Regulatory Reality

Jul 8 2009   3:45PM GMT

How’s about a federally mandated Information Security Assessment?

David Schneier David Schneier Profile: David Schneier

I had a eureka moment recently that I’d like to share.

In considering the implications of the recently announced changes by MasterCard that will now require PCI Level 2 merchants to be assessed by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) it occurred to me that they may be onto something. Why would the credit card industry restrict who needs to be assessed based on size? Why not simply require any business entity that either issues, accepts or processes credit cards to be regularly assessed against the PCI standard by a properly trained practitioner? The size factor could come into play based on the frequency of these assessments but in general everyone would need to have one conducted.

That wasn’t the eureka moment.

It wasn’t until a day or two later, while reading about newly emerging state data privacy laws, that the clouds parted and the sun shone through. With the MasterCard news kicking around in the back of my mind, I started thinking about how these state-based laws were going to come into play, and when I tried to tie all of this back to the Obama administration’s cybersecurity plan, it happened.

What if all business entities that issue, accept or process personal information, regardless of their vertical, are required to have an information security assessment conducted (think GLBA meets NERC CIP meets PCI) by a Certified Information Security Auditor? Think about it; ISACA could be broken up with the subset that oversees the CISA process becoming federally chartered to both manage the framework and issue the certification (think PCI on steroids). The framework would include portions that are of the one-size-fits-all variety and others that are specific to an industry and would be scalable based on the size of an entity. The CISA practitioners would all be trained on the framework and how to apply it properly and would need to attend agency-sponsored seminars at least annually.

Rather than have multiple frameworks to wrestle with, business entities would be able to distill information security regulations down to a single, stronger entity (and reduce all the redundant activities that so many of my clients are forced to struggle with). It would bump the IT general controls audit up a level to encompass more than just bits and bytes and allow the entity to tie together related activities that are assessed through a single pass. And the icing on the cake is that the resulting report could also be used in place of a SAS 70 (and finally provide a modicum of consistency to the SAS 70 process as well).

But the best part of my idea is that the business entity could staff up with their own certified assessors that would not only conduct the required work, but also serve as internal advisors year-round. They’d still need to be properly certified and maintain that certification, but there would be no need to constantly pay premium prices for external firms and/or resources.

Maybe the idea was inspired by the fact that I’m just burned out a little from working on multiple compliance initiatives or maybe it stems from my concerns that true IT governance is a generation away. However, after my eureka moment and after sharing the idea with a few associates of mine I’m still liking it.

Does anyone have a direct line to the White House I can use?

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