New Cyber-Sec Institute Cuts on CAG

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2009-08-05 Print this article Print

At least one group of experienced government cyber-security policy makers is already throwing a wet blanket on the newly approved Consensus Audit Guidelines, itself a set of IT security best practices developed by a consortium of government agencies and their private sector partners.

The Cyber Secure Institute, an effort led by former policy makers from the Clinton and Carter administrations that touts itself as "an analysis and advocacy institute dedicated to serving as the voice for effective cyber-security," issued its critique of the highly touted CAG best practices on Wednesday, painting the list of 20 recommended security controls a nice start but hardly sufficient to meet the lofty goals they seek to address.

The CAG is aimed at setting forth a list of security practices and controls for federal agencies and their partners to help address the continued issues of electronic infiltration and data leakage that have plagued the U.S. government in recent years -- and likely for as long as there have been computers in federal agencies and hackers around to assail them.

The controls were created by NIST and a long list of three letter agencies, along with influential private sector constituencies such as security training experts SANS Institute.

"Overall, the Institute sees the NIST recommendations as an important step forward in bringing a more unified, coherent and integrated approach to IT security," Rob Housman, acting executive director and chairman of CSI, said in a position paper.

"[The CAG] make important security strides in a number of key areas, however, they also raise a number of serious questions."

Among the criticisms that the expert levels at the guidelines is that they do not "apply to vast numbers of Federal IT systems that could have major impacts on the nation and individual Americans if breached," including critical national health systems. Those systems are only required to meet simpler baseline requirements under CAG and therefore will likely remain under-protected, Houseman said.

The expert contends that the CAG recommendations also fail to provide "a mechanism for certifying or validating that specific IT systems meet the NIST requirements that they are being deployed to fulfill."

The implication is that making rules is a nice gesture, but somewhat pointless if no one moves to ensure that they are being met.

While some might argue that the introduction of the CAG, as with other freshly minted security mandates like the Payment Card Industry's (PCI) Data Security Standard, represent a useful step forward and an initial movement toward even stronger policies, Cyber Secure Institute maintains that sophisticated cyber-criminals and foreign intelligence operatives will still easily elude the new controls.

"The recommendations on their face seem to adopt the current hack and patch approach to cyber-security," said Houseman. "They do not explicitly require that IT systems be actually secure against the real world threats we face."

Better than nothing or woefully insufficient. You make the call.

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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