White House pushes cybersecurity framework for critical infrastructure

The new document should help criticial infrastructure operators develop cybersecurity programs, officials say

A new cybersecurity framework released Wednesday by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration aims to help operators of critical infrastructure develop comprehensive cybersecurity programs.

The voluntary framework creates a consensus on what a good cybersecurity program looks like, senior administration officials said. The 41-page framework takes a risk management approach that allows organizations to adapt to "a changing cybersecurity landscape and responds to evolving and sophisticated threats in a timely manner," according to the document.

Organizations can use the framework to create a "credible" cybersecurity program if they don't already have one, said one senior Obama administration official. "The key message is that cybersecurity is not something you just put in place and walk away," the official said, in a background press briefing. "There's no prescription or magic bullet for cybersecurity. There are only well-conceived, proven ways of continuously managing the risks."

The framework, building on a presidential directive from a year ago, can help "companies prove to themselves and to their stakeholders that good cybersecurity can be the same thing as good business," the official said.

Obama called the framework, developed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology with input from businesses, a "turning point" in the national discussion about cybersecurity. "It's clear that much more work needs to be done to enhance our cybersecurity," he said in a statement. "Although the threats are serious and they constantly evolve, I believe that if we address them effectively, we can ensure that the Internet remains an engine for economic growth and a platform for the free exchange of ideas."

Administration officials said they hope the framework will drive changes in the way organizations deal with cybersecurity. After a series of high-profile data breaches in recent months, "it's time to try something new," an administration official said.

The framework should jump-start discussions about what cybersecurity measures are beneficial, a second official said. The document is an "incredibly powerful tool for enabling the kind of conversations that need to happen between CEOs and boards and between the government and industry," he said.

Adoption of the framework is voluntary, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has established the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community (C3) Voluntary Program to increase awareness of the framework. The C3 Voluntary Program will connect companies, as well as federal, state and local government entities, to DHS and other federal government programs that can help them manager their risks, the White House said.

Participants will be able to share lessons learned and get free tools aimed at improving their cybersecurity programs.

Some tech trade groups praised the framework, with mobile group CTIA saying it represented a "potentially important step forward." CTIA also called on Congress to pass legislation allowing companies to more easily share cyberthreat information with each other and with the government.

Internet Security Alliance President Larry Clinton praised the framework but said more action is needed.

"In Olympic terms, today marks the end of the preliminary rounds, we are on the right track but we haven't won any gold medals for cybersecurity yet," Clinton said by email. "The most important element of the effort so far is that we have moved away from trying to impose a government centric set of mandates on industry and instead are attempting to create a program based on industry developed standards and practices where voluntary adoption is motivated by market incentives."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags U.S. White HouseregulationsecurityU.S. Department of Homeland SecurityctiagovernmentBarack ObamaU.S. National Institute of Standards and Technologydata protectionInternet Security AllianceLarry Clinton

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