Attentiveness and thoroughness can spell the difference between booming and bankruptcy in today’s ever-changing digital business landscape. With global e-retail sales projected to hit 47 percent this year, the need to have an optimization strategy, clear customer experience, and a practical plan for operational execution becomes more apparent to stay competitive.
This plan includes taking the time to establish an all-encyclopedic regulatory compliance strategy to fill the holes that can leave an organization rendered ineffective and easily exposed to cyber threats. In general, regulatory compliance is an organization’s adherence to specifications, guidelines, and regulations relevant to its business.
Violations of regulatory compliance usually result in severe legal punishment, which includes penalties or withdrawal of a product from the marketplace. By adhering to compliance regulations, businesses can give their clients peace of mind when purchasing a product and show that other equipment will function appropriately in its presence.
Moreover, compliance regulations go so much further than the functionality of the equipment as it covers environmental legislation, IT, health, safety, business systems, and other aspects of business and commerce. Security and compliance for federal government agencies require the need to navigate new regulations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) to stay ahead of emerging threats that can impact national security.
Unfortunately, federal compliance regulations can seem like a bowl of veritable alphabet soup, and a lot of them overlap, leaving many organizations uncertain on which standards to follow. Adhering to NIST and FISMA regulations poses a significant challenge, with the government putting more emphasis on using technology to enhance inter-agency and intra-agency collaboration.
Technically speaking, NIST is the organization that develops and releases guidance on business practices in a wide range of aspects of hard sciences, which include cybersecurity. The NIST Special Publications (SPs) on cybersecurity concentrate on a myriad of topics such as privacy controls, business continuity, security, contingency planning, and risk management.
These NIST regulations are an essential component in laying the groundwork for the approach of the government when it comes to information security and ensuring security readiness. In most cases, NIST also relates to secure information governance and file sharing to cover how organizations store, communicate, access, and achieve essential but unclassified business information.
Data under NIST 800-171 can be divided into two specific variations, mainly Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) and Controlled Technical Information (CTI). Federal agencies and contractors need to adhere to the requirements of the NIST 800 series to be compliant with FISMA as NIST establishes the framework for federal compliance.
There are numerous steps that an organization can take to guarantee NIST compliance. Initially, the process begins by locating the systems in their network that contain CTI and CUI and reviewing all locations where this information might be stored. This includes examining endpoints, central file shares, mail servers, and any networks where files may have been distributed, transferred, or stored.
Subsequently, organizations should classify data and separate CUI and CTI data. The NIST SP summarizes that numerous categories of CUI and CTI information should be labeled and categorized accordingly due to its complex nature.
What’s more, businesses should also restrict access to CUI and CTI information to only personnel who are authorized such data. Organizations should keep a log of who opens their systems and when as well, to ensure that information cannot be accessed through non-attributed or shared accounts. By taking these simple steps, compliance with NIST regulations can be demonstrated in the event of an audit.
On the other hand, FISMA requires the application of information security controls that use a risk-based approach. The main framework for FISMA compliance is NIST 800-53, which requires federal agencies to establish, record, and employ a data security and protection program.
NIST assumes a critical part in FISMA implementation as it developed vital security standards and guidelines like FIPS 199, FIPS 200, and the NIST 800 series to ensure compliance. Other than complying with the NIST 800 series, the primary requirements for FISMA compliance include the following:
Create an Inventory of Information Systems
FISMA characterizes a framework for overseeing data security that must be adhered to for all information systems to be used or operated by a federal government organization in legislative or executive branches. It all starts with developing and maintaining an inventory of significant data systems utilized by an organization. The head of the agency should also determine the integrations between these data circuits and other systems within their network.
Categorize Each Risk
All information and data circuits should be classified based upon the goals of providing the right levels of information security according to a range of risk levels. The FIPS 199 guideline, which displays the Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems, outlines the scope of risk levels within which agencies can place their information systems.
The FIPS 199 system classification is the high water average for the impact rating of any of the criteria for data types resident in a circuit. Classifying the risks is imperative on the road for FISMA compliance, as the organization will also identify the risks to accept or mitigate. More specifically, the overall FIPS 199 system categorization also divide each information systems based on their impacts which include the following:
- Low-impact Data Systems: These data circuits are developed to endure online attacks, thus ensuring less adverse effects on the organization and its individuals.
- Moderate Impact Systems: These data systems are not built to survive attacks and breaches. Hacking these networks can lead to severe impacts on the assets, operations, and individuals within the agency.
- High Impact Systems: Attacks on these data circuits can lead to physical or property damages and significant financial losses.
Define Security Controls
Federal data systems should reach the minimum security requirements as defined in the mandatory security standard in FIPS 200. Selecting the right security controls and assurance requirements specified in NIST 800-53 is necessary to achieve sufficient security that involves management and operational personnel within the business.
Nevertheless, FISMA does not require an organization to apply each control, but instead, they are instructed to use commands relevant to their systems and operations. The moment the appropriate commands have been chosen, the organizations must record the selected controls in their system security plan. This enables agencies to adjust the security controls to fit with their operational environments and mission requirements tightly.
Create a System Security Plan
FISMA demands agencies to develop a security plan which is kept up to date and maintained regularly. System security plans are living records that require quarterly assessment, modifications, and methods for applying security controls.
The system security plan should include essential information such as the security controls applied within the security policies and organization as well as the timetable for the introduction of added controls. It should also outline the procedures and the authorized individuals required to plan and follow up on designed security controls.
Assess Threats and Vulnerabilities to the System
Risk assessments are a vital ingredient in FISMA compliance as it verifies the security controls set and identify if any further restrictions are needed in protecting the individuals, operations, or assets of an organization and national security. As per NIST guidelines, risk assessments should be a three-part process to determine security threats at the information system, business process, and organizational levels.
Usually, a risk assessment begins by determining the potential threats or vulnerabilities and putting together applied controls to individual risks. An expert from RSI Security will then determine the risk by estimating the impact and likelihood that any identified threat could be exploited. Cybersecurity professionals perform the Security Content Automation Protocol and Information Security Automation Program as required by NIST to support and complement the goal of cost-effective and consistent risk assessments.
Achieve Certification and Accreditation
The security controls of the information system are assessed and certified to ensure proper function right after completing system documentation and risk assessments. FISMA requires organization officials to initiate annual security reviews to keep the risks at a minimum and ensure that the information systems can help make risk-based, timely, and credible business decisions.
The results of the security certification are used to reevaluate the threats and update the system security plan to provide a factual source for an authorizing official to come up with a security accreditation decision. By accrediting a federal data system, an official accepts the responsibility for being accountable in any adverse effects to the agency if a security breach occurs.
Furthermore, all FISMA-accredited systems are also required to update the system documentation for any modifications or changes to the policy. Significant alterations to system security profiles may indicate the need to be re-certified depending on the controls that are modified.
In most cases, system monitoring activities may include but are not only limited to security impact assessments of modifications to the system, status reporting, continuous evaluation of security controls, management of configurations, and control of data system requirements. The organization is also required to develop a schedule for control tracking to guarantee that sufficient coverage is achieved.
Benefits of Being Compliant with FISMA and NIST
Meeting regulations mandated by the federal government may be the furthest thing from your mind, but several benefits come with following these compliance requirements. Among these include:
Reduces Individual and Organizational Risks
Perhaps the most significant advantage of adhering to FISMA and NIST compliance regulations is the ability to avoid data breaches. According to a study by IBM, the average cost of a data breach is somewhere around $3.92 million, which is more than enough to put a startup or a small business for closure.
Besides that, federal agencies, associated private organizations, and contractors that fail to follow FISMA guidelines may suffer a range of penalties that include reduction of federal funding, reputational damage due to security breaches, and reduction of federal funding.
It can also prevent business disruptions that come with subpoenas, corrective actions, depositions, and investigations, which can cost millions of dollars. These are dollars that can be used by your organization to take part in more research, access programs, or even client education.
Engage Employees to Build Trust with Clients
Roughly 52 percent of businesses believe that employees are the weakest points in their cybersecurity strategy, but that does not have to be the case when adhering to NIST and FISMA regulations. Following these compliance regulations also involve bringing your workforce in on the process and educating them on how to secure company information.
By keeping your workforce engaged, you can attract or retain great talent, reduce the cost of recruitment or employee churn, and infinite value of active employee engagement. This, in turn, will show your customers that you care about keeping their information safe.
A record of compliance will also display that you are running a legitimate operation, thus, attracting more prospects from various segments. On top of that, it can enhance your relationships with regulators and other stakeholders as well as they usually deal with businesses that have excellent ethical practices and standards.
Make Better Business Decisions
Staying compliant with NIST and FISMA regulations can prevent paralysis and allow agencies to move faster and more confidently toward their goals. This is because compliance programs usually include the correspondence of your data and systems to ensure clarity within your business environment.
Good data availability and clarity help uncover better data and promote increased visibility, which is essential for educated planning and investment decisions. Compliance also assists companies in realizing their mission statements and ensures that they remain consistent with these values.
FISMA and NIST compliance regulations also assess risks based on competency, finance and operations, quality management, internal audit, and risk registers to provide valuable inputs that minimize market risks and eliminate liquidity.
As technology rapidly evolves in the field of defense, risk, security, and compliance concerns are at every mind of the organization. With so many different regulations and policies regarding FISMA and NIST, the best way to start is to get professional help from RSI Security.
An RSI Security professional will help organizations find out the necessary compliance requirements within your industry to ensure that they are in adherence to the required protocols by the U.S. Department of Defense. Talk to RSI Security today to begin your journey to compliance.