What is The Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA)?

The Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) is a piece of law enacted in the United States that establishes a framework of rules and security standards to preserve federal information and procedures. This risk management framework was enacted as part of the Electronic Government Act of 2002, and it has since been revised and changed.

Since 2002, the scope of FISMA has been expanded to include state agencies that administer federal programs and private enterprises and service providers that have a contract with the United States government. Non-compliance may result in reduced federal funds or other consequences.

The Electronic Government Act was enacted to better the administration of electronic government services and procedures and control federal spending on data security. FISMA was one of the most important laws enacted as part of the Electronic Government Act because it established a mechanism for reducing government data security threats while prioritizing cost-effectiveness. 

FISMA, in particular, mandates federal agencies and others to design, record, and implement agency-wide information security strategies. These programs should be capable of safeguarding confidential material. The legislation also delegated some tasks to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Agency officials should conduct annual assessments of an agency's information security program, such as chief information officers and inspector generals, and such reviews should be reported to OMB. The data will subsequently be used by OMB to help in its oversight obligations, as well as to send yearly reports to congress.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is in charge of generating information about standards and recommendations, such as special protection criteria.

What Does FISMA Necessarily Require?

Federal agencies must establish information security safeguards that are proportionate to the risk and extent of the harm caused by unauthorized access, use, disclosure, interruption, alteration, or destruction of:

  • information gathered/maintained by or on behalf of a government agency
  • Information systems utilized or operated by an organization or on its behalf by a contractor of an agency or another entity. 

Furthermore, government agencies must comply with the information security standards and recommendations and the necessary NIST requirements.

FISMA Applies to Whom?

Federal agencies, subcontractors, or other sources offer data security for the agency's information and information systems that support the institution's activities and properties.

FISMA Compliance

FISMA delegated authority to several entities to maintain data security in the federal government. The legislation mandates that program leaders, as well as the head of each agency, undertake yearly assessments of information security programs with the goal of maintaining risks at or below defined acceptable levels in a cost-effective, timely, and efficient way. The NIST lists several stages toward FISMA compliance:

  • Risk classification. Information systems should be classified according to the goals that offer an adequate level of security. Categorization should be done in the order of risk degree to ensure sensitive information is secure.
  • Determine the bare minimum of baseline controls. Federal systems must meet minimum security standards. Not all security controls must be satisfied, just those that are most relevant to the individual organization and the technologies it employs.
  • Include the policies in the system security policy. An overview of all the systems and information used, as well as the interfaces between systems and networks, should be preserved. Documentation on the minimum controls used to safeguard these systems should also be maintained. Following that, security measures should be installed in suitable information systems.
  • Use a risk assessment method to fine-tune controls. This should be conducted to confirm security controls and decide whether further controls are required. Once the security controls have been established, evaluate their efficacy.
  • In order to get licensure, program officials and agency leaders must undertake annual security evaluations. This serves as a kind of security certification. A system's accreditation will be demonstrated by certification. 
  • Regularly review the security controls. Accredited systems are expected to monitor their systems on a continuous basis. This should allow companies to respond to security problems or data breaches more rapidly. If there are any modifications, the documentation should be revised. Status reporting, system integration, security measures, and any modifications made to a system should all be part of continuous monitoring.

What are the Risks of Non-compliance with FIMSA?

Non-compliance with FISMA has the major consequence of losing government contracts or money, as well as congressional censure. However, in the middle of the digital era, non-compliance with FISMA might have a number of additional implications. One of these effects is harm to one's reputation. As consumers continue to demand greater transparency from the organizations and enterprises with whom they interact, cybersecurity failings can be linked to overall company failure.

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