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Why Privacy Pros Should Embrace NIST’s Final Cybersecurity Framework

By now the saga is familiar. After the White House tasked the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last February with developing a “Cybersecurity Framework” to reduce cybersecurity risks connected with “critical infrastructure,” a year to the day later, NIST released its final Version 1.0 of a “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” along with a companion “Roadmap” and supporting documents.

The many NIST workshops and weekly conference calls over the last year—Full disclosure: I took part in many of NIST’s working group calls—initially resulted in a draft and then 44-page preliminary framework, released last October and covered by the IAPP here. The preliminary framework spurred significant discussion and controversy during the 45-day public comment period following its release, primarily in connection with the “Privacy Methodology” depicted in Appendix B.

Although many hailed the inclusion of Appendix B in the draft, modified further in the preliminary framework, as a means for privacy professionals to gain a front-and-center seat at the cybersecurity table, others decried its expansive view of privacy’s connection to cybersecurity and associated potential negative implications for “pure” cybersecurity efforts. In particular, many commentators found the Privacy Methodology contained in Appendix B to effectively mandate use by for private entities of Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs)—not to be confused with FISMA’s required Federal Information Processing Standards—with potential negative consequences for the executive order’s separate goal of enhancing timely information sharing among critical infrastructure parties.

Rather than attempting to force the round peg of FIPPs into what may be square holes arising from a particular sector’s needs, practices and specific data stores, the framework instead firmly acknowledges cybersecurity activities that “result in the over-collection or over-retention of personal information” may negatively affect both privacy and meaningful incident detection.

The Final Framework—What It Is and What It’s Not

The now released “voluntary” framework is substantively changed from the earlier drafts and preliminary framework. For starters, NIST repeatedly stresses that the framework will be considered a “living document” to be “updated and improved as industry provides feedback” and, more significantly, NIST, acknowledging it was swimming against the consensus current, eliminated the prior privacy-focused Appendix B. While the framework still contains an Appendix B, proper, it’s essentially the previous preliminary framework’s Appendix E, Glossary, with the notable deletion of a definition for personally identifiable information.

In lieu of an in-line Privacy Methodology replete with “shalls” and “should,” NIST added a new Section 3.5, which lays out a diffuse methodology to address individual privacy that is “intended to be a general set of considerations and processes since privacy and civil liberties implications may differ by sector or over time and organizations may address these considerations and processes with a range of technical implementations.”

This marks a welcome change privacy professionals should embrace.

Now, rather than attempting to force the round peg of FIPPs into what may be square holes arising from a particular sector’s needs, practices and specific data stores, the framework instead firmly acknowledges cybersecurity activities that “result in the over-collection or over-retention of personal information” may negatively affect both privacy and meaningful incident detection.

In response, the new Section 3.5 offers a litany of “processes and activities” that “may be considered” in addressing privacy implications inherent in framework-driven cybersecurity efforts. And it’s where we, as privacy professionals, are called upon, because the litany is a laundry list of the skills and tasks IAPP members deal with daily: risk assessments; developing processes to ensure compliance with applicable privacy laws and regulations; crafting approaches to identifying privacy implications of access control measures; formulating organizational privacy policies and conducting associated training, and determining appropriate responses to necessary information sharing, including conducting “a privacy review of an organization’s cybersecurity mitigation effort.”

As entities in the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) digest the framework and ramp up implementing it as part of DHS’ voluntary Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community program, privacy professionals can expect to be in demand and busy. As NIST notes in its Roadmap, it intends to hold further workshops to share implementation experiences and identify areas for additional “development, alignment and collaboration,” specifically targeting improving authentication mechanisms, developing automated indicator sharing and achieving a FISMA-compliant cybersecurity alignment across the federal government—a daunting task.

If there’s any single heartening takeaway from the framework it’s this: The IAPP and its members will be in more demand than ever before. And we’ll have our work cut out for us.

Written By

Richard Santalesa, CIPP/US

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