Obama Administration Releases Long-Awaited Cybersecurity Guidelines and Recommendations

February 13, 2014

On February 12, 2014, exactly one year after issuing an Executive Order directing the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop a framework for promoting cybersecurity, the Obama administration released the final version of NIST’s guidelines for cybersecurity standards and practices. Spanning over 40 pages, the “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” (FICIC) (Version 1.0) sets out a series of best practices for protection of a business’ systems again cyber intrusion and other cyber risks. The FICIC closely follows the recommendations found in the preliminary draft issued by the NIST on October 22, 2013.

The new guidance, particularly directed at the nation’s critical infrastructure (including financial institutions), is based on the core principles of cybersecurity – identification, protection, detection, response and remediation. Rather than resting on repetition of these general concepts, the FICIC drills down through several levels, detailing steps a business should take to protect the integrity of its systems and data. In addition, the FICIC organizes businesses into four tiers based on their awareness of cyber risks, and their preparedness to address those risks. The FICIC is accompanied by a nine page “Roadmap for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” known as the “roadmap,” outlining the NIST’s next steps and areas in need of further attention and improvement.

Borrowing from existing standards and stressing the “flexibility” of the new guidelines, the President’s Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism characterized the FICIC as a “common language” to discuss cybersecurity. The White House further emphasized that the FICIC is a “living document” to align cybersecurity practices with the business sector and adapt to the ever-changing cyberliability landscape. 

The framework provides concrete recommendations regarding cybersecurity issues that are useful guideposts for companies and organizations to improve their policies and procedures, especially when used in conjunction with other industry standards and guidance. In particular, the framework provides specific direction for conducting and documenting periodic risk assessments. Both the framework and the roadmap may be updated and strengthened over the next 90 days to establish milestones and accountability for implementation, and to address certain areas that are noticeably absent, such as information sharing.

Although voluntary, businesses should pay close attention to the recommendations set forth in the FICIC, as they are likely to be identified as industry best practices, effectively setting the standards for evaluating a company’s cybersecurity plan. Failure to follow, much less consider, the guidelines in the FICIC may put a business at risk for cyber intrusion, decrease its ability to remain competitive, and likely will be cited as damaging evidence in a lawsuit or regulatory investigation.

Our Data Security, Privacy and Cyberliability team has extensive experience dealing with cyber incidents, and in providing practical advice to companies seeking to maximize their cybersecurity and minimize their cyberliability exposure. We welcome your questions about the FICIC, as well as any other aspect of cybersecurity risks, principles, or procedures.

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