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[ISN] Time to move beyond FISMA, CISOs say


By Jason Miller
May 23, 2007

The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) will be five 
years old in November, and it has achieved its goal of raising the 
government’s awareness of cybersecurity, federal officials say.

Some chief information security officers say agencies must move beyond 
the law’s requirements to address real-time monitoring and install 
proactive and dynamic defenses.

“We need to move above and beyond the paper exercises and see what is 
happening and evaluate ourselves against it,” said Ed Meagher, the 
Interior Department’s deputy chief information officer. “We can’t stop 
doing the reporting that FISMA requires, but we need to look for ways to 
understand what the threats are and in real time.”

Michael Castagna, the Commerce Department’s CISO, said FISMA provided 
visibility and a way to communicate security requirements to senior 
managers and other employees.

“Security must be rooted in the organization’s culture,” he said during 
a panel discussion on information technology security sponsored by Cisco 
Systems and FCW Events. “FISMA helped us put security in our governance 
processes, [such as] capital planning and investment control, IT 
investments, and enterprise architecture.”

One agency participant agreed with Meagher and Castagna that FISMA has 
succeeded in getting agencies to focus on security in their day-to-day 

Now CISOs must take a more aggressive approach to spreading the word 
about cybersecurity, Meagher said.

“The CISO community is hesitant to speak up because they feel like they 
are not at the table [with other chiefs] yet,” he said. “The one thing 
they must stop is management complacency. Telling them to do it is not 

Meagher said it is best for CISOs to be visible throughout the agency 
and have a track record of success.

“You need to know your priorities based on your mission needs,” said 
Dennis Heretick, the Justice Department’s CISO. “You then prioritize 
your requirements based on risk.”

Patrick Howard, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s CISO, 
said the agency focuses on ensuring security when planning and 
developing new systems.

“We are designing the controls at the right stage to support our 
business better,” he said. “We are trying to move out of playing 
catch-up with our older systems.”

Heretick said the risk for most agencies is at the install bases, so 
Justice is focusing on them first and using new systems to replace 
applications that cannot be updated or are too expensive to improve.

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