Forthcoming cybersecurity framework to address privacy

Since the most recent draft came out in October, a sharpened focus on privacy has evolved.

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology is expected to release a final version of the cybersecurity framework this week, and the latest iteration will likely include an increased focus on privacy.

Mandated under an executive order President Barack Obama issued last February, the framework is designed to improve cybersecurity for critical infrastructure in both the public and private sectors. NIST has released a series of preliminary versions in the past year and solicited feedback from industry and the cybersecurity community through workshops held nationwide.

The result of that highly collaborative approach is a broad -- some say too broad -- comprehensive framework. Since the most recent draft was released in October, a sharpened focus on privacy has been a key area of the framework's evolution, according to many involved in the development.

"It seems most of the framework core will remain pretty much as it was and that the section that has been changed substantially is the privacy and civil liberties section," said Harriet Pearson, a partner in the privacy and information management practice at Washington-based law firm Hogan Lovells. "It's focused on steps organizations can take to make sure that privacy implications are addressed in the governance of cybersecurity risks and on cybersecurity activities that might implicate privacy as opposed to being more open-ended, which was one of the issues that the preliminary framework posed."

In earlier versions, the framework was vague on privacy and its methodologies, in contrast to other sections that were more outcome-oriented and goal-specific, Pearson added. She and others involved in the framework's development said the forthcoming version better integrates privacy concerns into the cyber discussion, including the best ways to address the issues across communities.

"People are myopically concerned with privacy, so expect to see that come out a lot stronger here," said Sedar Lebarre, a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton. "We're hoping for a model that articulates the importance and where privacy can be achieved, but is not a new set of controls. I think we can achieve privacy and security in a harmonious fashion, but we're seeing a lot of organizations that in our estimation are spending a lot of money on pursuing redundant activities in privacy and security."

If it's done right, the framework could provide a process-based approach that targets the areas critical to addressing privacy in cybersecurity, which include governance, continuous monitoring and information sharing, Pearson said.

"If you have program and are governing that kind of risk, is privacy part of that governance?" she asked. "When you look for anomalous events when monitoring systems, there are some privacy implications with that, so do you have a process to recognize and address them? If you're going to engage in information sharing with third parties, including the government, to identify threats and anticipate attacks on your system, do you have privacy considerations as part of that? Are you at the same time embedding privacy considerations in training?"

NIST is due to release the latest version of the framework on Feb. 13.