This Guidance Identifies Federal Information Security Controls

In today’s digital age, the importance of information security cannot be overstated. As technology continues to advance, so do the threats and vulnerabilities that can compromise the security of our data. This is especially true for federal agencies, which often handle sensitive and classified information that requires the highest level of protection.

To address these concerns, the Federal government has established a framework of information security controls to help federal agencies safeguard their information and systems. This guidance, known as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), provides a set of standards and guidelines to ensure the security of federal information and information systems.

Understanding FISMA

FISMA was enacted in 2002 as part of the E-Government Act, and it has since become the cornerstone of federal information security policy. The primary goal of FISMA is to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of federal information and information systems. This is achieved through a structured approach to managing risk, implementing security controls, and monitoring the effectiveness of these controls.

Under FISMA, federal agencies are required to develop and maintain an information security program that is in compliance with the standards and guidelines provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These standards and guidelines are outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-53, which provides a comprehensive catalog of security controls for federal information systems.

Identifying Federal Information Security Controls

The NIST Special Publication 800-53 provides a detailed framework of security controls that federal agencies must implement to protect their information and information systems. The publication categorizes these controls into families, each of which addresses a specific aspect of information security. Some of the key families of security controls include:

Access Control: These controls are designed to limit access to information and information systems to authorized users, processes, or devices, and to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the information.
Audit and Accountability: These controls are focused on the collection, analysis, and retention of audit logs, and the monitoring and reporting of security-related events.
Security Assessment and Authorization: These controls are aimed at conducting security assessments of information systems and authorizing them for operation based on the assessment results and residual risk.
Configuration Management: These controls are designed to establish and maintain baseline configurations and secure configurations for information systems.
Incident Response: These controls address the preparation, detection, analysis, containment, recovery, and response to security incidents.
System and Communications Protection: These controls focus on protecting the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of information being processed, stored, or transmitted by information systems.
Security Training and Awareness: These controls are aimed at ensuring that personnel are adequately trained to perform their information security-related duties and responsibilities.

In addition to these families, NIST also provides guidance on the selection, implementation, and assessment of security controls, as well as guidance for managing information security risk. The publication is regularly updated to address emerging threats and technology trends, ensuring that federal agencies have access to the latest security controls and best practices.

Implementing Federal Information Security Controls

For federal agencies, implementing the security controls outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-53 is a significant undertaking. It requires a thorough understanding of the security requirements for the agency’s information and information systems, as well as the technical expertise to implement and manage the necessary controls.

To aid federal agencies in this effort, NIST provides additional guidance and resources to support the implementation of security controls, including:

NIST Special Publication 800-53A: This publication provides guidance on assessing the security controls in NIST Special Publication 800-53 and documenting the results of the assessments.
NIST Cybersecurity Framework: This framework provides a risk-based approach to managing cybersecurity risk and is widely used by federal agencies to improve their cybersecurity posture.
NIST Risk Management Framework: This framework provides a structured and disciplined process for managing information security risk, and it is closely aligned with FISMA and NIST Special Publication 800-53.

In addition to NIST’s guidance, federal agencies can also leverage best practices and lessons learned from other agencies and private sector organizations to enhance their information security programs. This collaborative approach helps federal agencies stay abreast of emerging threats and leverage the expertise of the wider security community.

Monitoring and Assessing Federal Information Security Controls

Implementing security controls is only the first step in ensuring the security of federal information and information systems. It is equally important for federal agencies to continuously monitor and assess the effectiveness of these controls to address evolving threats and vulnerabilities.

NIST Special Publication 800-53A provides guidance on conducting security control assessments, including the planning, conducting, documenting, and reporting of assessment results. This ongoing assessment process helps federal agencies identify weaknesses and deficiencies in their security controls, enabling them to take corrective actions to mitigate risks and strengthen their security posture.

Additionally, federal agencies are required to report the results of their security control assessments to oversight bodies, such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These reports provide transparency into the state of information security across federal agencies and enable the development of targeted strategies to address common weaknesses and vulnerabilities.


In conclusion, the guidance provided by FISMA and NIST is critical for federal agencies to safeguard their information and information systems from a wide range of threats and vulnerabilities. By implementing the security controls outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-53 and adhering to the NIST Risk Management Framework, federal agencies can establish a robust information security program that protects the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of federal information.

Furthermore, continuous monitoring and assessment of security controls are essential to address evolving threats and vulnerabilities, and to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of information security programs. By following the guidance provided by FISMA and NIST, federal agencies can stay ahead of emerging threats and maintain the highest level of security for their information and information systems.

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