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Obama Administration-led data-classification overhaul to bring benefits, costs, disruption

New standard for 'controlled unclassified information' expected to have wide impact on IT and physical security

By , Network World
September 26, 2013 10:51 AM ET

Network World - Chicago -- The Obama Administration's push to overhaul how the feds share sensitive -- but not "classified" -- information is expected to come to fruition next year as a major regulatory change with huge consequences to federal agencies and their contractors.

When President Obama signed Executive Order 13556 in 2010, he set in motion a reform process intended to move federal agencies away from the many different ways each has set up to handle IT and physical security associated with sharing all sorts of information that’s restricted but unclassified with the wider public, other agencies and foreign governments. This might include anything from taxpayer data to patent information to specifics about how nuclear materials are handled.

The Obama Administration’s “Controlled Unclassified Information” (CUI) program, as it’s known, was established in order to come up with a uniform process for how to properly share and protect data, whether it’s in a computer or stored in filing cabinets and delivered by courier. While uniformity in what agencies do may have long-term benefits, the advent next year of what’s expected to be a new CUI standard is also anticipated to be disruptive and expensive for federal agencies and their many contractors that will have to change both physical and IT systems and practices.

“The agencies will have to discontinue some practices,” acknowledges John Fitzpatrick, director of the information security oversight office at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the agency spearheading the government-wide change process over CUI in coordination with the office of Management & Budget and the president.

[PROTECTION: Single system melds physical security monitoring at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute]

Fitzpatrick is candid in declaring there will be an impact on information systems and physical security processes that agencies have grown accustomed to as each follows their own way to share unclassified but restricted data.

Speaking at the ASIS Conference in Chicago this week, Fitzpatrick said NARA has already conducted the extensive process of analyzing categories of unclassified but restricted information with agency input. He said NARA has defined 22 categories and many more sub-categories, ranging broadly from “agriculture” to “copyright” to “law enforcement” to “NATO” to “financial” to “information systems vulnerability information” and “tax.” The agencies have been asked to tell NARA not only how they protect and share unclassified information, but what regulations, statutes and laws govern their processes. Some have found this to be a hard task and aren’t sure why they do certain things at all, he noted.

The agencies will have to discontinue some practices.

This “inventory of practices” phase is basically done and there’s now a draft CUI rule that is going to undergo a comment process while agencies also provide input on how their IT and physical security processes will change to adapt to any new CUI standard that emerges next year.

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