What Guidance Identifies Federal Information Security Controls: Importance and Challenges

Securing information systems is of paramount importance in a world that has been digitalized beyond recognition if you have not been following the epic change. Federal information security controls indicate that even the government is responsive to this change. 

These controls have been designed to act as a critical shield against ever-evolving cybersecurity threats to make sure that federal information systems can ensure their confidentiality, integrity, and availability to make sure that sensitive government data is secure. 

In this blog post, we will be looking at what guidance identifies federal information security controls, what is their significance, how they are recommended to be implemented, any challenges that entities are likely to face while implementing these, and what are the future trends that these controls need to be aligned with. But first, let’s see the legislation governing federal information systems security controls. 

What is FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act)?

The overarching legislation that sets the framework and security standards to be followed for the protection of government information systems is the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002. 

This act, along with the Electronic Government Act, requires Federal departments and agencies to develop and implement agency-wide information systems security programs. 

Offices like the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Office of Management and Budget have also been entrusted with information security responsibilities. For example, OMB will use the data maintained by agency officials to review and forward annual reports to Congress. 

NIST has been assigned to develop information security standards, guidelines and minimum security requirements for federal government agencies.

Non-compliance with FISMA may attract penalties for government agencies and associated departments/companies in the form of censure by Congress, or a reduction in federal funding and of course reputational damage. 

Understanding Federal Information Security Controls

Federal Information Security Controls, also called FISC, are a collection of standards, guidelines, procedures and policies that have been designed with the aim of protection of government information systems. They form the cybersecurity backbone of the federal government in pursuance of security of sensitive data. 

Importance of FISC

Federal information security controls are of importance because of the following three reasons: 

1. National Security: They are designed to keep national security in mind because federal information systems have confidential, classified or sensitive data. Any successful breach or unauthorized access could prove catastrophic for national security. 

2. Citizen data protection: Governments have access to huge troves of personal data of citizens which is very sensitive in nature. For example, government systems have social security numbers, medical records, tax records or other financial information. 

3. Economic implications: Protection of federal government systems is also important because a breach of federal systems could disrupt many government services, which will lead to economic instability and eroded public confidence in the incumbent government’s ability to protect cyberspace of the country. 

Most Important Federal Information Security Controls

NIST Special Publication 800-53 sets the security and privacy controls for the Federal Information Systems that the federal agencies need to be in compliance of. 

However, it should be noted that not all controls in this document are applicable to every agency or its systems. Agencies need to assess their risk areas and tailor controls based on their own requirements. This process of tailoring controls ensures that every federal agency has a security posture that is in alignment with its risk profile. 

It is also vital to understand that FISC is not a set-and-forget process. The threat landscape is continuously evolving. Therefore, regular monitoring and assessment is crucial to adapt to these changing ground risks. Agencies should regularly review and update their controls in line with the newly identified vulnerabilities and emerging risks.

 Implementation of Federal Information Security Controls

A multifaceted approach is needed to implement a whole range of controls. Some of the major control groups that need to be addressed are: 

  1. Access Controls
  2. Encryption
  3. Incident Response
  4. Secure software development
  5. Security Training
  6. Update and patch management
  7. Compliance audits
  8. Challenges in Implementation

Implementation of federal information security controls is not a straightforward exercise. Some of the common challenges faced while implementing FISc include: 

1. Budget constraints: Federal government agencies operate within tight budgetary space. Therefore, the allocation of enough resources to cybersecurity is challenging. When funds are not sufficient, it can lead to archaic technology, understaffing, and inadequate security measures being taken. 

2. Ever-evolving threat landscape: Hackers are always one step ahead of cybersecurity managers. This continuously evolving threat landscape and the use of ever more sophisticated and unpredictable methods are a constant challenge. Continuous monitoring, threat intelligence, and rapid adaptation to security challenges is needed. 

3.  Legacy systems: A lot of times, the government is not swift in adopting technology. Therefore, many government departments still rely on legacy IT systems, which sometimes may not be equipped with modern security features. Because of budgetary constraints, upgrading or replacing these legacy systems can be challenging. 

4. Workforce shortages: Skilled cybersecurity professionals are in short supply in public as well as private sectors. It can be a serious challenge to attract and retain the best talent to manage the security of federal information systems. 

5. Interagency coordination: Since the government’s size is huge, adequate information security often requires collaboration and coordination between many government agencies. Coordinating efforts and sharing information between different agencies can be a logistical challenge. 

Future Trends in Federal Information Security Controls

As technology never stops from innovation therefore, it is crucial that federal information security controls also keep evolving. Some of the future trends that need to be reflected in these controls are: 

1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: Increasing use of AI, and ML requires special controls. At the same time, these futuristic technologies can also be used to enhance security controls by using their ability to analyze vast amounts of data to detect potential threats and anomalies, even in real-time. 

2. Zero Trust Architecture: This is a new security paradigm that is based on zero trust even within the own network. Controls may be based on this architecture in the future because it banks on strict identity verification, regardless of presence within or outside the network perimeter of the federal agency. 

3. Cloud security: With the fast-paced migration of governments to host their services and data on the cloud, ensuring cloud security has become paramount. Controls and strategies that are cloud-specific have been quickly gaining prominence. 


Federal information security controls are at the root of safeguarding and protecting the nation’s sensitive data. Identifying and implementing them is crucial in ensuring and maintaining a secure digital space for federal government systems. With the constantly evolving technology, the commitment from the government to securing its systems should also remain steadfast.

Though there can be challenges by trying to remain innovative by providing necessary resources and ensuring collaboration between government agencies, the challenges of federal information security can be successfully navigated. 

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