Your Last Chance to Comment on Cybersecurity Guidelines for Industry

The final draft of optional guidance may eventually have implications for federal contractors.

The Obama administration has released a final draft of industry cybersecurity guidelines aimed at protecting commercial networks integral to daily living, after missing an Oct. 10 deadline due to the shutdown.

Required to be completed by mid-February, the voluntary strategy for corporate executives and their staff hews closely to an Aug. 28 preview. This version, however, clarifies how to balance privacy with computer surveillance. 

The policymaking has been controversial since there is talk of favoring only compliant contractors for future government business. In addition, following the most stringent new practices and technical controls could be cost-prohibitive for some companies. 

Organizations can choose to follow riskier plans, or "tiers," to save money, with the recognition that they might be more vulnerable to threats. "Organizations should determine the desired tier, ensuring that the selected levels meet the organizational goals, reduce cybersecurity risk to critical infrastructure, and are feasible and cost-effective to implement,” the guidelines state.

Obama, by executive order, directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create the optional rules after Congress repeatedly failed to broker an agreement on comprehensive cyber reforms. 

The privacy guidelines advise taking note of how the organization collects and uses personal information. “When voluntarily sharing information about cybersecurity incidents, limit disclosure of [personal information] or communications content to that which is necessary to describe or mitigate the incident,” the strategy states.

The framework focuses on "critical infrastructure" systems controlled by about 20 sectors, including the power, banking and medical industries. It does not address government-owned systems, which would have been regulated by some of the failed bills. Today’s agency cyber laws have not been updated in more than a decade. 

The policy points out that there is a dearth of advice on training private sector specialists to protect vital networks. 

"While it is widely known that there is a shortage of general cybersecurity experts, there is also a shortage of qualified cybersecurity experts with an understanding of the specific challenges posed to critical infrastructure," the guidelines state. "Greater attention is needed to help organizations understand their current and future cybersecurity workforce needs, and to develop hiring, acquisition, and training resources to raise the level of technical competence of those who build, operate, and defend systems delivering critical infrastructure services.”

Thousands of public and private sector representatives provided suggestions for the guidelines in written comments and at in-person workshops, according to NIST. The public now will have a chance to weigh in on the final draft

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