NIST Works to Drum Up Cyber Standards Support

Barack Obama signed an cybersecurity executive order last month

Barack Obama signed an cybersecurity executive order last month Carolyn Kaster/AP

Executive order calls for voluntary computer security protections for industry by November.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has started visiting businesses to rally support for a nationwide cybersecurity program called for by a February executive order.

The Feb. 12 mandate directed NIST, a Commerce Department agency, to develop standard guidelines for protecting computer operations in key sectors. On Monday, at an industry briefing organized by law firm Venable LLP, government officials stressed the guidelines will not be performance standards. The protections, however, would become mandatory for certain companies under a White House legislative proposal, so the order has raised questions among lobbying groups.   

A draft “cybersecurity framework” – the official term for the voluntary regulations -- is expected to be released by November, said Ari Schwartz, a Commerce senior policy adviser.  NIST has published a formal notice requesting input from businesses and scheduled a brainstorming workshop for April 3 in Gaithersburg, Md. Future meetings to solicit feedback will not all be held in the suburbs, Adam Sedgewick, NIST senior information technology policy advisor, assured the audience, which was watching remotely via Webcast and at Venable's Washington office.

About 300 individuals had registered for the April session as of Monday, a NIST spokeswoman said after the Venable briefing.

The agency is making the rounds at a time when most businesses outside Washington likely do not even know there will be a nationwide cybersecurity program. About 82 percent of U.S. executives are not familiar with President Obama’s order, according to a March 4 survey of nearly 2,000 chief technology and chief financial officers, along with other top officials, conducted by consulting firm Deloitte. Close to 79 percent polled said they were not very confident in their organization’s ability to protect information systems and data from intrusions.  

Schwartz said the recommended practices largely will be aimed at firms managing “critical infrastructure” vital to daily living, such as banks, gas pipelines and water treatment facilities. The framework is not intended to provide “one-size-fits-all technical solutions,” he said.

At the April workshop, officials want to learn how organizations currently are managing risks and the types of industry cyber guidelines that already exist. In the future, “we certainly see ourselves traveling and going out and speaking” at meetings of the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council, a public-private effort, and other events, Sedgewick said.