When it comes to cybersecurity, it’s no longer enough to rely solely on security tools and software to protect a federal agency’s proprietary data and prevent breaches.
Instead, agencies must think holistically about cybersecurity strategy to have a 360-degree view of vulnerabilities and insight into how to address them.
Solutions such as regular security maturity assessments can help agencies understand their environment and provide a best-practice approach to establishing or maintaining a cybersecurity strategy based on industry-standard frameworks.
This is critical because federal agencies are subject to a host of different frameworks, including:
Those are just a few of the programs available, but you get the idea.
A cybersecurity maturity assessment can help an agency track its progress toward the goals set by each of these programs and more.
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The Role of Maturity Assessments in Tracking Compliance
Maturity assessments can show an agency where it is on the path from its current cybersecurity status to full compliance — and after that, let an agency know that it remains compliant in a changing regulatory and cybersecurity environment.
They can also help an agency sort priorities. If the agency is short of what it must do to comply with a pending mandate or deadline, that can move to the top of the work list, for example. Or, if an agency has missed or unwittingly skipped steps along the way, that can be remediated.
These assessments are especially valuable when creating a zero-trust environment. Zero trust, as most agencies know by now, does not come fully formed in a commercial, off-the-shelf box. It’s not one tool or product — it’s a way of doing things.
EXPLORE: How agencies have been implementing zero-trust measures.
That means a security assessment looks not only at the technology involved in creating the environment, but also at the processes and procedures that keep it running.
It looks at the people working on cybersecurity. Are they following all procedures correctly? Are they up to date on changes to the guiding framework? Do they have enough training in how this new environment works?
Once the assessment is complete, an agency will have the information it needs to steer back onto the correct path or to keep moving along to its final goal. It’s the essential roadmap for the long journey to a secure cyber environment.
Why Agencies Must Schedule Regular Checkups
Assessments should be conducted on a regular basis, although the definition of “regular” may vary by agency and environment. Some agencies may want twice-yearly checks; others with more stringent security requirements may need constant assessment.
Think about a zero-trust environment, for example. No one is allowed into the network unless their identity can be verified and they have permission to be there. That environment may need to be continually monitored to make sure it’s working correctly. Zero trust is a case where automated checks may be required because of the frequency and volume of verification work.
Basically, an agency should run security maturity assessments as often as possible and as often as it can afford, to protect its network and data.
For most agencies, quarterly or biannually works best. It all depends on the value of the data and the work the agency is doing. Even smaller agencies with obviously critical data such as tax returns, health information or classified intelligence should consider security maturity assessments.
DISCOVER: How a multilayered security strategy can help improve endpoint security.
No matter the size or the mission of the agency, it’s all about the people and the processes, and how they’re being used. Making sure they’re being used correctly is important.
But when to begin? Now works, obviously, although newer systems may need to create a baseline of historical information for the assessors’ comparison purposes. Newer systems may already have some measure of security assessment built in as a stopgap until the first official assessment happens.
To be clear, the process of security maturity assessments will probably never end. Technology will continue to evolve. New vulnerabilities will appear. The guiding frameworks will need to be adapted, and agencies will need to pivot to meet those new requirements. And they’ll need new security maturity assessments to make sure they’re taking the right path.