the training of cybersecurity professionals…,”
NSSC, p. 41.
15 The government of the United Kingdom is concerned enough about this issue that it has
launched a research program to discover ways to avoid catastrophic failures resulting from
identifying those components which, if successfully attacked, would yield damage
that would be considered unacceptable to government and/or the public. From this
perspective, there appear to be three classes of attack to consider:
!Service Disruption. Those which cause a loss of service, such as by
making unavailable part of cyberspace or activities that depend on
it. This could include, for example, a loss of emergency or
transportation communication systems, or an extended unavailability
of electronic financial transactions or utilities such as electricity.
This unavailability could result from disabling of networks through
a variety of attacks such as denial of service (DoS), corruption or
destruction of information such as financial records, or destruction
of physical infrastructure such as components of the Internet
backbone. Disruptions may be limited to a particular organization,
region, or sector, or they could be broader and even global in scope.
!Theft of Assets. Those which involve theft or other appropriation
and subsequent misuse of critical information on a large enough
scale to have major impact, such as on financial markets.
!Capture and Control. Those which involve taking control of
components of cyberspace and using them as weapons against other
critical activities or elements of infrastructure, such as using
compromised home computers to launch DoS attacks against one or
Three main channels of attack also exist — through cyberspace, such as via
worms or other malware,17 by direct destruction or alteration of physical structure,
such as buildings or telecommunications lines, or through intentional or inadvertent
actions by a trusted insider. These channels are not mutually exclusive, and
combination attacks are also possible. Because cyberspace is constantly under attack,
albeit most often at a low level and largely through the first channel, and because
most attacks produce damage which is either minimal or considered acceptable (e.g.,
as a cost of doing business) by those attacked, a higher threshold of impact might
need to be reached before significant efforts at developing a national cybersecurity
framework would be considered worthwhile by many. Determining that threshold,
in particular the threshold for government action, is not straightforward, especially
given that most publicly known cyberattacks to date fall into either a nuisance or
such “emergent properties” (Duncan Graham-Rowe, “Sprawling Systems Teeter on IT
Chaos,” New Scientist, 24 November 2004, [http://www.newscientist.com/news/
16 See National Research Council, Information Technology for Counterterrorism,
(Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2003), p. 12-13 for a related discussion. The
report characterizes attacks as potentially making a system or network unavailable,
corrupted, or compromised.
17 Malware, a contracted elision of malicious software, includes viruses, Trojan horses,
worms, logic bombs, and any other computer code that has or is intended to have harmful
vandal category, such as defacing websites, or financial crime, such as stolen credit
card or personal identity information. Additionally, the costs of cyberattacks may be
difficult to quantify, further complicating the determination of that threshold.18 In the
absence of a significant terrorist cyberattack, the role that government should play in
ensuring a specified national level of cybersecurity has been somewhat controversial.
Yet, policymakers are also keenly aware that before September 2001 most observers
regarded a major attack by foreign terrorists inside the United States an unlikely
event. In that context, to identify areas worthy of particular attention, it could be
useful to discuss what parts of cyberspace might be in particular need of protection.
What Components of Cyberspace Are at Risk?
Cyberspace, as used in this report, comprises a huge range of elements arrayed
worldwide. Given its size and complexity, a reasonable question is whether a
cybersecurity framework is needed for all of cyberspace — potentially a daunting
task — or only for certain critical components that are especially important or
especially at risk. Cyberspace consists not only of the Internet and computers
connected to it, but also any electronic system or device that is or can be connected
either directly to the Internet or indirectly through some other device or system, as
well as the mechanisms that connect them. These may include such things as
automatic teller machines, industrial control systems known as SCADAs,19 and even
telephone and other telecommunications systems. These connections may be obvious,
or they may not. Thus, not only is a Web-enabled cellular telephone part of
cyberspace, but so is a desktop phone, not only because it is part of the same
worldwide telephone system as the cellular phone, but also because that telephone
system increasingly relies on computers and the Internet to help manage traffic and
for other purposes. Even a computer with no connection to the Internet is part of
cyberspace if it has a way of communicating with other computers — such as through
floppy disks or other removable media.
Cyberspace also includes the software that runs computers and their
connections. It includes the data stored on or generated by those computers and other
devices and the transmission of those data to other computers and devices. It
includes cables, routers, servers, networks, the Internet backbone, and even satellites
used in Internet transmissions. It even has its own atlases20 and sophisticated
electronic mapping techniques to help manage networks and Internet
18 See CRS Report RL32331, The Economic Impact of Cyber-Attacks.
19 See CRS Report RL31534, Critical Infrastructure: Control Systems and the Terrorist
Threat. The acronym SCADA is derived from the term Supervisory Control And Data
Acquisition, which refers to the function of those systems, which are often used to control
processes in industrial facilities and to log information about status and conditions. They
often communicate electronically with central computer systems that are connected to the
20 For example, Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin, Atlas of Cyberspace (Boston: Addison
Wesley, 2001); or Martin Dodge, An Atlas of Cyberspaces, [http://www.
cybergeogr aphy.org/ atlas/atlas.html ].
communications. These show that even the virtual dimension of cyberspace is highly
structured, and often in ways that may not be obvious.21
In addition to the components of cyberspace per se, there are supplementary
elements that can be critical with respect to cybersecurity. Perhaps most notable are
buildings and other structures within which the physical components of cyberspace
are contained, and people with access to cyberspace. An effective cybersecurity
framework needs to take such elements into account.
It might be useful to consider the various physical components associated with
cyberspace as cyberspace infrastructure. This can be conveniently categorized into
four segments: Internet hardware, telecommunications infrastructure, embedded
computing devices such as control systems, and dedicated computing devices such
as desktop computers.22 Virtual cyberspace — the electronic information that is
stored in and flows through the physical components — could be called cyberspace
Virtually any element of cyberspace can, at least in theory, pose some level of
cybersecurity risk, which is generally thought of as a combined assessment of threat,
vulnerability, and impact23 that gives a measure of the overall potential for harm from
a vulnerability if no corrective action is taken. Threat can have several different
meanings, but in this report it refers to a possible attack — for example, the threat of
a denial-of-service attack. Descriptions of threats often include both the nature of the
possible attack and those who might perpetrate it, as well as the capabilities of
potential attackers, and may include some description of the possible consequences
if the attack is successful. Vulnerability usually refers to a weakness that an attack
might exploit — how an attack could be accomplished. Analysis of threats and
21 See, for example, “Mapping the Internet,” in Eric Fischer, Coordinator, Understanding
Cybersecurity, CRS Workshop MM70048, July 21, 2003.22
after National Research Council, Information Technology for Counterterrorism, p. 12 —
23 For example, one definition of risk used by the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST) is “…a combination of: (i) the likelihood that a particular vulnerability
in an agency information system will be either intentionally or unintentionally exploited by
a particular threat resulting in a loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability, and (ii) the
potential impact or magnitude of harm that a loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability
will have on agency operations (including mission, functions, and public confidence in the
agency), an agency’s assets, or individuals (including privacy) should there be a threat
exploitation of information system vulnerabilities,” (National Institute of Standards and
Technology, Information Security, Volume II: Appendices to Guide for Mapping Types of
Information and Information Systems to Security Categories, NIST Special Publication 800-
60 Version 1.0, December 2003, p. 5). The same publication defines threat as “…any
circumstance or event with the potential to intentionally or unintentionally exploit a specific
vulnerability in an information system resulting in a loss of confidentiality, integrity, or
availability,” and vulnerability as “…a flaw or weakness in the design or implementation
of an information system (including security procedures and security controls associated
with the system) that could be intentionally or unintentionally exploited to adversely affect
an agency’s operations (including missions, functions, and public confidence in the agency),
an agency’s assets, or individuals (including privacy) through a loss of confidentiality,
integrity, or availability” (p. 5).
vulnerabilities, when combined, can lead to an assessment of risk. Statements of risk
often combine both the probability of a successful attack and some measure of its
likely impact — the nature and magnitude of economic and other outcomes of a
Managing risks may involve several kinds of activities. Defense refers to how
a system is protected from attack and is often discussed in terms of countermeasures
or controls. Elements may include prevention2 which involves reducing
vulnerabilities and implementing other measures to deter attacks; detection, which
involves identifying and characterizing an attempted attack, either as it occurs or
afterward; and countering (sometimes also called response), which involves taking
corrective measures in response to an attack to stop it or reduce its impact. Response
and recovery refer to how, and how well, damage is mitigated and repaired and
information and functionality are recovered in the event of a successful attack.
Risks are often characterized qualitatively as high, medium, or low.24 The level
of risk varies among different components of cyberspace, and some may therefore
deserve more attention than others in the development of an effective framework.
Some components are considered to be particularly vulnerable, some are viewed by
different groups of attackers as particularly tempting targets, and some would, if
compromised, have particularly large impacts. These may not, however, all translate
into high risk. For example, a target could be highly vulnerable but under little threat
and with a very limited impact resulting from any successful attack. In contrast, a
moderately vulnerable target under moderate threat with moderate impact from a
successful attack could easily be assessed as being at much higher risk.
Identifying what are the major weaknesses in U.S. cybersecurity is an area of
some controversy. While there seems to be general agreement on some problems —
such as software vulnerability and the increasing levels of cybercrime — others have
in fact remained controversial. Even the question of how much of a concern
cyberterrorism (as opposed to cybercrime25) should be has been a matter of some
dispute. However, terrorists may also engage in cybercrime such as theft, fraud,
extortion, or money laundering to finance their efforts. There also appear to be
increasing concerns among some observers about the possibility of a growing nexus
among hackers, organized crime, and terrorists.26 Therefore, separating consideration
24 See, for example, National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Risk Management
Guide for Information Technology Systems,” NIST Special Publication 800-30, October
25 Cybercrime is usually distinguished from cyberterrorism just as crime is usually
distinguished from terrorism, although the distinction is sometimes muddled in usage.
Generally, they are distinguished based on the aim of the activity. Cybercrimes generally
refers to crimes committed using information technology, especially the Internet, for
personal gain, and cyberterrorism refers to crimes involving information technology that are
performed for political ends. 26
“…[A]n increased reliance on technology escalates the potential for, and the likelihood
of, e-security threats. Furthermore, attacks … occur more often and with a polymorphic
approach. Due largely in part to organized crime and terrorism, the speed and tenacity of the
hacking community is growing at a rapid rate” (The World Bank, Integrator Group, “Global
of those activities in discussions of cybersecurity might not be appropriate, at least
in some cases.
There appear to be certain candidate components of cyberspace and associated
activities that are sources of potentially significant risk because either major
vulnerabilities have been identified or substantial impacts could result from a
successful attack. They are
!Components that play critical roles in elements of critical
infrastructure. This could include, for example, computer control
systems such as SCADAs used in the chemical and energy
industries, and the Internet infrastructure. Another example is
information held by financial services industries that could be stolen
electronically or otherwise compromised.
!Software. In particular, widely used computer programs such as
operating systems can be vulnerable to various forms of compromise
resulting, for example, in information theft or use of the
compromised system as a weapon of attack. This kind of
vulnerability has perhaps received more public attention than any
other, given that it affects virtually all owners and users of desktop
!Cybersecurity governance. Many observers have expressed
concerns that corporations and other organizations, including some
involved in critical infrastructure sectors (see below), have not
developed governance mechanisms sufficiently responsive to
cybersecurity needs. Weaknesses have been cited with respect to
several aspects of cybersecurity governance, including policies,
procedures, and personnel management.
!Public knowledge and perception. Observers who have expressed
concern about the risk of major cyberattacks from terrorists or other
criminals have in many cases pointed to a lack of public awareness
about the risk as a weakness, both with respect to lack of knowledge
about the steps individuals need to take to defend against attacks and
the need for national public- and private-sector effort.
While other potential weaknesses could be identified — for example, security
of current Internet protocols, emergency communications, or buildings housing key
Internet servers or central exchanges known as peering points — discussion here will
be limited to the four cases above, because of their relevance to the issue of a national
Dialogue ‘Electronic Safety and Soundness,” September 10, 2003, Summary, p. 2).
Cyberspace and Critical Infrastructure
It is obvious from even a cursory examination of cyberspace that it is probably
impossible and certainly impractical to secure all of it — if for no other reason than
its global nature. But even within the United States, the complexities are daunting.
One of the fundamental tenets of cybersecurity is that a simple system is much easier
to secure than a complex one — and cyberspace is extraordinarily complex.
Determining the elements of cyberspace that should be the focus of cybersecurity is
therefore of fundamental importance. One set of components for which there already
appears to be general agreement to include consists of those associated with the
nation’s critical infrastructure.
Some components of cyberspace are also components of the U.S. critical
infrastructure (CI),27 defined as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so
vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets
would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national
public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.”28 The National
Strategy for Homeland Security identified thirteen CI sectors,29 which DHS has
categorized as follows30:
!production industries: energy, chemical, defense industrial base;
!service industries: banking and finance, transportation, postal and
!sustenance and health: agriculture, food, water, public health;
!federal and state: government, emergency services;
!IT and cyber: information and telecommunications.
Disruption of CI components by natural or anthropogenic events can have
significant economic and social impacts. Those impacts can reverberate well beyond
the affected industry, as the August 2003 electricity blackout in the northeastern
United States demonstrated.
Many CI industries are increasingly dependent on cyberspace, and adequate
cybersecurity for those industries is important not only to them, but to other
industries, government, and the public. Some examples of components of CI
cyberspace that have received particular attention with respect to risk are described
Control Systems. Computer systems are often used to control various industrial
processes. In many instances, those systems are connected directly or indirectly to
the Internet. Their potential vulnerabilities are particularly a concern in industries
27 For in-depth discussion of issues involved in the security of CI, see CRS Report
RL30153, Critical Infrastructures: Background, Policy, and Implementation.
28 42 U.S.C. 5195c(e).
29 The White House, National Strategy for Homeland Security, July 2002, p. 30, available
30 This categorization is used in the DHS/IAIP Daily Open Source Infrastructure Reports,
available at [http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0542.xml].
that are considered part of the nation’s critical infrastructure — especially, energy
generation and transportation industry such as electric utilities, oil refineries, and
pipeline companies; water utilities; telephone companies; and the chemical
industry.31 The August 2003 electrical blackout in the Northeast has been attributed
in part to failure of a computer-controlled alarm system, although it appears to have
been caused by malfunctions, not a cyberattack.32 However, in January of the same
year, infection by a computer worm caused a monitoring system to become disabled
in an off-line nuclear power plant.33 In perhaps the best-known example of a
cyberattack on control systems, in 2000 a hacker in Australia caused a computerized
waste-management system to dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into rivers and
Databases Containing Sensitive Information. Many databases on government
and private-sector computer systems contain sensitive information. That can include
personal data such as medical records, financial information such as credit card
numbers, proprietary business information such as business plans or customer data,
security-related data such as risk assessments, and a wide range of other information
that might be of interest to competitors, criminals, and terrorists.
Losses from electronic theft and other forms of cybercrime are thought to be in
the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars annually in the United States and much
larger worldwide. According to some reports, more than half of electronic attacks
are directed at financial institutions.35 However, estimates of losses vary because,
among other reasons, institutions are reluctant to share such information because of
potential additional losses that could result from damage to the institution’s
reputation should the information become publicly known.36
Competitive pressures often motivate organizations to adopt new information
technologies. However, these technologies may also create vulnerabilities by
facilitating “more efficient and quicker ways to commit old crimes such as fraud and
theft….Disturbingly, as the technology becomes more complex, a perpetrator needs
fewer skills to commit these crimes.”37 For example, many companies increasingly
use wireless communications (“WiFi” — for wireless fidelity) for networking and
other communications. Many of those systems are notoriously vulnerable to
compromise by hackers, who can steal passwords and other information or even take
31 See Shea, Critical Infrastructure: Control Systems.
32 U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, Interim Report: Causes of the August
33 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Potential Vulnerability of Plant Computer Network
to Worm Infection,” NRC Information Notice 2003-14, 29 August 2003,
[ h t t p : / / w w w . n r c . go v/ r e a d i n g-r m / d o c -c ollections/gen-comm/info-notices
/2003/in200314.pdf]; Kevin Poulsen, “Slammer Worm Crashed Ohio Nuke Plant Net,” The
Register, 20 August 2003. The infection was not deemed to pose a safety hazard.
34 Tony Smith, “Hacker Jailed for Revenge Sewage Attacks,” The Register, 31 October
2001, [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/10/31/hacker_jailed_for_revenge_sewage]. The
perpetrator was a former employee of the company that had installed the system.35
Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 10.36
For in-depth discussion of economic aspects of cybersecurity, see CRS Report RL32331.37
Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 9.
over control of the network.38 The Australian hacker discussed above used a radio
to access the sewage control system. While WiFi vulnerabilities can be greatly
reduced through application of appropriate security measures, the process can be
complex and difficult for many users to implement.
Voting Systems. State and local government are categorized as a CI sector, and
like other sectors, they rely increasingly on information technology to provide crucial
services. One example is voting systems. Four out of five American voters now cast
ballots using systems that rely on computers for casting, counting, or both.39 While
not generally considered part of critical infrastructure, voting systems are central to
the functioning of government. Concerns have been raised by many computer
security experts about the vulnerabilities of current computer-assisted voting systems
to compromise that could change the outcome of an election.40
While a focus on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure per se is clearly
important, other cyberspace components are also relevant. For example, the
education sector, is not generally considered a CI sector, but attacks on components
such as institutions of higher learning with significant research programs could have
significant impact. Also, CI sectors are largely thought of as being geographically
limited to the United States, but cyberspace is global. That means both that attacks
outside the United States could have significant impacts within the country, and that
the generation of attacks from outside the United States can be of significant concern.
Third, cyberspace components that are clearly not part of CI, such as home
computers, may be used in attacks.
Software Design Weaknesses
The security problems of much widely used computer software are among the
best known cybersecurity weaknesses, because they affect so many computers in
homes and businesses. Among these weaknesses, the vulnerabilities of computer
operating systems and email programs are among the most widely reported and
exploited. They can permit individual computer systems to be probed or even taken
over by attackers, with impacts ranging from vandalism to theft to loss of service for
a company or a larger segment of cyberspace users. For example, in 2003, computer
worms41 that exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows operating systems led
to disruptions in automatic teller machines and even, in one instance, emergency 911
service, simply by rapidly replicating and propagating themselves, thereby
overwhelming computer networks worldwide. The disruptions to financial and
38 Timothy Allen, “WiFi Vulnerabilities,” in Fischer, Understanding Cybersecurity.
39 Election Data Services, “New Study Shows 50 Million Voters Will Use Electronic
Voting Systems, 32 Million Still with Punch Cards in 2004,” Press Release, 12 February
40 For in-depth discussion of these issues, see CRS Report RL32139, Election Reform and
Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues.
41 A worm is a kind of malicious software, or malware, that can replicate and propagate
itself without human assistance across a computer network, often causing harmful effects.
emergency services were apparently not anticipated by security experts, nor,
probably, by the authors of the worms.42
The design of software can have a significant effect on its vulnerability to
malware.43 Both the complexity of the code and the way it is designed can have an
impact. It is a general principle of computer security that the more complex a piece
of software is, the more vulnerable it is to attack. That is because more complex
code will have more places that malware can be hidden and more potential
vulnerabilities that could be exploited, and is more difficult to analyze for security
problems. In fact, attackers often discover and exploit vulnerabilities that were
unknown to the developer.
Software code that is not well-designed from a security perspective is more
likely than well-designed code to have weaknesses that could be exploited, as well
as places for malware to be hidden. Furthermore, many experts argue that it is
impossible with current engineering methods to anticipate all possible weaknesses
and points of attack for complex software. However, code can be designed so as to
minimize such vulnerabilities, and well-developed procedures have been established
to accomplish this goal.44 Some of those procedures can even be applied to older,
legacy systems. Good security design involves not only the code itself, but also the
process by which it is developed and evaluated.
Until recently, widely used software was not, for the most part, developed with
security as a major goal. That was at least in part because it was not clear that, in the
absence of significant breaches, consumers would pay for the extra cost that can be
involved in developing more secure software.
Some experts believe that publicly disclosed or open-source software provides
superior security to proprietary or closed-source code.45 Such experts argue that
42 Bruce Schneier, “Blaster and the Great Blackout,” Salon.com, 16 December 2003,
[ ht t p: / / www.sal on.com/ t ech/ f eat ur e/ 2003/ 12/ 16/ bl ast e r _secur i t y/ i ndex_np.ht ml ] .
43 There are various ways of hiding malware. A Trojan horse, for example, is malware
disguised as something benign or useful. See Kenneth Thompson, “Reflections on Trusting
Trust,@ Communications of the ACM 27 (1984): 761-763, available at
[http://www.acm.org/classics/sep95]. He concluded that it can be essentially impossible to
determine whether a piece of software is trustworthy by examining its source code, no
matter how carefully. The entire system must be evaluated, and even then it can be very
difficult to find malware.44
See, for example, Richard C. Linger and Carmen J. Trammell, “Cleanroom Software
Engineering Reference Model, Version 1.0,@ Technical Report CMU/SEI-96-TR-022,
November 1996, available at [http://www.sei.cmu.edu/pub/documents/96.reports/pdf/
“Open source software refers to a computer program whose source code is made
available to the general public to be improved or modified as the user wishes” (CRS Report
RL31627, Computer Software and Open Source Issues: A Primer, p. 1). What is “open” (or
“closed”) is the source code — what programmers actually write. This code is translated
into machine code (compiled) for use by computers to run the programs. Machine code can
be translated back into source code (decompiled). This does not recover the original source
code but can be useful, for example, to hackers hoping to find vulnerabilities, or to
open-source software is more secure because the open review process is more
thorough and can identify more potential security flaws than is possible with
proprietary code. Advocates of closed-source code argue, in contrast, that proprietary
code makes potential flaws more difficult to discover and therefore to exploit, and
that it improves security by providing more control over the personnel, technology,
and processes involved in development and maintenance of the code. Since malware
has been created for open-source as well as closed-source systems, and since hackers
are generally expected to focus on more popular systems, which are currently closed-
source, the relative security strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches have not
been firmly established. However, approaches to improving security that could be
applied broadly to different kinds of software would likely be beneficial.
Problems with Organizational Governance
Many observers have expressed concerns that corporations and other
organizations have not developed sufficiently responsive governance mechanisms to
address cybersecurity needs. It is generally accepted that sound cybersecurity
involves a focus on three elements: technology, operations, and personnel.46
Successful implementation of all three elements requires active involvement by those
involved in the governance of an organization.
!The technology component focuses on the development, acquisition,
and implementation of hardware and software. Organizations have
often been criticized for focusing too heavily on this component —
the perfect technology, like the perfect lock, is an attractive but
elusive security goal.
!The operations component focuses on policies and procedures,
including such processes as certification, access controls,
management, and assessments.
!The personnel component focuses on a clear commitment to security
by an organization’s leadership, assignment of appropriate roles and
responsibilities, implementation of physical and personnel security
measures to control and monitor access, training that is appropriate
for the level of access and responsibility, and accountability.
A focus that is not properly balanced among the three elements may create
vulnerabilities. Thus, even an excellent security technology will be minimally
effective if it is not properly implemented and used, which requires appropriate
governance mechanisms throughout the organization.
defenders looking for malware that might be hidden in the machine code.
46 National Security Agency (NSA), “Defense in Depth: A Practical Strategy for Achieving
Information Assurance in Today’s Highly Networked Environments,” NSA Security
Recommendation Guide, 8 June 2001, available at [http://nsa2.www.conxion.com/support/
guides/sd-1.pdf]. Sometimes these three elements are referred to as “people, process, and
Key Aspects of Governance. Weaknesses have been cited with respect to
several aspects of cybersecurity governance. Generally, effective governance for
cybersecurity would be expected to involve establishing clear and measurable goals,
strategies for achieving those goals, and policies and procedures to implement those
strategies. These would involve not only operations but personnel management,
including the establishment of appropriate roles and responsibilities and
accountability for them throughout the organization, as well as recruitment and
training. These aspects of governance are discussed in some detail below, because
governance is considered by many to be among the most important and complex
weaknesses to address.
Goals. Any meaningful framework for cybersecurity should arguably include
a clear description of its goals — the desired results or state. Different kinds of goals
might be set, and some would likely be more useful than others. For example, a goal
might focus only on limiting the number and kinds of attacks that occur. This would
have the benefit of being highly tangible and is clearly a desired state, but the
relationship between this goal and the other components of the framework may be
difficult to determine. Since the number of attempted attacks is determined to a
significant extent by the attackers, a low rate of attack does not necessarily reflect
effective security. In addition, this kind of goal could create perverse incentives,
since, for example, attacks might be reduced by limiting connectivity or computing
power, which would often be counterproductive. That is not to say that such a goal
is not valuable, but rather that it must be properly developed and characterized.
One well-established approach is to identify functional goals, such as those that
relate to maintenance of a particular level of operation or performance as opposed to
those that focus on prevention of attacks or protection of systems. Three functional
goals are commonly described for information security — integrity, availability, and
confidentiality.47 Additional goals — such as accountability, authenticity, reliability,
and nonrepudiation — may be added to these basic ones for some applications.48 A
broader functional goal commonly discussed is trustworthiness, which has been
assurance that a system deserves to be trusted — that it will perform as expected
despite environmental disruptions, human and operator error, hostile attacks, and
design and implementation errors. Trustworthy systems reinforce the belief that
47 These are defined in FISMA (44 U.S.C. 3542) as follows:
integrity: “guarding against improper information modification or destruction, [including]
ensuring information nonrepudiation and authenticity”;
confidentiality: “preserving authorized restrictions on access and disclosure, including
means for protecting personal privacy and proprietary information”;
availability: “ensuring timely and reliable access to and use of information.”
Others define these terms somewhat differently (see, for example, National Research
Council, Trust in Cyberspace, (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999), p.
48 Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 45, in reference to ISO/IEC
13335, “Information Technology — Security Techniques — Guidelines for the Management
of IT Security (GMITS).”
they will continue to produce expected behavior and will not be susceptible to49
Such functional goals have the benefit of being applicable not only with respect
to cyberattacks, but also to other sources of potential disruption such as weather
events. However, the goals are complex, and it may be difficult to find ways to map
them on to other elements of a framework.50
It is useful to distinguish goals at different levels — national, sectoral, and
organization-specific. The NSSC outlines three strategic objectives for the nation:
Prevent cyber attacks against America’s critical infrastructures;
Reduce national vulnerability to cyber attacks; and51
Minimize damage and recovery time from cyber attacks that do occur.
Those objectives, while clearly desirable in concept, may be criticized as somewhat
vague, and it is not clear how to determine whether they have been successfully met.
Measuring prevention of cyberattacks suffers from the difficulties mentioned in the
previous paragraph. It is not clear how much of a reduction in vulnerability would
indicate success, or what it means to “minimize damage and recovery time.” The
NSSC recommends a set of actions but does not provide a roadmap or other
mechanism for assessing those actions against the goals. Presumably, such linkages
would be made through subsequent work by federal agencies and the private sector.
In general, however, national goals and objectives will of necessity be broad in nature
and might best be considered concepts that individual sectors and organizations can
use to help them develop more specific goals and objectives.
Sector-specific goals will necessarily vary depending on the mission and focus
of the sector. For example, federal goals must be responsive to unique governmental
security needs and requirements. Chemical-sector goals would address security of
process controls and physical plants, among other things.52 Organization-specific
goals would be expected to be more closely tailored to the individual requirements
of each organization.
Whatever focus they take, a set of effective goals should arguably have the
following characteristics, among others:
!Progress toward the goals should be measurable in a meaningful
way. It should be possible to determine to what extent the goals
have been met.
49 NRC, Trust, p. 316. The report further defines trustworthiness as encompassing
“correctness, reliability, security (conventionally including secrecy, confidentiality,
integrity, and availability), privacy, safety, and survivability” (p. 14).
50 NIST is attempting to do this for federal systems, as required by law (40 U.S.C. 11331
and 44 U.S.C. 3533). See, for example, NIST, Standards for Security.
51 NSSC, p. viii.
52 The Chemicals Sector Cyber-Security Information Sharing Forum Cyber-Security
Strategy Task Team, U.S. Chemicals Sector Cyber-Security Strategy, June 2002, p. 8.
!The goals should provide a basis for appropriate incentives. They
should stimulate improvements in cybersecurity but avoid providing
perverse incentives such as inhibiting replacement of obsolete
!The goals should provide a clear basis for other elements of the
framework. It should be possible to determine how a given element
relates to one or more goals.
Strategies. Generally speaking, strategies is used as a relatively high-level
term referring to a broad set of plans or approaches for meeting cybersecurity goals.
For example, the NSSC lays out a set of six principles and five largely programmatic
priorities for achieving the objectives presented in the document. In this case, the
document itself is called a strategy, and is part of a set relating to homeland security53
and combating terrorism developed by the Bush administration.
The National Security Agency has developed an information assurance strategy
called defense-in-depth (DID),54 which focuses on the three elements mentioned
above — personnel, technology, and operations — and lays out a set of principles
and practices for them. This strategy emphasizes the concept of layered defense.
Nonfederal entities have also developed cybersecurity strategy documents — for
example, industry groups, corporations, and international organizations.
Because of the various meanings given to strategy in different contexts, it is
difficult to identify any one set of desired characteristics for the strategic components
of a cybersecurity framework. However, among those characteristics are likely to be55
!provide an overall methodology for meeting all cybersecurity goals;
!identify resources needs and sources;
!identify organizational responsibilities and roles;
!include ways of measuring progress toward the goals and responding
to results of those measurements;
!provide for flexibility and adaptation to changing conditions.
Principles. Many discussions of cybersecurity include statements or lists of
principles, which can be thought of as generally accepted characteristics or
expectations. While some common themes appear in different descriptions of
principles, they generally seem to be developed for specific applications. Among the
53 The others address national security, homeland security, combating terrorism, combating
weapons of mass destruction, physical protection of critical infrastructure and key assets,
and money laundering. For a comparison, see General Accounting Office, Evaluation of
Selected Characteristics in National Strategies Related to Terrorism, GAO-04-408T, 3
54 NSA, “Defense in Depth.” An in-depth discussion can be found in National Security
Agency, “Information Assurance Technical Framework Document, Release 3.1,” September
These are based in part on characteristics discussed in GAO, Evaluation.
more widely-cited is published a set of “generally accepted system security
principles” (GASSP) that NIST published in 1996. They stress
!the role of computer security in the mission and management of an
!the importance of cost-effectiveness,
!the responsibilities of system owners beyond their own
!the importance of explicit responsibilities and accountability and of
a comprehensive and integrated approach,
!the need for periodic reassessment, and
!the limitations imposed by societal factors such as the need for
pri v acy. 56
The principles contained in the NSSC are somewhat different, in keeping with
its broader scope. They contain some similarities to the GASSP but also stress the
need for a national effort, a preference for the reliance on market forces rather than
government regulation, and the importance of flexibility and multiyear planning.57
The Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) has been developing a set of
Generally Accepted Information Security Principles (GAISP), but these are in effect
guidelines (see below).
Among the principles developed for specific application are those laid out in the
cybersecurity strategy of the U.S. chemicals sector. The include the importance of
involvement of top management, the need for customized solutions, the importance
of national and international harmonization, the need for an evolving strategy, and
the importance of inclusive participation.58 The DID principles focus on the
technology leg of the strategy, stressing layered defense in multiple, customization
of protection based on the asset being protected and the threat, robust encryption key
management and infrastructure, and intrusion detection infrastructure.
A delineation of principles can be an important component of any approach to
cybersecurity governance, providing context for the other components (such as the
chemical sector’s “integration…with…the global economy”) as well as cross-cutting
themes (such as NIST’s “need for periodic reassessment”) and limitations (such as
the NSSC’s “importance of protecting privacy and civil liberties”). Among the more
common themes in different sets are the key role of organizational leaders, the need
for considering the environment beyond the organization itself, the importance of
context-specificity and adaptability in response to changing circumstances, and the
need to take into account other factors such as cost and privacy.
56 National Institute of Standards and Technology, Generally Accepted Principles and
Practices for Securing Information Technology Systems, SP 800-14, September 1996. See
also NIST, Engineering Principles for Information Technology Security (A Baseline for
Achieving Security), SP 800-27, June 2001 (currently being revised).
57 NSSC, p. 14 — 15.
58 The Chemicals Sector Cyber-Security Information Sharing Forum, Cyber-Security
Strategy Task Team, “U.S. Chemicals Sector Cyber-Security Strategy,” June 2002.
Policies. A policy is essentially a set of rules governing how cybersecurity
strategies will be applied. Policies can usefully be thought of in terms of levels. A
mission-level policy lays out broad direction and guidance for an enterprise. For
example, the NSSC states,
It is the policy of the United States to prevent or minimize disruptions to critical
information infrastructures and thereby protect the people, the economy, the
essential human and government services, and the national security of the United
States. Disruptions that do occur should be infrequent, of minimal duration and
manageable and cause the least damage possible. The policy requires a
continuous effort to secure information systems for critical infrastructure and
includes voluntary public-private partnerships involving corporate and59
A program-level policy provides rules for a specific program or set of
activities.60 Such policies often include the assets to be protected, goals,
organizational responsibilities, and compliance parameters, including penalties. A
system-level policy provides rules for securing a particular system or subsystem.
These policies often are based on technical and risk analyses and vary from system
to system, depending on requirements. An issue-level policy provides rules for a
particular issue or area of concern, such as how to handle email attachments. Such
policies often cover objectives, responsibilities, and compliance. This kind of policy
is likely to require frequent updating in response to changes in technology and other
The cybersecurity policies of an organization serve to provide guidance in
meeting stated goals and can also provide incentives — or remove disincentives —
for certain behavior. For example, whether or not employees report suspected
security breaches may depend in part on the kind of policy the organization has with
respect to them. If the policy does not encourage reporting, then employees may be
reluctant to do so because of concerns about potential repercussions. Also, policies
often set expectations with respect to resource allocation. If cybersecurity is a high
policy priority, then it would ordinarily be expected to be a high budget priority as
well. A mismatch between an organization’s policy and its behavior may have legal
Procedures. Procedures can be thought of as specifications of how to
perform specific actions, methodologies, or processes. Ideally, cybersecurity
procedures would be designed to implement cybersecurity policies and strategies.
They may include, for example, steps to take in configuring networks to minimize
the risk of successful intrusions, actions to take when an intrusion occurs (including
how to report it), and methods for evaluating potential security risks of prospective
employees. Although many procedures may be common across different
organizations or even sectors, they will likely in general be the most customized and
organization-specific of governance components.
59 NSSC, p. 13.
60 This and subsequent policy levels are after NIST, Generally Accepted Principles, p. 13
Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 59.
Personnel. The components of cybersecurity governance discussed above
apply to personnel as well as operations. According to some observers, people are
the most important of the three fundamental elements of cybersecurity. It is they who
must implement security policies and procedures and defend against any attacks. If
they are not adequately skilled and trained, they may be unable to prevent, detect, and
react to security breaches, and they may themselves be more vulnerable to a “social
engineering” attack, which involves finding and exploiting weaknesses in how people
interact with computer systems.62 In addition, it can be particularly difficult to defend
against attack by an insider, so background checks and other controls to minimize
that risk are especially important. These considerations may be even more critical
for services that are outsourced, in which case direct control over personnel is
substantially reduced. According to some observers, such “trusted insiders” pose the63
most significant threat to an organization’s cybersecurity.
It is generally held that effective governance for cybersecurity requires a strong
commitment from an organization’s leadership — at the level of the chief executive
officer, the board of directors, or the equivalent. This may be especially important
because returns on investment in security may be difficult to measure.64 The lack of
a clear return on investment may create pressures to underinvest. Some evidence
suggests that such underinvestment is an issue for many organizations.65 This may
be especially true for small to mid-sized private-sector entities and for state and local
If roles, responsibilities, and accountability are not clear and appropriate —
which might be the case, if, for example, an organization has no overall cybersecurity
policy structure — that can create significant vulnerabilities. A classic case is where
responsibilities are too widely distributed; workers may assume that an issue is being
addressed by others who share the responsibilities, with the result being that the issue
is not properly addressed by anyone.
Another area of concern with respect to personnel is training. Development of
a proficient cybersecurity workforce in the United States is listed as a priority in the66
NSSC. Many security professionals consider employee training and education to
62 For example, one kind of attack involves sending victims email purportedly from a
legitimate financial or software company and urging them to visit a website, also
purportedly of this company, where they are requested to enter information such as a
usernames and passwords for accounts. The hacker can then use this information to take
control of the victim’s computer or to steal funds. 63
Karen Fogerty, “Chief Security Officers Lack Confidence in the State of their
Organization’s Information Security Efforts,” csoonline.com, press release, 26 January
64 See Cashell, Economic Impact, for further discussion of this issue.
65 In a survey of chief security officers in early 2004, a majority assessed that their
organizations were investing less than optimal amounts in security and that they were at best
“somewhat confident” in the effectiveness of their cybersecurity activities. The survey also
found that those investing more in cybersecurity had fewer incidents (Fogerty, “Chief
Security Officers Lack Confidence”). 66
NSSC, p. 41.
be a top priority.67 This can be especially challenging because of the continuously
evolving nature of the cybersecurity environment.
Extent of Problems and Response. No in-depth assessment has been
made of the degree to which U.S. organizations overall have established effective
cybersecurity governance mechanisms. However, many observers believe that68
governance is an area of substantial weakness, with some variation among different
sectors.69 Problems have been identified at all levels and scales of governance, from
failure of leadership in the executive suite and boardroom to inadequate procedures
and undertrained personnel. Those weaknesses have been recognized by both DHS70
and industry, and some initiatives have been developed to address them. Some
prominent ventures are discussed later in this report.
Public Knowledge and Perception
Given widespread publicity about cyberattacks and the repeated revelations of
new threats and vulnerabilities, much of the public appears to be aware of and71
concerned about the possibility of cyberattacks. Although there appears to be little
direct evidence on public awareness and preparedness regarding cybersecurity,72
many experts believe that both home computer users and many organizations —
67 Fogerty, “Chief Security Officers Lack Confidence”.
68 For example, a summary of several reports by the National Research Council states,
“From an operational standpoint, cybersecurity today is far worse than what known best
practices can provide,” (National Research Council, Cybersecurity Today and Tomorrow:
Pay Now or Pay Later, (Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2002 p. 8).
69 For example, sectors vary substantially in the degree to which they report cybersecurity
incidents and their capital and operating expenditures on cybersecurity, both of which are
thought to be associated with the level of commitment to effective security of those
responsible for corporate governance — see Lawrence A. Gordon and others, 2004 CSI/FBI
Computer Crime and Security Survey, June 2004, available at [http://www.gocsi.com].
70 See, for example, Corporate Governance Task Force, Information Security Governance:
A Call to Action, April 2004, available from the National Cyber Security Partnership at
[ ht t p: / / www.cyber par t ner shi p.or g/ i ni t -gove r nance.ht ml ] .
71 Lee Rainie, “Half of Americans Fear Terrorists Might Mount Successful Cyber-Attacks
against Key American Utilities and Businesses,” Press Release, Pew Internet & American
Life Project, 31 August 2003. 72
One source is a 2002 survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance, which found that
most home users were aware of the importance of Internet security but few followed
recommended security practices such as updating virus definitions, using safer passwords,
or installing and using firewall programs (Keith Nahigian, “Survey Gives Computer Users
‘A’ For Effort in Security Awareness, but Failing Grades for Follow-Through on
Implementing Computer Safety Tools,” Press Release, National Cyber Security Alliance,
17 September 2002). A more recent survey and scan done by the same group, in
conjunction with America Online (AOL), found that most respondents reported that their
home computers had been infected with a virus at least once, but that only one-third of those
that currently had a virus (19%) were aware that they did; 80% had spyware or adware on
their computers, but only 10% were aware of what they had; and that two-thirds did not have
antivirus software that was regularly updated (America Online and the National Cyber
Security Alliance, “AOL/NCSA Online Safety Study,” October 2004, available at
especially small businesses — are not well prepared to take necessary defensive
measures. There are several possible reasons for this lack of preparedness, including
!Cybersecurity currently involves a greater level of technical
proficiency than many people feel comfortable with.
!Cyberattacks are comparatively easy to hide.73 Many victims may
be unaware of an intrusion unless it results in financial fraud or theft,
and that would likely be discovered well after the intrusion
!Both technology and threats evolve, and user training and education
may not keep pace.
!Many organizations underreport cyberattacks and other security
incidents, for several reasons, including concerns about negative
impacts on public confidence in the organization.75
!There are significant economic disincentives for investing in
cybersecurity. Most notably, cybersecurity is preventive, not profit-
making; cyberattacks are comparatively rare; and effects may be
distributed — for example, a compromised computer may be used
as a means of launching an attack against targets, rather than being
a target itself.
In addition, the degree to which cyberattacks pose a serious homeland security
risk is a matter of some dispute. While many experts believe that a major cyberattack
by terrorists or other adversaries is a substantial risk, others believe that those risks
are exaggerated and that the major concern is cybercrime. As with other terrorist
incidents, public perception will probably continue to be shaped to a significant
degree by the extent of public knowledge about any major attacks that do occur.
What Are the Major Means of Leverage?
The above discussion illustrates the depth of the challenge faced in developing
effective cybersecurity. It also shows the diversity, ubiquity, and importance of
cyberspace components and demonstrates that cyberspace includes important
elements that might not at first glance be considered part of it. Given that diversity
73 NRC, Cybersecurity Today and Tomorrow, p. 8.
74 For example, malware may be surreptitiously planted on home computers to turn them
into components of a “bot net,” where the computer is used, along with many others, to
launch Internet attacks without the computer owner’s knowledge, even while the owner is
using the computer (Robert Lemos and Jim Hu, “‘Zombie’ PCs caused Web outage, Akamai
says,” CNET News.com, 16 June 2004).
75 This is known as reputation risk (Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness,
and complexity, one approach would be to restrict attention to those components
associated with particularly high levels of risk.
Two limits to such an approach are, first, a focus solely on those components
known currently to be at high risk could quickly become obsolete. While there are
currently many known vulnerabilities which, if addressed, would substantially
improve cybersecurity, future or currently undiscovered vulnerabilities may come
from unexpected places. Cybercriminals and cyberterrorists would likely seek out
new vulnerabilities as current ones are eliminated — writers of “nuisance” viruses
have been doing that for several years. In many ways, cybersecurity involves a kind
of arms race, with adversaries and defenders each adapting successively to actions
by the other. This arms race is likely to continue as long as information technology
and cyberspace continue to evolve at current and expected rates.
Second, some would argue that such a focus would simply be an extension of
the current fragmented approach, which is largely reactive — as each new
vulnerability is discovered, a new fix is developed — and increasingly costly and
ineffective. What is needed, they say, is a strategic approach that is more preventive
or even preemptive in nature rather than largely reactive and defensive.76 Some argue
that the best approach is to reduce the incentives for catastrophic attack,77 rather than
focusing on preventing all attacks (if experience with cyberspace so far is any
indication, this may be impossible or certainly impractical). Such an approach would
suggest a focus on (1) limiting damage, and (2) recovery.
To be effective, any preventive approach should probably be broadly applicable
to different organizations and systems. The interconnectedness of cyberspace gives
it some of the characteristics of a commons — a kind of public resource for which,
in the absence of appropriate controls, costs of use by any individual are distributed
broadly to the community of users. Classically, using a limited resource — such as
pastureland or a fishery — as a commons promotes overuse and degradation of the
resource. It pays each individual to maximize his or her use of the resource — to
graze as many cattle or catch as many fish as possible — no matter the consequences
to the resource as a whole. This effect has been called the “tragedy of the
commons.”78 In cyberspace, costs of poor security are often distributed, because
compromised systems may be used in attacks on others, with little impact on the
compromised system (see above). In addition, however, those costs may be
amplified — a naive user may compromise the integrity of an entire network.79
There are several options for broadly addressing weaknesses in cybersecurity
such as those discussed in the previous section. The following options will be
discussed in this section:
76 “e-security is more a reactive than a proactive practice, but this approach should be
altered in order to decrease future threats” (Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and
Soundness, p. 26).
77 For example, taking steps to minimize the disruptive impacts of a cyberattack would
reduce its attractiveness to terrorists. 78
Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, 162(1968):1243 — 1248. 79
Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 26.
!adopting standards and certification,
!promulgating best practices and guidelines,
!using benchmarks and checklists,
!use of auditing,
!improving training and education,
!building security into enterprise architecture,
!using risk management, and
This discussion is followed by a brief consideration of the role of economic
The broad adoption of established standards, or the development and adoption
of new ones, could be one way to improve cybersecurity. One widely used definition
of standards is “a prescribed set of rules, conditions, or requirements concerning
definitions of terms; classification of components; specification of materials,
performance, or operations; delineation of procedures; or measurement of quantity
and quality in describing materials, products, systems, services, or practices.”80 As
this rather eclectic definition illustrates, there are many different kinds of standards.81
They may be classified according to purpose — e.g., product, process, testing, or
interface standards. They can also be classified according to their focus —
commonly, a distinction is made between performance standards, which focus on
function, and design standards, which specify features, dimensions, or other such
characteristics. A third classification is based on how standards are developed and
implemented. They may be developed through consensus or some other process.
They may be implemented voluntarily, or they may also be imposed, for example by
law, and therefore mandatory. Voluntary consensus standards are common, and
federal law encourages their use by federal agencies, including DHS.82 Standards
may also be open or proprietary, but different observers define “open standard”
80 National Standards Policy Advisory Committee, “National Policy on Standards in for the
United States and a Recommended Implementation Plan,” December 1978, p. 6.
81 This discussion is after NIST, “The ABC’s of Standards-Related Activities in the United
States,” NBSIR 87-3576, May 1987, available at [http://ts.nist.gov/ts/htdocs/210/ncsci/
Section 102(g) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 requires that all DHS standards
activities be “…be conducted in accordance with section 12(d) of the National Technology
Transfer Advancement Act of 1995 (15 U.S.C. 272 note) and Office of Management and
Budget Circular A — 119.” The 1995 act requires federal agencies to use voluntary
consensus standards except where they would be “inconsistent with applicable law or
otherwise impractical.” Circular A-119 provides guidance for implementing this provision.
somewhat differently.83 Some form of open standards is the approach used typically
by major standards organizations.
Which kinds of standards to adopt will very much depend on the goals identified
and the characteristics of specific elements. In general, design standards or detailed
regulation usually cannot evolve readily in parallel to an evolving technology. Given
the rapid evolution of information technology, there appears to be agreement that
their use should be avoided for elements that are not yet mature if appropriate results
can be obtained through more flexible approaches, such as performance standards or
Several organizations are involved in the development of cybersecurity
standards. NIST performs a wide array of standards-related activities, including
promoting the global use of U.S. standards, providing information and technical
support to industry and others, coordinating the development of national voluntary
product standards, accrediting testing laboratories, and developing standards for use
by federal agencies where no acceptable industry standards exist.84 The American
National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private, nonprofit organization that
administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary private-sector standardization
system.85 ANSI and NIST coordinate activities through a memorandum of
understanding.86 Among ANSI’s activities related to cybersecurity are its
Information Systems Conference Committee, which provides a forum for
communication among IT standards developers, and the Information Infrastructure
Standards Panel, which identifies standards critical for global information
infrastructure. While ANSI also has established a homeland security standards panel,
cybersecurity is not among the panel’s areas of focus. NIST activities include the
Process Control Security Requirements Forum, which is developing security
requirements for industrial process control systems.87 Among other U.S.
organizations engaged in standards activities related to cybersecurity are the
InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards88 and the Institute
83 Some appear to consider the term to be essentially synonymous with “voluntary
consensus standards.” Others believe that it should embrace such additional concepts as
“open use,” which essentially means use without royalties or licensing restrictions (see Ken
Krechmer, “The Principles of Open Standards,” Standards Engineering,
50(6)(November/December 1998), p. 1-6, available at
National Institute of Standards and Technology, “About Standards Services Division
(SSD),” 11 November 2002, [http://ts.nist.gov/ts/htdocs/210/about.htm], and linked pages.
85 American National Standards Institute, “About ANSI,” n.d., [http://www.ansi.org/
about_ansi/ove rview/overvi ew.aspx].
86 “Memorandum of Understanding between the American National Standards Institute
(ANSI) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST),” 27 December
National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Process Control Security Requirements
Forum (PCSRF),” 26 January 2005, [http://www.isd.mel.nist.gov/projects/processcontrol].
88 INCITS [http://www.incits.org/index.html] has a committee on security techniques which
serves as the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to the Subcommittee on Security Techniques
of the Joint Technical Committee on Information Technology of the International
of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.89 The Trusted Computing Group90 is a group
of IT manufacturers, vendors, and others formed in April 2003 to develop open
industry hardware and software standards for trusted computing, an important
element of cybersecurity. The Internet Engineering Task Force (ITEF)91 is an
international group of experts and others involved in the development and operation
of the Internet; participation is open to any interested person.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO),92 a nonprofit network
of national standards organizations from various countries, is the major international
standards developer. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)93 develops
standards relating to electronic technologies. Together they have established a Joint
Technical Committee on Information Technology (JTC1),94 with a subcommittee on
security techniques (JTC1 SC27)95 that develops generic standards relating to IT
Current Standards. Several sets of standards have been developed for use
in cybersecurity. Three of the most widely cited are the Common Criteria for
Information Technology Security Evaluation (usually called the Common Criteria,
abbreviated CC); ISO/IEC 17799, an internationally recognized information security
standard; and the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS), which were
developed by NIST for use by federal systems. These are each discussed below. A
wide range of international standards also exist for specific security techniques, such96
as encryption, authentication, nonrepudiation, and time stamping.
Product Evaluation. The Common Criteria consist of a set of evaluation
criteria for the security of information technology that was developed by U.S.,
Canadian, and some European government agencies. It resulted from a recognition
of the need to harmonize separate evaluation criteria that had been developed by
different countries.97 It was also adopted as an international technical standard
Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission
IEEE engages in a broad range of standards activities [http://standards.ieee.org/sa/
index.html]; it has an Information Assurance Standards Committee (IASC) [http://ieeeia.org/
iasc/] and Task Force (TFIA) [http://ieee-tfia.org] involved in the development of various
cybersecurity-related standards. 90
[ ht t ps: / / www.t r ust e dcomput i nggr oup.or g/ home] .91
[ ht t p: / / www.i e t f .or g/ ] .92
[ ht t p: / / www.i s o.or g] .93
[ ht t p: / / www.i e c .c h] .
96 For example, 49 standards have been published under the direct responsibility of
JTC1/SC27 (see [http://www.iso.org/iso/en/stdsdevelopment/tc/tclist/
T echnicalCommitteeStandardsListPage.T echnicalCommitteeStandardsList?COMMID=143]
for a list).
97 In the United States, these criteria were developed in the 1970s and 1980s in what came
to be known as the “Orange Book.” Europe developed its own criteria in the 1990s. The
(ISO/IEC 15408) in 1999. The CC provides a framework for the development of
standard sets of requirements, called profiles, to meet specific needs of consumers
and developers of information technology products, depending on the assurance
levels that they require.98 A set of protection profiles may be developed for different
kinds of products (such as a firewall) or general applications (such as electronic fund
transfers) that may be evaluated.99 The profiles lay out security objectives and
requirements. For example, a profile developed for Department of Defense firewalls
describes the security environment to which the profile applies, threats to be
addressed, security objectives, functional and assurance requirements to meet those
objectives, and the rationale for how the requirements meet the objectives and how
the objectives address the threats.100 Once developed, a profile may be evaluated by
an accredited, independent laboratory. More than 40 profiles have been developed
for a range of products and systems, and most have received evaluations.
For a specific application,101 a set of security requirements and specifications102
is developed, usually conforming to one or more relevant protection profiles if
available. The application is then evaluated to determine if it meets those
requirements and specifications, and if so, it may be certified for use in the specified
environment. Products may be evaluated to any of seven hierarchical evaluation
assurance levels (EALs), which reflect successively higher levels of security. Both
software and hardware products have been certified under the CC. They include
operating systems, databases, firewalls, computer chips, smartcards, and routers,
among others.103 More than 100 applications have been evaluated at EAL1 to
Common Criteria was developed in response to the market restrictions and other problems
caused by having more than one set of criteria that security products would be required to
meet (Kevin Hayes, “Common Criteria — A World Wide Choice,” The Encyclopedia of
Computer Security, 1998, available at [http://www.itsecurity.com/papers/88.htm]. To
evaluate conformance of products to the CC, NIST and NSA have developed a joint
program, the National Information Assurance Partnership Common Criteria Evaluation and
Validation Scheme (CCEVS) [http://niap.nist.gov/cc-scheme].98
Syntegra, “Common Criteria: An Introduction,” n.d., available at [http://www.
99 Syntegra, “Common Criteria: User Guide,” October 1999, available at [http://www.
100 National Security Agency, Information Assurance Directorate, “U.S. Government
Firewall Protection Profile, for Medium Robustness Environments,” 28 October 2003,
available at [http://www.commoncriteriaportal.org/public/files/ppfiles/pp_vid1016-pp.pdf].
101 Called a target of evaluation (TOE), this includes the product or system plus associated
102 This is called a security target.
103 A list of evaluated products is available from the Common Criteria Project at
[ ht t p: / / www.c ommonc r i t e r i a por t a l .or g] .
104 “EALl is applicable where some confidence in correct operation is required, but the
threats to security are not viewed as serious.…EAL4…is applicable in those circumstances
where developers or users require a moderate to high level of independently assured security
in conventional commodity TOEs, and there is willingness to incur some additional security-
specific engineering costs,” (Syngenta, “CC: An Introduction,” p. 12 — 13). The highest
Although the CC are often referred to as standards, there are aspects of them that
are not easily characterized as standards, at least according to some observers. The
notion of criteria is broader than that of standards because it generally includes
things, such as statements on how a system should be designed and operated, that
cannot be directly assessed by examining the product.105 Also, protection profiles are
not written into the CC but are developed and updated as needed.
Code of Practice. Several standards have been developed relating to overall
information security practices. They might be used in conjunction with other guides
such as the CC as elements of an overall framework for cybersecurity. There appears
to be at least some agreement that a good security management standard should cover
all important security issues; be comprehensive and up-to-date; be clear,
unambiguous, and easy to understand and use; be practical and achievable; be
scalable to any organization; and provide a basis for measurement of performance.106
The most widely recognized code-of-practice standards are ISO/IEC 13335 and
ISO/IEC 17779. The first provides broad guidelines for managing IT security
(GMITS) in the context of an organization’s overall management, and stresses
challenges posed by the global nature of cyberspace. It addresses universal security
concepts, management and planning, risk assessment, merits of alternative solutions,
and external communications. It focuses on high-level concepts and general
requirements and techniques, rather than specific controls. It describes IT security
management as including a determination of objectives, strategies, policies and
organizational requirements; managing risks; planning implementation of adequate
safeguards and follow-up programs for monitoring, reviewing, and maintaining
security services; and developing a security-awareness program and plans for
incident-handling. It was released in parts, including five technical reports, from
ISO/IEC 17799 is described by JCT1 SC27 as giving “recommendations for
information security management for use by those who are responsible for initiating,
implementing or maintaining security in their organization. It is intended to provide
a common basis for developing organizational security standards and effective
security management practice and to provide confidence in inter-organizational108
dealings.” Topics covered include
!organizational policy and infrastructure;
!asset classification and control;
level that the CC defines is EAL7, but there are no reports of evaluations above EAL4.
105 National Research Council, Trust in Cyberspace, p. 199.
106 See, for example, Information Security Forum, The Standard, of Good Practice for
Information Security, March 2003, p. 5, available at [http://www.securityforum.org].
107 JTC1 SC27, “Catalogue of SC27 Projects and Standards,” SC27 Standing Document 7,
proj_stand_aug2003.htm]. Revision of Part 1 begun in 2000, other parts in subsequent
years. The standard is being renamed as “Management of Information and Communications
Technology Security” (MICTS) and the technical reports will become part of the standard.108
JTC1 SC27, “Catalogue.”
!personnel, physical, and environmental security;
!communications and operations management;
!systems development and maintenance;
!business continuity; and
ISO/IEC 17799 is more widely recognized internationally than any other
cybersecurity management standard.110 It is related to ISO/IEC 13335 in that “17799
focuses on issues to be considered for information security management and…13335
addresses how to achieve [it].”111 The standard was issued in 2000, and revision
began in 2001. It is based on and virtually identical to the 1999 update of the British
Standard in Information Security, BS 7799 (Part 1), which was initially published in
While called a standard, ISO/IEC 17799 has been described as more similar to
a set of guidelines, in that it is not written in such a way that conformance can be
certified.113 The standard contains 127 major controls and thousands of bits of
guidance, but they are not presented as imperatives.114 Thus, organizations may adapt
the standard to their needs, modifying the application of some sections to fit their
management structure, or discarding sections that do not apply.115 This flexibility has
been both praised and criticized. On the one hand, it means that organizations can
use the standard without compromising other key business requirements. On the
other hand, it makes conformance more difficult to assess.116
While ISO/IEC 17799 does not itself include a certification scheme, some
countries have developed such schemes. Perhaps most notable is BS 7799 Part 2,
developed and used in Great Britain and also available in other countries, including
the United States.117 This standard specifies requirements and controls for an
organization’s information security management system (ISMS) in ways that can be
assessed by an accredited certification body. It has been described as consisting of
109 NIST, “International Standard ISO/IEC 17799:2000 Code of Practice for Information
Security Management: Frequently Asked Questions,” November 2002, available at
110 Sarah D. Scalet, “Guiding Lite,” CSO Magazine, March 2003, available at
[http://www.csoonline.com/ read/030103/lite.html ].111
JTC1 SC27, “Catalogue.”112
Julie Kenward, “The Global Development of BS7799,” The Encyclopedia of Computer
Security, 2000, available at [http://www.itsecurity.com/papers/88.htm].113
NIST, “ISO/IEC 17799: Frequently Asked Questions.” However, see below.114
This has been described as using the word “should” where a certifiable standard would
use “shall.” (Scalet, “Guiding Lite”).
115 For example, this was the approach reportedly taken by The Vanguard Group when it
adopted the standard (Scalet, “Guiding Lite).
116 See Scalet, “Guiding Lite.”
117 One organization that provides BS7799 certification within the United States in BSI
Management Systems — USA, part of BSI Group, which is the publisher of BS7799.
requirements for an ISMS plus ISO/IEC 17799 controls118 “in imperative format.”119
The most recent version of BS 7799 Part 2 was published in 2002. There does not
appear to be any equivalent under development for ISO/IEC 17799 itself.
The Information Security Forum (ISF) has developed a code of practice, The
Standard of Good Practice for Information Security.120 ISF updates the standard
every two years. It was first released in 1996, with the most recent version released
in March 2003. It is based on the experience and expertise of ISF members and staff,
other standards such as ISO/IEC 17799, and the results of ISF surveys. Topics
covered include security management, critical business applications, computer
installations, networks, and systems development.
That set of topics appears somewhat more limited in scope than the set covered
by ISO/IEC 17799, but a direct comparison was not possible for this report. Each
topic is organized into several areas (30 altogether), which in turn contain several
sections (132 altogether). Each section contains a principle, an objective, and several
specific actions or controls. The IFS standard is publicly available without charge,
unlike ISO/IEC 17799.121 IFS provides members with a survey instrument they can
use to compare their performance against the IFS standard and other benchmarks, but
the organization does not appear to provide certification.
The IT Governance Institute (ITGI)122 has developed Control Objectives for
Information and related Technology (COBIT), a set of recommended practices in
information technology governance, control, and assurance developed through a
consensus process involving experts. First released in 1996, the third edition was
published in 2000. It provides a framework for IT governance, including metrics and
other management tools as well as controls. ITGI does not describe COBIT as a
standard but alternatively as a “framework for IT governance”123 and a “generally
accepted best practice.”124 Nevertheless, it is similar enough in both structure and
method of development to the standards described above that it arguably should be
considered a code-of-practice standard. Rather than specifically focusing on
118 A control is defined in ISO/IEC 13335 as “a practice, procedure, or mechanism that
reduces risk”; it may also be called a safeguard (C.J. Mitchell, “SC 27 Standing Document
6(SD 6), Glossary of IT Security Terminology (SC 27 N 2776),” JTC1 SC27, 31 March
Caroline Hamilton, “ISO-IEC 17799.The New International Standard for Information
Security Management,” MS PowerPoint Presentation, May 2002, available at [http://
120 ISF, based in Europe, is an international association of private companies and
government organizations that performs research and provides information on cybersecurity
to its members [http://www.securityforum.org].121
ITGI was founded by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association and its
affiliated foundation in 1998 and provides information and research on information
technology management [http://www.itgi.org].
123 IT Governance Institute, COBIT Mapping: Overview of International IT Guidance,
(Rolling Meadows, IL: ITGI, 2004), p. 5, available at [http://www.itgi.org].124
Ibid., p. 8.
cybersecurity, it addresses security in the context of overall IT governance. Security
is considered one of three sets of requirements, the other two being quality and
fiduciary. COBIT is organized hierarchically into four domains, which are broad
categories of activity such as planning, implementation, and monitoring; 34
processes; and specific activities or objectives under each process.125 There is no
certification program for COBIT, but audit and self-assessment guidelines are
available. The framework has been criticized as being difficult to scale to small or
medium-sized enterprises, but ITGI has developed a version aimed at such
organiz ations. 126
Federal Standards. NIST is responsible under federal law127 for developing
standards and guidelines for cybersecurity for federal information systems, except
national security systems, which fall under the responsibility of the Committee on
National Security Systems (CNSS) and the agencies that operate the systems.128 The
Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) are standards developed by NIST
for requirements for federal systems not covered by available voluntary industry129
standards. Some FIPS are mandatory for federal agencies, while others are not.
FISMA requires NIST to “develop standards and guidelines, including minimum
requirements, for providing adequate information security for all agency operations
and assets,” except for national security systems.130 None of the FIPS publications
to date specifically address governance issues.
FIPS are developed with rule-making procedures similar to those established by
the Administrative Procedure Act.131 Some FIPS are adopted by private sector
entities. For example, the Data Encryption Standard (DES — FIPS 46), introduced
in 1977, provides a method for cryptographic protection of information. It was widely
adopted by industry, for example in the financial services sector. The newer, stronger
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES — FIPS 197), adopted in 2001, is now
replacing DES as applications are developed.
125 For example, under the process, “ensure systems security,” there are 21 specific control
objectives, such as “Management should ensure that reaccreditation of security (e.g.,
through ‘tiger teams’) is periodically performed to keep up-to-date the formally approved
security level and the acceptance of residual risk” (IT Governance Institute, “Control
Objectives,” COBIT, 3rd Ed. (Rolling Meadows, IL: ITGI, June 2000), p. 102, available at
[ h t t p : / / www.i t gi .or g] ) .
126 ITGI, COBIT Mapping, p. 11 — 12.
127 Specifically, the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA), P.L.
128 National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Guideline for Identifying an
Information System as a National Security System,” NIST Special Publication 800-59,
129 See NIST, “Federal Information Processing Standards,” 3 August 2004, [http://csrc.
nist.gov/publications /fips/index.html ].
130 15 USC 278g-3(a)(3).
131 5 USC 551 et seq. For a discussion of this an other federal management laws, see CRS
Report RL30795, General Management Laws: A Compendium.
In its series of special publications on computer security,132 NIST has published
a set of generally accepted system security principles and practices133 (sometimes
called GAPP), discussed earlier in this report, that are similar in scope to ISO/IEC
17799, and the two are sometimes considered to be competing standards. No general
certification scheme exists for this set of practices. There are also several other NIST
publications on various aspects of cybersecurity, such as capital planning, system
development, security awareness and training, and so forth.134
NSA has established an Information Assurance Technical Framework Forum
(IATFF)135 to develop a framework for solutions to information assurance problems
encountered by federal agencies and industry. A framework document136 available
through the forum provides technical guidance for protecting information and
information infrastructure using NSA’s defense-in-depth strategy.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Standards. The widespread use of well-
established and well-designed cybersecurity standards would have potential benefits.
Such standards would provide a common language and criteria for determining how
well organizations are adhering to recognized security needs and requirements. In
addition, as the use of the standards increased, the overall level of security would
arguably rise as well. Also, the standards would presumably provide a common
baseline from which continuous improvement in cybersecurity could be implemented
through the evolution of the standards.
However, the use of standards in cybersecurity has also been criticized by some.
Some common criticisms are described below:
They are not sufficiently flexible and cannot track changes in the technology.
International standards are often updated on a three- to five-year cycle. Given the
rate of evolution of cyberspace, some observers have complained that standards
become outdated too quickly to be useful for cybersecurity. Proponents counter that
properly developed standards are in fact sufficiently flexible that they can
accommodate the technological improvements that are likely to occur between
revisions. International standards such as ISO 17799 are often revised on a three- to
five-year cycle. Both COBIT and the ISF standard are updated on a two-year cycle.
The Common Criteria Development Board is charged with issuing updates and
corrections to the CC.137
132 Special publications present, in the “800 series,” “documents of general interest to the
computer security community” (Computer Security Response Center (CSRC), National
Institute of Standards and Technology, “NIST Special Publications,” [http://csrc.nist.gov/
publications/nistpubs/index.html], 19 August 2004).133
NIST, Generally Accepted Principles and Practices.134
See CSRC, “NIST Special Publications.” 135
[ ht t p: / / www.i a t f .ne t ] .136
National Security Agency, “Information Assurance Technical Framework (IATF)
document, Release 3.1,” September 2002, available at [http://www.iatf.net/framework_
137 National Information Assurance Partnership Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation
Scheme (CCEVS) Validation Body, “The Interpretations Process,” 6 December 2004,
They can be expensive to conform to. If certification is available, as with BS
7799 Part 2, the process of becoming certified may be expensive, especially for
smaller enterprises. Even without certification, organizations adopting standards may
find they need to significantly alter business practices, possibly at considerable
expense and sometimes in ways that are not in keeping with the optimum business
model for the particular enterprise. Proponents counter that, while return on
investment may be difficult to measure directly, the process of coming into
compliance can help organizations identify and correct serious cybersecurity
deficiencies, and protect them from large expenditures to recover from a success
attack or from loss of reputation that can be very difficult to regain.
They are too much like regulation. If adherence to a particular set of standards
becomes expected, then certification bodies might take on some of the characteristics
of regulators, with the attendant benefits and disadvantages. Proponents may counter
that such need not be the case, especially if the standards and certification are well-
designed, there are sufficient alternative paths to certification to avoid the
development of effective monopolies, and compliance is voluntary, as it is with most
The mixed success of the Common Criteria illustrates some of these reported
pitfalls. These include a lack of flexibility, despite attempts to build flexibility into
the CC; the inability to keep pace with evolving technology; and cost and time
required for certification.138
Measuring success may be difficult for code-of-practice standards. “High-
level” code-of-practice standards such as ISO/IEC 17799 have been criticized for not
being specific enough to provide sufficient guidance or a sufficient common basis for
measuring and comparing practices among different organizations. At the same time,
BS 7799 Part 2 has been criticized for being too much of a checklist and
insufficiently adaptable to different kinds of enterprises. Proponents counter that
such critics misunderstand the application of the standards — that comparable
metrics can be developed and that certification can readily be adapted to the
requirements of a particular enterprise. CC, COBIT and other standards have been
criticized for being difficult to scale, especially to the needs of smaller organizations
that may not have a primary IT focus. Attempts have been made to compensate for
this problem. For example, ITGI has developed a form of COBIT specifically
designed for smaller enterprises. Despite such concerns, the advantages of code-of-
practice and other cybersecurity standards appear to be sufficient that their use is
increasing (see below).
138 See, for example, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental
Relations and the Census, House Committee on Government Reform, “Exploring Common
Criteria: Can It Ensure that the Federal Government Gets Needed Security in Software?”
Hearing, 17 September 2003, [http://reform.house.gov/TIPRC/Hearings/EventSingle.aspx?
The development process may be cumbersome. Some of the criticisms
associated with standards result from the particular methods by which most standards
are developed. For example, the ANSI process includes “consensus on a proposed
standard by a group or ‘consensus body’ that includes representatives from materially
affected and interested parties; broad-based public review and comment on draft
standards; consideration of and response to comments submitted by voting members
of the relevant consensus body and by public review commenters; incorporation of
approved changes into a draft standard; and right to appeal by any participant that
believes that due process principles were not sufficiently respected during the
standards development in accordance with the ANSI-accredited procedures of the
standards developer.”139 The designated “consensus body” is required to be balanced
with regard to different interests. Consensus does not require unanimity but does
require “substantial agreement…by directly and materially affected interests…[and]
that all views and objections be considered, and that an effort be made toward their
resolution.”140 This process, which may require several meetings, ensures that the
interests of all involved parties are taken into account, but it can be slow and may
require compromises that can lead to more complex standards.
In contrast, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops standards
through a process that is performed largely online. Interested parties form a working
group to identify the scope of the standard and begin developing it. Participation in
the working group is completely open to anyone interested, but there is no active
attempt to guarantee a balance among different interests. Drafts of the standard are
posted online and comments incorporated. Once the group reaches a “rough
consensus,” defined as agreement by a “very large majority” of the working group,141
the draft is sent to the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) for independent
review by experts. After successfully passing review, the draft may become a
standard through some additional steps. According to some observers, the use of a
fully open, online process, rough consensus, and independent review results in
“cleaner” standards and a more rapid process than the more traditional approach
taken by most standards bodies.
Certification usually refers to a formal approval by some entity, such as a
laboratory, that a product, process, or person meets a specified set of criteria. For
example, an electrical product may be certified as meeting safety standards. A
physician may be certified as meeting a particular level of competency in an area of
specialization. The certifying entity may be accredited by a recognized authority
such as a government agency or professional association. Accreditation may also
139 ANSI, “Standards Activities Overview,” [http://www.ansi.org/standards_activities/
overview/overview.aspx], accessed 29 September 2004.
140 ANSI, “ANSI Essential Requirements: Due Process Requirements for American
National Standards,” 30 January 2004, available at [http://www.ansi.org].
141 Internet Engineering Task Force, “The Tao of IETF: A Novice’s Guide to the Internet
Engineering Task Force,” RFC 3160, August 2001, [http://www.ietf.org/tao.html].
refer to the approval of a certified product for use in a particular system142 or it may
refer to the authorization to use a particular information system and accept the
Certification processes exist for both product evaluation and code of practice
standards. For example, products can be certified under the CC, as discussed above.
Other product evaluation certifications have also been developed. For instance, the
Technology Group for The Financial Services Roundtable (BITS) runs a security-
certification program for products used by the financial services industry.144 The
criteria used follow the general scheme laid out in the CC. For code of practice,
certification is available in many countries, including the United States, under
BS7799 Part 2. The number of those certifications has been increasing substantially,
especially in Asia,145 with more than 800 organizations certified worldwide, although
only a few in the United States.146
Professional certification is also available from some organizations. For
example, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)147 offers
certification for information security auditors and managers, and the International
Information Systems Security Certification Consortium148 offers certification for
information security professionals. Such certifications usually require several years
of relevant professional experience, successful completion of an examination
process, adherence to a code of conduct, and continuing education in the field.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Certification. Certification can be an
important component of any attempt to adhere to a set of established standards. That
is because it provides a means of independent verification that criteria set by the
standards have been met. Many of the criticisms of standards discussed above, and
counters to them, can be applied to certification as well.
The strengths and weaknesses of certification can be illustrated by ISO/IEC
17799 and the CC. If a certification were available for ISO/IEC 17799, companies
that claim to have adopted it could demonstrate that they have been assessed by an
independent, accredited body as conforming to its requirements. However, they
would not be free to adapt the standards however they wished to their particular
142 This is how it is used in the context of the Common Criteria (see Syntegra, Common
Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation: User Guide, October 1999,
143 This is also called security authorization (National Institute of Standards and
Technology, Guide for the Security Certification and Accreditation of Federal Information
Systems, NIST Special Publication 800-37, May 2004). 144
BITS, “BITS Product Certification Program,” [http://www.bitsinfo.org/fslab.html], 8
June 2004. The acronym BITS was derived from “Banking Industry Technology
145 Gamma Secure Systems Ltd., “The Future of 7799,” [http://www.gammassl.co.uk/
bs7799/future.html], 7 July 2004.
146 ISMS International User Group, “Certificate Register,” [http://www.xisec.com/
register.htm], 23 July 2004.147
[ ht t p: / / www.i s aca.or g/ ] .148
[ ht t ps: / / www.i s c2.or g] .
operating situations and needs. A product certified under the CC can be used with
confidence in the kinds of environments to which the certification applies. However,
the certification process is expensive and time-consuming, increasing the costs of the
products and potentially impeding the adoption of newer technologies.
There also does not appear to have been any systematic assessment of the
effectiveness of certification under standards such as BS7799 Part 2 with respect to
improving cybersecurity. That may be in part because the certification has been
available for only a few years. There are at least two ways that success could be
measured and that different standards and methods of compliance could be
compared.149 First, the incidence of security problems (including but not limited to
attacks) would be expected to be lower for organizations using the most effective
standard and compliance method. That measure may be hard to use as long as
organizations are reluctant to reveal security breaches or other problems, as has been
reported.150 Another, more indirect metric would be the relative success of different
certifications. Presumably, an organization that finds a particular certification to be
effective would be more likely to renew it — or to purchase additional products
certified under it — than switch to another or discontinue use. However, other
factors, such as cost, can also influence the relative success of different certification
Best practices often refers to strategies, policies, procedures, and other action-
related elements of cybersecurity that are generally accepted as being the most
successful or cost-effective. Such practices can be identified for virtually any of the
elements of a cybersecurity framework, from goals to specific procedures or
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any overall agreement on what
constitutes a best practice. The term implies that the practice in question has been
assessed as being superior to all others, but the basis of such assessments, if
provided, usually appears, at best, to be a consensus among experts, rather than a
rigorous empirical comparison of alternatives. In fact, it is not uncommon in the
literature for a set of “best practices” to be asserted with no description of what
criteria were used to identify them as best. Given the vagueness associated with the
use of this term, it might be more appropriate to refer instead to commonly accepted
or generally accepted practices, at least where there is evidence to that effect.151
What is called a set of best practices can vary greatly in content and method of
development. At one extreme are standards developed through a well-established
149 See also the section below on measuring success.
150 A national survey on computer crime and security conducted for the last several years
has found little change in reporting of incidents by organizations experiencing intrusions,
with about half of all participating organizations responding that they did not report them,
with most of those citing concerns about reputation risk as a primary reason for not reporting
(Gordon, 2004 CSI/FBI Survey, p. 13).151
See, for example, NIST, Generally Accepted Principles and Practices.
methodology, such as the code of practices contained in ISO/IEC 17799 or COBIT.
At the other extreme, a set of “best practices” might simply be recommendations
from one person published in a newsletter article. Best practices may be developed
specifically for one sector or industry. For example, the Network Reliability and
Interoperability Council (NRIC) has developed a set of more than 150 cybersecurity
best practices for the communications industry.152 Most of these are fairly general,
such as “disable unnecessary services” but some are much more specific. However,
they are intended to address classes of problems rather than providing “[d]etailed
fixes to specific problems….” NRIC used an “industry consensus” approach to
develop them, stressing that a practice is included only after “sufficient rigor and
deliberation” including “[d]iscussions among experts and stakeholders” about
whether the practice is implemented widely enough, its effectiveness and feasibility,
the risk associated with failing to implement it, and alternatives. NRIC proposes that
these practices be used as recommendations and not as requirements and that they be
adapted to the individual needs of the organization using them. In another example,
the ASP Industry Consortium produced a set of white papers, prepared by the
consortium’s security subcommittee, that include about 25 best practices for network
and platform security.153 The practices described are fairly general, such as “use
remote access sparingly.” The methodology by which they were developed is not
Another group of best practices with relevance to cybersecurity is known as
capability maturity models (CMM). Essentially, these are practices, arranged along
a hierarchy of maturity levels, designed to help organizations identify the level at
which they operate processes for the development of software and other products and
to improve those processes by successively improving to higher levels of maturity.154
The system has been developed as a joint public-private partnership initiated by the
Department of Defense in the 1980s. One example is “cleanroom software
engineering” — procedures based on mathematical verification of designs and
statistical testing of systems that are designed to produce highly reliable software that
has a minimum of errors and vulnerabilities. For applications where security
considerations are a priority, techniques have been developed to engineer systems to
the appropriate level of security corresponding to the specific needs for the
application. Such systems are designed with carefully specified requirements and are
thoroughly reviewed and tested before implementation.155
152 See NRIC, “NRIC Best Practices,” [http://www.bell-labs.com/user/krauscher/nric/], 13
153 ASP Industry Consortium, “A White Paper on Network Security for the ASP Industry,”
2002; ASP Industry Consortium, “A White Paper on Platform Security for the ASP
Industry,” 2002. ASPs are application service providers, companies that use the Internet or
other networks to provide other organizations with software-based services such as order-
handling. See [http://www.aspstreet.com] for information about the consortium.
154 Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute, “Concept of Operations for the
CMMI,” 15 January 2001, [http://www.sei.cmu.edu/cmmi/background/conops.html].155
See, for example, Richard C. Linger and Carmen J. Trammell, “Cleanroom Software
Engineering Reference Model, Version 1.0,” Technical Report CMU/SEI-96-TR-022,
November 1996, available at [http://www.sei.cmu.edu/pub/documents/96.reports/pdf/
Best practices would not necessarily be associated with a certification or audit
process, so it can be difficult to determine if an organization is in fact conforming to
them effectively. However, they generally provide a degree of flexibility and
adaptability that may not be available with more formal approaches. Furthermore,
they may be easier to update in response to the rapid evolution of technology,
cyberspace, and the threat environment.
Guidelines may be thought of as general recommendations relating to elements
of cybersecurity. They are not necessarily associated with any particular
methodology or criteria, in contrast to standards and (at least in theory) best practices,
other than the authority of those making the recommendations. One commonly cited
set of guidelines is the Guidelines for the Security of Information Systems and
Networks of The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, first
adopted in 1992 and most recently revised in 2002. The nine basic principles
contained in the guidelines are intended to provide a foundation for the development
of a “culture of security.” The principles focus on the importance of awareness of
and responsibility for security, the importance of timely responsiveness to security
incidents, the role of ethical considerations and democratic values, the need for risk
assessments, security as an essential design element for information systems, the
need for comprehensive security management, and the importance of continual
review and reassessment. Many of these principles are also reflected in other
documents, including ISO/IEC 17799.
Generally Accepted Information Security Principles. GAISP is an attempt to
draw together a hierarchical set of principles that have been reviewed by experts in
information security and that meet specified criteria. The project was initiated by the
Information Systems Security Association, an international, nonprofit association of
information security professionals. GAISP consists of “principles, standards,
conventions, and mechanisms that information security practitioners should employ,
that information processing products should provide, and that information owners
and organizational governance should acknowledge to ensure the security of
information and information systems.”156 It is intended to provide a basis for self-
regulation for the profession, analogous to the Generally Accepted Accounting
Principles (GAAP) used by Certified Public Accountants.157 The hierarchical
approach aims to provide guidance that can be applied at various levels within an
organization, from executive governance to daily management of security risks.
Basel Principles. The financial services sector has been among the leaders in
developing and implementing components of a cybersecurity framework. The Basel
Committee on Banking Supervision has released a set of guidelines called Risk
156 Information Systems Security Association, Generally Accepted Information Security
Principles, Version 3.0 (2004), p. 2. GAISP is a successor to an earlier effort called
Generally Accepted System Security Principles.
157 See, for example, Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, “Generally Accepted
Accounting Principles,” [http://www.fasab.gov/accepted.html].
Management Principles for Electronic Banking.158 While seven of the fourteen
principles and practices described in the document relate to security controls,159 the
Basel principles are particularly notable for the degree to which they stress the
importance of institutional leadership and the management of legal and reputational
risk in the context of cybersecurity. For example, the first three principles place
responsibility for active oversight of cybersecurity management directly on boards
of directors and senior management. The principles relating to legal and reputational
risk focus on information disclosure, protection of customer data, including privacy,
and continuity of service.
The difference between guidelines and best practices is not perhaps as distinct
as the difference between either of those and standards. While guidelines may
provide even greater flexibility and adaptability than best practices, their general lack
of specificity may make effective implementation more challenging. As with best
practices, guidelines would not necessarily be associated with a certification or audit
process, so it might be difficult to determine if an organization is in fact conforming
to them effectively.
Benchmarks and Checklists
Fundamentally, a benchmark is simply a reference point against which
performance is measured. It might be used as a goal, or it might be considered a
level of minimum acceptable performance. The latter might also be called a baseline.
With respect to computers, a benchmark often refers to a test used to compare one
or more aspects of performance of a system (such as processing speed) with other
systems or with a specified level of function.
With respect to cybersecurity, the terms benchmarks and checklists are more
often used to denote sets of security configurations and settings that are
recommended to achieve a specified level of security. One well-known set provides
minimum security configurations for the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system.
Developed through a consensus process involving federal agencies and private
organizations,160 it was released by the Center for Internet Security (CIS) in 2002.161
Security configuration benchmarks have also been developed for other operating
systems, application software, and some hardware.162 NIST has developed a program
158 The document was released in July 2003 and is available at [http://www.bis.org/publ/
Among them are authentication, nonrepudiation, segregation of duties, authorization,
data access controls, encryption, recovery, intrusion detection, protection of data integrity,
and incident response procedures.
160 Alan Paller and Clint Kreitner, “Consensus Minimum Security Benchmarks,”
IANewsletter, 5, no. 3 (2002): 4 — 5, 9.161
Center for Internet Security, “Benchmarks/Tools,” [http://www.cisecurity.org/
162 These are available online through the Center for Internet Security at
[http://www.cisecurity.org], for private-sector checklists, and through NIST at
[http://csrc.nist.gov/ pcig/cig.html] for the federal government.
to devise security checklists for software and hardware used by federal agencies.163
The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)164 and NSA also produce
configuration guidance documents.
Producing an effective set of code-of-practice benchmarks is arguably more
difficult than producing technical configuration guidance. One example of a set of
code-of-practice benchmarks was developed by the Human Firewall Council, a
consortium of information security professionals. Called the Security Management
Index, it is now managed by ISSA.165 Based on ISO 17799, it permits organizations
to perform self-assessments, via completion of a survey, to determine how well they
conform to the objectives in the standard in comparison to other organizations that
Benchmarks and checklists can be an important element of a cybersecurity
framework but are by their nature very specific and limited in scope. Also, some
confusion may result from the occasional use of the term as a synonym for standards.
Auditing is often thought of as a formal examination of financial or accounting
records, but it is also used in a broader sense, such as to denote independent
examination of an organization’s adherence to established controls, policies, or legal
requirements.166 An organization may undergo, for example, a security audit of its
information systems. That may involve an examination of hardware, software,
procedures, configurations, environment, and user practices. An audit may be
performed by the organization itself, or it may be performed by an independent
auditor, usually a firm that specializes in accounting and auditing. Audits usually
follow a set of established practices and procedures, such as the Statement on
Auditing Standards No. 70 (known as SAS-70) issued by the Auditing Standards
Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).167
Information security audit guides have also been developed for government
agencies.168 An audit usually involves testing of controls and results in a report that
includes the opinion of the auditor about the adequacy of the controls examined, with
recommendations for improvements. It does not result in a certification of
163 This program is required by Sec 8(c) of the Cyber Security Research and Development
Act of 2002, P.L. 107-305. It is known as the Security Configuration Checklists Program
for IT Products (see [http://checklists.nist.gov]). 164
165 See Information Systems Security Association, “Welcome to the Security Management
Index,” [https://www.humanfirewall.org/smi/]. 166
One federal law with such requirements is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, P.L. 107-
167 For more information, see the SAS-70 website, [http://www.sas70.com/index2.htm].
168 See, for example, General Accounting Office, Federal Information System Controls
Audit Manual, GAO/AIMD-12.19.6, January 1999, available at
[http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/ ai12.19.6.pdf]; and National State Auditors Association
and General Accounting Office, Management Planning Guide for Information Systems
Security Auditing, 10 December 2001, available at
conformance to a standard. However, auditors may be expected to conform to
established standards in the conduct of an audit.169
Auditing methods and requirements are most well developed with respect to
financial and accounting processes. As a result, some audits might tend to
underemphasize aspects of cybersecurity that are not related to those processes. The
results of audits might also vary significantly among different auditors. The
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-204) requires audits of financial controls,
including information security controls, for publicly traded companies.
Training and Education
If, as some observers believe, people are the most important element of effective
cybersecurity, then training and education should be an important means of leverage
to improve cybersecurity. Inadequate cybersecurity practices by users, IT personnel,
and even corporate leadership have been widely cited as a major vulnerability.170 The
NSSC lists national cyberspace security awareness and training as one of its top five
priorities. Elements include a comprehensive national awareness program and
support for training, education, and professional certification.171 The National Cyber
Security Alliance (NCSA) has been established as a public-private partnership of
government agencies, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations to promote
cybersecurity education and awareness.172
Many factors can influence the effectiveness of training and education to
enhance cybersecurity. For example, programs and materials vary in quality, and
poorly designed program is unlikely to provide significant improvements in
cybersecurity. In addition, training may not be able to compensate sufficiently for a
poor system design.
169 See, for example, Information Systems Audit and Control Association, IS Standards,
Guidelines and Procedures for Auditing and Control Professionals, 1 July 2004, available
This document defines standards as mandatory auditing and reporting requirements,
guidelines as guidance in applying the standards, and procedures as methods an auditor
might use in an audit (p. 6).170
See, for example, Thomas Glaessner and others, Electronic Security: Risk Mitigation In
Financial Transactions, The World Bank, June 2002, available at
[http://www1.worldbank.org/finance/index.html]: “In many countries throughout the world,
statistical analysis reveals that more than 50 percent of electronic security intrusions are
carried out by insiders. An uneducated or undereducated workforce is inherently more
vulnerable to this type of incident or attack. In contrast, a well-trained workforce, conscious
of security issues, can add a layer of protection. Hence, the safety and efficiency of
technology is directly related to the training and technical education of the persons using the
technology” (p. 51).
171 NSSC, p. 37 — 42.
172 See [http://www.staysafeonline.info/]. The major government agencies supporting this
alliance are DHS and the Federal Trade Commission.
Effective cybersecurity needs to focus not only on the individual elements of an
organization’s information technology but also how they interact. The term
enterprise architecture (EA) has become increasingly used to refer to the components
of an organization and how they work together to achieve the organization’s
objectives. Specific definitions and usage vary. EA is often used specifically to refer
to the information technology component of the architecture, and especially to the
interoperability of those components. It is also used to denote a blueprint of an
organization’s business operations and the technology required to perform those
operations.173 The federal government is developing a “business-driven” EA to
improve interoperability and services.174
An organization can characterize its EA to assist in planning and development
of its information technology. Such a characterization can provide an opportunity to
make security an integral part of EA. This component of EA is sometimes called the
security architecture.175 However, even the initial characterization of an
organization’s EA can be time-consuming and expensive, and the costs of
reengineering to build in security may be prohibitive for many organizations. In
addition, the need to build a business case to justify IT investments, which is often
considered important to the EA approach, may create barriers to improving security,
given the traditional difficulties of demonstrating a financial return on investments
The approach embodied in defense-in-depth recognizes that security cannot be
perfect but rather reduces the risk and impact of a successful attack or other breach.
Such reduction can be captured through risk management, which involves
identifying, controlling, and mitigating threats, vulnerabilities, and the impacts of
security breaches. The steps in effective risk management include assessment of risk,
steps to mitigate them, and continuous evaluation and adjustment. The approach
often involves cost-benefit analysis to help determine optimal mitigation steps.
Mitigation may involve accepting the risk as a cost of business; avoiding risk
associated with a particular activity, for example by not engaging in it; limiting the
risk through effective use of controls; and transferring the risk, for example through
insurance.176 Some insurance companies have begun to offer cybersecurity policies,
173 See CRS Report RL31846, Science and Technology Policy: Issues for the 108th
Congress, 2nd Session, p. 16
174 See [http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/a-1-fea.html].
175 See, for example, Network Applications Consortium, “Enterprise Security Architecture:
A Framework and Template for Policy-Driven Security,” 3 December 2004, available at
See, for example, Gary Stoneburner and others, Risk Management Guide for Information
Technology Systems, NIST Special Publication 800-30, July 2002,
[http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-30/sp800-30.pdf], or CRA Reports, Security
Risk Management, 2003, [http://www.foundstone.com/resources/whitepapers/wp_security_
under which companies can transfer some of their risks in the event of a successful
attack. Carriers may require clients to implement specified security practices to
qualify for insurance. However, in the absence of reliable actuarial data about the
risks and costs of cyberattacks, it may be difficult for carriers to set appropriate
To be effective, risk management requires accurate risk assessment. However,
many cybersecurity risks may be difficult to assess, for reasons discussed earlier. In
addition, a risk management approach may lead an organization to accept risks for
which the potential impacts of security events are low, regardless of external
impacts.177 Thus, risk management is not likely to sufficiently address cybersecurity
problems associated with the commons properties of cyberspace discussed earlier in
Whatever approaches are used to improve cybersecurity, measuring their
success would appear to be essential to determining how effective they are and to
making improvements. However, fundamental problems exist with measuring
success in security. Seemingly, the most appropriate measure is the number of
successful attacks, but in fact, attacks — especially the kind of major attack for
which effective defense is critical — may be comparatively uncommon, so that
absence of a successful attack may not indicate effective security.178 In addition,
attackers often take steps to avoid detection, so an absence of detected attacks may
in fact be a measure of poor rather than good security. This conceptual problem
might be addressed through the use of proxy measures, such as how well technology,
policy, and activities conform to certain accepted benchmarks, as well as the use of
proficiency testing, such as blind “red team” attacks or other penetration testing.
Not only is it difficult to identify appropriate metrics for cybersecurity, there are
also risks of distortions that may be associated with any particular metric. Virtually
any given metric will measure only one or a limited number of aspects of a goal. If,
however, the limitations of the metric are not understood, attempts to use it to
optimize security can lead to distortions, as the above example illustrates. This
appears to be a general concern.179 However, some argue that using even distorted
metrics can be beneficial if the process of measuring them focuses attention on
problems or deficiencies and leads to correction.
This is because cost-benefit analyses do not usually take externalities into account. Of
course, even in the absence of direct impact, accepting such risks might nevertheless involve
178 Of course, the incidence of viruses, Trojan horses, and other kinds of malware has
increased steadily, as have attempts to compromise computers with them. Nevertheless,
relatively simple measures can guard against most such attacks.
179 Ronda Henning and others, Workshop on Information System Security Scoring and
Ranking, 21 — 23 May 2001, Proceedings, (Silver Spring, MD: Applied Computer Security
Metrics relating to the effects of security events are called impact metrics.
Those relating to the delivery of security services are called effectiveness or efficiency
metrics; and those relating to the execution of security policies are called
implementation metrics. NIST has published guidelines on such metrics, to assist
agencies in complying with federal requirements.180 The document does not urge the
adoption of any specific set of metrics, although it does provide examples. Instead,
it recommends that the metrics chosen use data that can be realistically obtained, that
measure existing, stable processes, and that facilitate the improvement of security
implementation. The kinds of metrics that can be effectively gathered will depend
on the level of maturity of the security program. Programs at low levels of maturity
will of necessity be limited to using implementation metrics. Impact metrics can be
effective for organizations that have mature security programs, with fully integrated
procedures and controls.181
Implementation of cybersecurity measures may involve substantial costs and is
therefore sensitive to market forces and other economic factors. If sufficient
economic incentives exist for improving cybersecurity, then organizations are likely
to make the investments needed in the absence of government regulation or other
drivers. One concern often raised is that economic incentives are often insufficient,
and that in fact, significant counterincentives exist.
The perceived inadequacy of incentives for cybersecurity can be seen as a form
of market failure — a kind of economic inefficiency.182 There are several lines of
evidence supporting this view. For example, it can be difficult for law enforcement
officials to arrest and prosecute hackers if companies are unwilling to provide
information on cyberattacks, yet a company risks suffering significant reputation
costs if that information leads customers to conclude that the company’s information
systems are not sufficiently secure. In addition, investments in cybersecurity cannot
easily be analyzed in terms of return on investment, since they do not contribute to
income in a measurable way.183 Therefore, companies may be reluctant to make the
necessary investments. Also, impacts of compromised systems may reach far beyond
the system where the compromise occurred184 — the interconnectedness of
180 Marianne Swanson and others, Security Metrics Guide for Information Technology
Systems, NIST Special Publication 800-55, July 2003, available at
The guidelines provide the following example: “The impact metrics would quantify
incidents by type (e.g., root compromise, password compromise, malicious code, denial of
service) and correlate the incident data to the percentage of trained users and system
administrators to measure the impact of training on security” (Ibid, p. 12).
182 Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 18 — 19.
183 For a discussion of this and other cost issues in cybersecurity, see CRS Report RL32331
The Economic Impact of Cyber-Attacks.184
For example, computer failure was a significant factor in the August 2003 electrical
blackout in the northeastern United States (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force,
“Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: Causes and
Recommendations,” April 2004, [https://reports.energy.gov/BlackoutFinal-Web.pdf]). The
cyberspace has made it to a significant extent a commons, with associated economic
The widespread adoption of the kinds of leverage to improve cybersecurity
discussed above may be doubtful without changes in the current incentive structure.
Such changes could arise from several sources. Among them are increases in public
demand for cybersecurity, changes in expected behavior within a sector regarding
investment in cybersecurity,185 public-private partnerships, and regulation or other
action by governments. While not all such factors are themselves economic in
nature, they can clearly affect the economic incentive structure. For example, a
company that does not respond to expectations from its peers for improved
cybersecurity may suffer a significant reputation cost. Similarly, a company that is
found to violate government requirements may suffer both reputation costs and direct
punitive action or may be held financially liable for damages.
What Roles Should Government and the Private
The above discussion shows that (1) there is currently no unified national
framework for improving cybersecurity, (2) there are several areas of weakness
where such a framework could be useful in generating improvements, and (3) several
means of leverage exist that could be used in the development and implementation
of such a framework. Questions remain, however, about whether additional federal
efforts would be needed or desirable. According to the NSSC,
“a government role in cybersecurity is warranted in [nongovernmental] cases
where high transaction costs or legal barriers lead to significant coordination
problems; cases in which governments operate in the absence of private sector
forces; resolution of incentive problems that lead to under provisioning of critical
shared resources; and raising awareness.”186
Are market forces, along with current government and private-sector policies and
practices, sufficient to put in place the necessary components? If not, will additional
voluntary efforts be sufficient, or is further government action required? This section
discusses whether current efforts are adequate and what policy options exist for
economic cost of that blackout has been estimated at several billion dollars, with most of
that loss occurring outside the electric utility sector (Electricity Consumers Resource
Council, “The Economic Impacts of the August 2003 Blackout, “ 9 February 2004,
[http://www.elcon.org/ Docume nt s/EconomicImpactsOfAugust2003Blackout.pdf]).
185 For example, collective concern regarding reputation risk or the potential for government
intervention might lead organizations within a sector to agree on a minimum standard of
cybersecurity practice. 186
NSSC, p. ix.
While many observers argue that cybersecurity efforts remain inadequate
overall, substantial evidence of improvements can be found. They range from steady
increases in the number of organizations adopting cybersecurity standards of practice
(see discussion above) to efforts to increase public awareness about cybersecurity to
new federal and state requirements for government and private-sector information
systems. The legal framework for cybersecurity continues to evolve, with new
federal and state laws being implemented, and new public-private partnerships have
Laws and Regulations. According to the NSSC,
It is the policy of the United States to prevent or minimize disruptions
to critical information infrastructures and thereby protect the people,
the economy, the essential human and government services, and the
national security of the United States. Disruptions that do occur
should be infrequent, of minimal duration and manageable and cause
the least damage possible. The policy requires a continuous effort to
secure information systems for critical infrastructure and includes
voluntary public-private partnerships involving corporate and187
However, current federal law and regulation is generally much narrower in scope,
applying to computer systems operated by or on behalf of the federal government.188
The requirements and governance mechanisms differ depending on whether or not
a system is designated as a national security system. In general, however, the Federal
Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA, title III of P.L 107-347, the
E-Government Act of 2002) requires agencies to develop policies and standards to
provide for the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of information. As required
by the act, NIST has developed a broad range of standards and guidelines,189 and the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reports annually to Congress on agency
compliance with IT security requirements. In its most recent annual report, OMB190
reported substantial improvements overall, although the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) noted wide variability in agency compliance and
187 Ibid., p. 13.
188 For a discussion of specific federal provisions with respect to both government and
private systems, see CRS Report RL32357, Computer Security: A Summary of Selected
Federal Laws, Executive Orders, and Presidential Directives.
189 See National Institute of Standards and Technology, “FISMA Implementation Project,”
[http://csrc.nist.gov/sec-cert/index.html], 2 November 2004.190
Office of Management and Budget, “FY2003 Report to Congress on Federal
Government Information Security Management,” 1 March 2004,
[http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/fy03_fisma_report.pdf]. The report does not
include information on national security systems.
“significant weaknesses…that put critical operations and assets at risk.”191 Among
the areas of weakness cited was the program management framework for security.
Despite remaining weaknesses and concerns, these federal programs and
requirements can be important not only directly, by improving federal cybersecurity,
but also by providing information, opportunities, and incentives for improving
cybersecurity in the private sector. NIST’s FISMA standards and guidelines are
publicly available, as are some information assurance documents produced by the
National Security Agency.192 Even though they apply only to government agencies
and contractors, federal cybersecurity requirements can also potentially stimulate a
market for more secure products. For example, if a company’s product must meet
certain security specifications for federal agencies, it may be more cost-effective for
the company to make those specifications available in general rather than
customizing the product for the federal government. Nevertheless, private-sector
organizations are not required to implement FISMA, and its impact on
nongovernmental cybersecurity does not appear to be well-characterized.
Some federal laws do place security requirements on certain classes of private-
sector information and controls.193 These include protections for personal
information for customers of financial institutions (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of
1999, P.L. 106-102), health information that is held by health-sector entities and that
is identifiable with respect to a person (Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act of 1996, P.L. 104-191), and audits of financial controls, which
has been interpreted as including information security, of publicly registered
companies (Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, P.L. 107-204).194 These are obviously
limited domains of influence in cyberspace, but they appear to have resulted in
significant response in the private sector195 and may have influence beyond their
immediate domains of applicability.196 The Sarbanes-Oxley Act in particular impacts
corporate governance with respect to cybersecurity by specifying that corporate
management is responsible for establishing and maintaining adequate internal
191 Government Accountability Office, “Information Security: Continued Efforts Needed
to Sustain Progress in Implementing Statutory Requirements,” Statement before the
Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the
Census, House Committee on Government Reform, GAO-04-483T, 16 March 2004,
[http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04483t.pdf], p. 4.
192 See, for example, National Security Agency, “Security Configuration Guides,”
193 For details, see Moteff, Computer Security.
194 The auditing standard for internal controls released in June 2004 by the Securities and
Exchange Commission contains numerous references to information technology controls
(Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, Auditing Standard No. 2 — An Audit of
Internal Control Over Financial Reporting Performed in Conjunction with An Audit of
Financial Statements, 9 March 2004, [http://www.pcaobus.org/Rules_of_the_Board/
Dawn Kawamoto, “Hidden Gold in Corporate Cleanup,” CNET News.com, 24
November 2004, [http://news.com.com/2102-1029_3-5465305.html].
196 For example, a service company that is not directly covered by these acts but that
provides relevant services to companies that are will likely be expected by its customers to
institute appropriate cybersecurity measures.
controls.197 Nevertheless, none of these laws specifically address the question of a
framework for cybersecurity. Their major influence on the development of such a
framework may be the regulatory incentives that they provide for corporate
management to address cybersecurity issues.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA) gives DHS some authority and
resources relating to cybersecurity. The National Cybersecurity Division (NCSD)
was established in June 2003 within the Directorate for Information Assurance and
Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) of the department. According to DHS, the division’s
mission includes the following: “(1) identifying, analyzing, and reducing cyber
threats and vulnerabilities; (2) disseminating cyber threat warning information; (3)
coordinating cyber incident response; and, (4) providing technical assistance in
continuity of operations and recovery from cyber incidents.”198 NCSD has created
a computer emergency response team, US-CERT,199 in cooperation with Carnegie-
Mellon University, to coordinate cybersecurity efforts, and established a new alert
system. It has also engaged in efforts to facilitate public-private cybersecurity
partnerships, notably by sponsoring the National Cybersecurity Summit to that end
in December 2003, and follow-up efforts. DHS also sponsors cybersecurity research
and development within its Science and Technology Directorate.
State laws can also have impacts both within and beyond the states that enact
them. For example, the California Database Protection Act (CA S.B.1386), which
went into effect July 1, 2003, requires any government or private entity doing
business in California to reveal to affected residents of the state any security breach
that results in unauthorized acquisition of personal information such as social
security numbers or information that could permit access to financial accounts.
While the law requires only notification, it is expected to impact cybersecurity
because organizations are believed likely to prefer instituting improved security to
disclosing breaches, with the latter’s attendant reputation costs. It is also expected
to have impacts beyond the state’s borders, since interstate businesses are unlikely
to institute separate cybersecurity procedures for different states.
Laws and regulations in other countries may also impact cybersecurity measures
taken by organizations in the United States, especially if those organizations also
engage in relevant activities in those countries. One example comes from the
European Union (EU), which has adopted two directives that require organizations
to implement cybersecurity measures. EU Directives 95/46/EC, on data protection,
and 2002/58/EC, on privacy and electronic communications, require member nations
to implement measures to ensure the protection of privacy of personal data held or
communicated by organizations engaged in commercial or other relevant activities
within the EU.
197 Sec. 404(a)(1).
198 Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, Progress and
Challenges in Securing the Nation’s Cyberspace, OIG-04-29, July 2004, available at [http://
Partnerships. To varying degrees, critical infrastructure sectors are already
involved in the development of cybersecurity frameworks. One way sector industries
are working together is through voluntary partnerships called information sharing and
analysis centers (ISACs).200 DHS lists fourteen such centers.201 The centers vary202
substantially in their activities and relationship with government. In addition,
some consortia have been formed to facilitate development and coordination of
cybersecurity efforts. In addition to groups such as BITS, CIS, ISF, and ISSA
mentioned earlier in this report, other examples include the Cybersecurity Industry203204
Alliance (CSIA), the Internet Security Alliance (ISA), and the National Cyber
Security Partnership (NCSP).205 There is significant variation, however, in the degree
to which these groups are considered to be effective.
Working groups developed pursuant to the December 2003 National Cyber
Security Summit developed reports with recommendations and guidance for206
improving cybersecurity. The Corporate Governance Task Force Report
recommended that organizations adopt governance measures207 derived from
ISO/IEC 17799, FISMA, and other sources. It also recommended that DHS endorse
the recommendations and launch a public campaign urging their adoption by
organizations. Other task forces produced reports with recommendations on software
security, education and awareness for home users and small businesses, information208
sharing, and technical standards and the CC.
There is considerable public debate about whether efforts such as those
described above are sufficient or if the federal government needs to take additional
action to bolster cybersecurity in general and develop a national framework in
200 ISACs were established pursuant to language in Presidential Decision Directive/NSC-63,
“Critical Infrastructure Protection,” 22 May 1988, directing the federal government to
encourage their creation. Known as PDD-63, it was superseded by Homeland Security
Presidential Directive/HSPD-7, “Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and
Protection,” 17 December 2003.
201 They include food, water, fire services, law enforcement, state government, information
technology, telecommunications, research and education, electric power, energy, surface
transportation, financial services, chemical industry, and real estate (see Department of
Homeland Security, “Threats and Protection: Information Sharing and Analysis Centers,”
202 See, for example, CRS Report RL32597, Information Sharing for Homeland Security:
A Brief Overview.203
CSIA is a consortium of cybersecurity companies ([https://www.csialliance.org]).
204 ISA is a collaborative effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the Electronic Industries
NCSP is a public-private partnership involving industry, government, and academia
( [ ht t p: / / www.cyber par t ner shi p.or g] ) .
206 F. William Connor and others, Information Security Governance: A Call to Action,
Report of the Corporate Governance Task Force, April 2004, available at
[ ht t p: / / www.cyber par t ner shi p.or g/ i ni t -gove r nance.ht ml ] .207
The report calls these measures an “information security governance framework.”208
These reports are available through the NCSP at [http://www.cyberpartnership.org].
particular. Supporters of stronger government efforts, including regulation, argue
that they are necessary to improve security and will have a positive economic impact
by reducing uncertainties concerning economic loss from cyberattacks. Opponents
point to costs, the difficulty of determining what requirements are necessary and how
to measure compliance, and problems in dealing with boundaries between networks
and between nations.209
Some specific arguments that might favor legislative action are as follows:
!Most critical infrastructure is in private hands,210 yet problems in
these sectors arising from inadequate cybersecurity could have
implications well beyond the sectors themselves.
!Some experts argue that cybersecurity is fundamentally a public
good and therefore requires government involvement.211 There are
aspects of cyberspace that resemble those of a commons — an asset,
such as a public road, that is generally available to the public rather
than being in private hands. Unregulated commons can be
susceptible to exploitation, degradation, and other problems.
!As the role of cyberspace in the U.S. and world economy continues
to increase, its protection and reliability will become more clearly in
the national interest, as is the case, for example, with commercial
aviation and product safety.212
!The growing amount of personal information, including financial
information, that is communicated via cyberspace makes it
increasingly attractive to thieves and other criminals, making the
law-enforcement function of government more relevant to
The apparent failure of market incentives to stimulate adequate cybersecurity
efforts means that governments may be required to intervene to correct the market
209 Jeffrey E. Payne, “Regulation and Information Security,” IEEE Security & Privacy
(March/April 2004): 32-35.
210 The White House, National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical
Infrastructures and Key Assets, February 2003,
[ h t t p : / / www.whi t e house.go v/ pci pb/ physi cal .ht ml ] .211
Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 7.212
“[T]his is an area where legislation and regulations are necessary. It is a proper
government responsibility to require cyber-security upgrades. It is as important as other
consumer protections, such as food and product safety.
“Accordingly, virtually everyone accepts a broad but controlled safety regulation of
standards at meat packers, auto manufacturers or financial institutions. We’re all OK with
government mandating certain shields to keep our skies safe. Establishing minimum security
standards in these and other key areas should be looked at in the same light” (“Government
has role in fighting cyber terrorism,” San Francisco Business Times, 2 December 2002,
available at [http://sanfrancisco.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/stories/2002/12/02/
failure. An often-cited example is the underreporting of security incidents by an
organization, despite the fact that timely and sufficiently complete reporting is
important for effective response as well as planning. Among the disincentives for
reporting are damage to reputation213 that can result in loss of customers or revenue,
in the case of a company, or political repercussions in the case of a government
agency. Laws such as the California Database Protection Act discussed above can
help to correct such market failures, although they can themselves create market
distortions or other problems.
However, many other observers believe that legislative action is unnecessary or
inappropriate. Arguments against such action include the belief by many that
regulation would be too intrusive and would stifle innovation, that voluntary efforts
are sufficient, that time should be allowed for current laws and voluntary efforts to
have impact before further legislative action is considered, and that the threat from
cyberattack is not great enough to warrant further government action.
Models. Two models have sometimes been cited as providing possible
avenues for federal efforts to develop a cybersecurity framework — the year-2000
(Y2K) computer problem, and environmental and safety regulations. Each is
Response to the Year-2000 Computer Problem. Government
involvement in the efforts to resolve the year-2000 computer problem214 is sometimes
cited as a possible model for government involvement in cybersecurity. A key
element in that approach was the use of evolving and increasing requirements for
publicly traded companies via actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC). The SEC promulgated rules to require companies to respond to the Y2K
problem. Congress passed laws to facilitate information sharing and to reduce
liability if the company had complied. This appeared to demonstrate that (1) the SEC
can be effective in promoting changes such as those required for improved
cybersecurity; (2) Congress can be an effective enabler of solutions — for example,
by removing barriers to effective information sharing; and (3) a gradual, incremental
approach can be effective.215 However, critics respond that the model is
inappropriate, for three reasons. First, the Y2K problem is thought by many to have
been much less serious than feared, so that the effectiveness of response may be
questionable as a reason for the low number of significant incidents. Second, the
problem was fundamentally much simpler than cybersecurity, which may require a
much more complex set of responses. Third, it was a one-time problem, whereas
cybersecurity needs are continuous. Nevertheless, the lessons learned from the Y2K
213 Glaessner and others, Electronic Safety and Soundness, p. 18.
214 Basically, this was a problem with the way most computer software had been designed
to handle dates. Much software code was designed when computer memory was at a
premium and therefore was coded to process only the last 2 digits of the year. Therefore,
the program could not distinguish an entry for the year 2000 from one for the year 1900.
This could be particularly a concern for programs that used clocks for core processes.
Predictions about the impacts of this discrepancy ranged from trivial to disastrous effects.
Because of the risks of a disastrous impact, a substantial effort was launched to modify or
replace computer code (both programmable and hardwired) to correct the problem. 215
Payne, “Regulation and Information Security, “ p. 35.
problem may usefully inform the cybersecurity response. In fact, the Sarbanes-Oxley
Act uses the SEC to promote cybersecurity. Although the act does not directly
provide for gradual improvement, the evolution of auditing standards could have that
Safety and Environmental Regulations. Whether cybersecurity
standardization can be approached using safety or environmental regulation or similar
efforts as a model might also be considered. For example, the analogy of cyberspace
with the highway system (the “information superhighway”) raises the question of
whether governments might consider security regulations analogous to safety
regulations that apply to roads, vehicles, and drivers.
Environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers
several laws aimed at reducing and preventing environmental problems.216 For
example, the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 required EPA “to develop and
implement a strategy” for reducing pollution at the source.217 In comparison, the
HSA requires DHS
to develop a comprehensive national plan for securing the key resources and
critical infrastructure of the United States, including power production,
generation, and distribution systems, information technology and
telecommunications systems (including satellites), electronic financial and
property record storage and transmission systems, emergency preparedness
communications systems, and the physical and technological assets that support
The plan would therefore include several key elements of cyberspace. However, the
act does not explicitly provide DHS with authority to implement the plan.219
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 requires
many industrial facilities to report release of toxic chemicals annually. Submission
of information on cybersecurity problems such as attacks remains voluntary under
HSA, but the act contains provisions to facilitate such submissions for certain kinds
The Clean Air Act and related legislation requires EPA to set and enforce
national standards for ambient air quality and assigns major responsibility for
compliance to the states. It also requires standards for vehicle emissions that have
216 For more detail about these statutes, see CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws:
Summaries of Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
217 42 USC 13103.
218 Sec. 201(d)(5).
219 Also, the NSSC was not developed pursuant to any specific legislative mandate, and no
federal agency has been given statutory authority to implement it. 220
Specifically, the act defines a protected class of nonpublic “critical infrastructure
information” relating to security (for example, instances of attacks or known vulnerabilities)
and prohibits public disclosure and certain other use by DHS of such information if
voluntarily submitted to the federal government.
led manufacturers to modify technologies to meet those standards. The HSA does
not provide DHS with authority to set or enforce national standards for cybersecurity.
Food and Product Safety. Several federal agencies share responsibility for
regulating food safety in the United States, primarily the Food and Drug
Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food
Safety and Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture.221 Both agencies set
regulations with input from industry and other interested parties and use monitoring
by inspectors to ensure conformance with the regulations. The Consumer Product
Safety Commission is an independent regulatory agency established to protect the
public from unreasonable risk of injury or death from consumer products. The
agency sets voluntary and mandatory product safety standards, has the power to recall
or even ban hazardous products.222 Also, under state product liability laws, plaintiffs
may sue for damages for injury to person or property resulting from a defective
product.223 The federal government does not regulate or set mandatory or voluntary
standards for cybersecurity except to some extent with respect to federal agencies and
The federal approaches to environmental protection and to food and product
safety could provide potential models should Congress wish to use government
regulation as a way of improving cybersecurity, as some have proposed.224 However,
the highly interconnected, amorphous, and constantly evolving nature of cyberspace
might provide significant barriers to the creation of regulations that improve
cybersecurity but do not impede technology development and entrepreneurship.
Options for Congress. Should Congress consider taking action to facilitate
the adoption of a framework for cybersecurity, there are several options that might
be considered, with respect to both legislation and oversight. Some possibilities are
described below, to illustrate the range of options. The examples are for illustration
only.225 Therefore, no discussion of benefits and disadvantages is given. Among the
legislative options are the following:
Encourage the Widespread Adoption of Cybersecurity Standards and Best
Practices. There are several potential ways to achieve such a goal. Perhaps the
strongest measures would be for Congress to provide the Department of Homeland
Security or another agency with regulatory authority over cyberspace industries and
direct the department to develop and enforce mandatory cybersecurity standards,
presumably through a process that involved the industries and other interested
parties, as is the case, for example, with food safety. A moderate approach might be
to further codify and strengthen DHS’s role in working work with industry to develop
221 See CRS 98-91, Food Safety Agencies and Authorities: A Primer; and CRS Report
RL31853, Food Safety Issues in the 109th Congress.
223 See CRS Issue Brief IB97056, Products Liability: A Legal Overview.
224 See, for example, Christ Strohm, “Tenet warns of terrorists combining physical,
telecommunications attacks,” GovExec.com, 1 December 2004, [http://www.govexec.com/
CRS does not take positions on legislative issues.
voluntary standards and best practices, or to provide tax incentives for companies to
adopt acceptable cybersecurity measures.
Leverage Procurement. Congress could require that cybersecurity be a high
priority in all federal acquisitions of information technology. It could further require
that companies that operated under accepted levels of cybersecurity practices, such
as recognized international standards, would receive preference for federal contracts.
Encourage Mandatory Reporting. To further counter disincentives for
companies to report cybersecurity vulnerabilities and breaches, Congress could
require federal and private organizations to reveal certain kinds of security breaches,
as California has done.226 It could also require companies to report specified classes
of incidents and vulnerabilities to DHS under the protections afforded by the HSA,
rather than relying on voluntary reporting.
Facilitate Product Liability Actions. Congress could direct DHS to identify
classes of cybersecurity weaknesses for which states could permit plaintiffs to sue
manufacturers under product liability laws, or provide some other mechanism to
facilitate such redress.
Facilitate Development of Cybersecurity Insurance. To the extent that lack of
reliable actuarial information or other barriers are impeding the development of
cybersecurity insurance, Congress could facilitate the development of the industry by
providing for reinsurance or other guarantees, as it does in certain other areas.227
Strengthen Federal Cybersecurity Programs. H.R. 5068, introduced in the 108th
Congress, and reintroduced in the 109th Congress as H.R. 285, proposes establishing
the position of Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity within DHS, with responsibility
for, among other things, implementing priorities similar to those laid out in the
NSSC. The 109th Congress might enact legislation with such provisions and also
could strengthen existing cybersecurity efforts in other agencies such as NIST and
NSF and through the SEC.
Oversight and investigative hearings could also provide mechanisms for
Congress to facilitate the development of a cybersecurity framework. Several
hearings were held during the 108th Congress, most notably by the Subcommittee on
Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development of the House Select
Committee on Homeland Security,228 and the Subcommittee on Technology,
226 See discussion of the California Database Protection Act under the section above on
For example, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress enacted the
Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (P.L. 107-297), to assist both policyholders and the insurance
industry in adjusting to the impacts of the attacks (see CRS Report RS21444, The Terrorism
Risk Insurance Act of 2002: A Summary of Provisions).228
For a list of hearings and other activities, see Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science,
and Research & Development of the U. S. House of Representatives Select Committee on
Homeland Security, “Cybersecurity for the Homeland,” Report of the Activities and
Findings by the Chairman and Ranking Member, December 2004, available at
Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census of the House
Committee on Government Reform.229 Additional hearings could be held during the
109th Congress on legislative options such as those described above, or for example
on implementation of the recommendations relating to vulnerability reduction in the
Alternatively, Congress might decide that no legislative action or targeted
oversight would be appropriate at this time. There remain considerable differences
of opinion among experts about both the seriousness of cybersecurity threats,
especially with respect to terrorism, and the potential benefits and disadvantages of
any additional federal action to improve cybersecurity in the private sector. In
addition, ongoing and new government and private sector efforts such as those
discussed above might result in sufficient improvements to render additional
congressional action unnecessary or of marginal benefit. The question remains,
however, whether those efforts will have sufficient impact quickly enough to meet
national cybersecurity needs. The answer to that question will likely depend to a
significant degree on the scale and immediacy of cybersecurity threats and
vulnerabilities, over which there is still considerable debate.
No matter what actions Congress might take to strengthen cybersecurity efforts,
there are several issues that may be influential in the debate in addition to the
uncertainties discussed above. One significant issue is the degree to which
cyberspace is in fact a commons, with the attendant characteristics that reduce the
likelihood that market mechanisms alone can lead to appropriate security. Another
is the difficulty of obtaining coordination and cooperation from the large number of
interested and affected parties, especially given the global nature of cyberspace. A
third issue is whether the different approaches advocated by different groups can be
effectively harmonized so that there is a common understanding of what the key
elements of a cybersecurity framework should be and how they should be
implemented. Related to that is the issue of how to ensure that the particular needs
of different sectors are met while attempting to achieve harmonization. Finally, there
is the issue of lag time — the degree to which the speed of evolution of cyberspace
and its supporting technology outstrips attempts to develop effective standards and
other elements of a cybersecurity framework. Those and other issues strongly
suggest that the attempt to develop a national framework for cybersecurity is likely
to remain a significant challenge for the nation during the 109th Congress.
229 A list of subcommittee hearings in the 108th Congress and links to testimony are
available on the committee website at