AND PLANNING IN THE COMPUTER SYSTEM LIFE CYCLE
Like other aspects of
information processing systems, security is most effective and efficient
if planned and managed throughout a computer system's life cycle,
from initial planning, through design, implementation, and operation,
to disposal.65 Many security-relevant
events and analyses occur during a system's life. This chapter explains
the relationship among them and how they fit together.66
It also discusses the important role of security planning in helping
to ensure that security issues are addressed comprehensively.
This chapter examines:
- system security plans,
- the components of
the computer system life cycle,
- the benefits of integrating
security into the computer system life cycle, and
- techniques for addressing
security in the life cycle
8.1 Computer Security
Act Issues for Federal Systems
Planning is used to help
ensure that security is addressed in a comprehensive manner throughout
a system's life cycle. For federal systems, the Computer Security
Act of 1987 set forth a statuary requirement for the preparation
of computer security plans for all sensitive systems.67
The intent and spirit of the Act is to improve computer security
in the federal government, not to create paperwork. In keeping with
this intent, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and NIST
have guided agencies toward a planning process that emphasizes good
planning and management of computer security within an agency and
for each computer system. As emphasized in this chapter, computer
security management should be a part of computer systems
management. The benefit of having a distinct computer security plan
is to ensure that computer security is not overlooked.
purpose of the system security plan is to provide a basic
overview of the security and privacy requirements of the subject
system and the agency's plan for meeting those requirements.
The system security plan may also be viewed as documentation
of the structured process of planning adequate, cost-effective
security protection for a system."
The act required the
submission of plans to NIST and the National Security Agency (NSA)
for review and comment, a process which has been complemented. Current
guidance on implementing the Act requires agencies to obtain independent
review of computer security plans. This review may be internal or
external, as deemed appropriate by the agency.
plan briefly describes the important security considerations for
the system and provides references to more detailed documents, such
as system security plans, contingency plans, training programs,
accreditation statements, incident handling plans, or audit results.
This enables the plan to be used as a management tool without requiring
repetition of existing documents. For smaller systems, the addresses
specific vulnerabilities or other information that could compromise
the system, it should be kept private. It also has to be kept up-to-date.
8.2 Benefits of Integrating
Security in the Computer System Life Cycle
people can provide security input throughout the life cycle
of a system, including the accrediting official, data users,
systems users, and system technical staff.
Although a computer security
plan can be developed for a system at any point in the life cycle,
the recommended approach is to draw up the plan at the beginning
of the computer system life cycle. Security, like other aspects
of a computer system, is best managed if planned for throughout
the computer system life cycle. It has been a tenet of the computer
community that it costs ten times more to add a feature in a system
after it has been designed than to include the feature in
the system at the initial design phase. The principal reason for
implementing security during a system's development is that it is
more difficult to implement it later (as is usually reflected in
the higher cost of doing so). It also tends to disrupt ongoing operations.
Security also needs to
be incorporated into the later phases of the computer system life
cycle to help ensure that security keeps up with changes in the
system's environment, technology, procedures, and personnel. It
also ensures that security is considered in system upgrades, including
the purchase of new components or the design of new modules. Adding
new security controls to a system after a security breach, mishap,
or audit can lead to haphazard security that can be more expensive
and less effective that security that is already integrated into
the system. It can also significantly degrade system performance.
Of course, it is virtually impossible to anticipate the whole array
of problems that may arise during a system's lifetime. Therefore,
it is generally useful to update the computer security plan at least
at the end of each phase in the life cycle and after each re-accreditation.
For many systems, it may be useful to update the plan more often.
Life cycle management
also helps document security-relevant decisions, in addition to
helping assure management that security is fully considered in all
phases. This documentation benefits system management officials
as well as oversight and independent audit groups. System management
personnel use documentation as a self-check reminder of why decisions
were made so that the impact of changes in the environment can be
more easily assessed. Oversight and independent audit groups use
the documentation in their reviews to verify that system management
has done an adequate job and to highlight areas where security may
have been overlooked. This includes examining whether the documentation
accurately reflects how the system is actually being operated.
Within the federal government,
the Computer Security Act of 1987 and its implementing instructions
provide specific requirements for computer security plans. These
plans are a form of documentation that helps ensure that security
is considered not only during system design and development but
also throughout the rest of the life cycle. Plans can also be used
to be sure that requirements of Appendix III to OMB Circular A-130,
as well as other applicable requirements, have been addressed.
8.3 Overview of the
Computer System Life Cycle
There are many models
for the computer system life cycle but most contain five basic phases,
as pictured in Figure 8.1.
During the initiation phase, the need for a system is expressed
and the purpose of the system is documented.
During this phase the system is designed, purchased, programmed,
developed, or otherwise constructed. This phase often consists
of other defined cycles, such as the system development cycle
or the acquisition cycle
After initial system testing, the system is installed or fielded.
During this phase the system performs its work. The system is
almost always modified by the addition of hardware and software
and by numerous other events.
- Disposal. The
computer system is disposed of once the transition to a new computer
system is completed.
different "life cycles" are associated with computer
systems, including the system development, acquisition, and
information life cycles.
Each phase can apply
to an entire system, a new component or module, or a system upgrade.
As with other aspects of systems management, the level of detail
and analysis for each activity described here is determined by many
factors including size, complexity, system cost, and sensitivity.
Many people find the
concept of a computer system life cycle confusing because many cycles
occur within the broad framework of the entire computer system
life cycle. For example, an organization could develop a system,
using a system development life cycle. During the system's
life, the organization might purchase new components, using the
acquisition life cycle.
Moreover, the computer
system life cycle itself is merely one component of other life cycles.
For example, consider the information life cycle. Normally
information, such as personnel data, is used much longer than the
life of one computer system. If an employee works for an organization
for thirty years and collects retirement for another twenty, the
employee's automated personnel record will probably pass through
many different organizational computer systems owned by the company.
In addition, parts of the information will also be used in other
computer systems, such as those of the Internal Revenue Service
and the Social Security Administration.
8.4 Security Activities
in the Computer System Life Cycle68
This section reviews
the security activities that arise in each stage of the computer
system life cycle. (See Figure 8.1.)
The conceptual and early
design process of a system involves the discovery of a need for
a new system or enhancements to an existing system; early ideas
as to system characteristics and proposed functionality; brainstorming
sessions on architectural, performance, or functional system aspects;
and environmental, financial, political, or other constraints. At
the same time, the basic security aspects of a system should
be developed along with the early system design. This can be done
through a sensitivity assessment.
in the System Life Cycle
life cycle process described in this chapter consists of
five separate phases. Security issues are present in each.
definition of sensitive is often misconstrued. Sensitive
is synonymous with important or valuable. Some
data is sensitive because it must be kept confidential. Much
more data, however, is sensitive because its integrity or availability
must be assured. The Computer Security Act and OMB Circular
A-130 clearly state that information is sensitive if its unauthorized
disclosure, modification (i.e., loss of integrity), or unavailability
would harm the agency. In general, the more important a system
is to the mission of the agency, the more sensitive it is.
22.214.171.124 Conducting a
A sensitivity assessment
looks at the sensitivity of both the information to be processed
and the system itself. The assessment should consider legal implications,
organization policy (including federal and agency policy if a federal
system), and the functional needs of the system. Sensitivity is
normally expressed in terms of integrity, availability, and confidentiality.
Such factors as the importance of the system to the organization's
mission and the consequences of unauthorized modification, unauthorized
disclosure, or unavailability of the system or data need to be examined
when assessing sensitivity. To address these types of issues, the
people who use or own the system or information should participate
in the assessment.
A sensitivity assessment
should answer the following questions:
- What information is
handled by the system?
- What kind of potential
damage could occur through error, unauthorized disclosure or modification,
or unavailability of data or the system?
- What laws or regulations
affect security (e.g., the Privacy Act or the Fair Trade Practices
- To what threats is
the system or information particularly vulnerable?
- Are there significant
environmental considerations (e.g., hazardous location of system)?
- What are the security-relevant
characteristics of the user community (e.g., level of technical
sophistication and training or security clearances)?
- What internal security
standards, regulations, or guidelines apply to this system?
The sensitivity assessment
starts an analysis of security that continues throughout the life
cycle. The assessment helps determine if the project needs special
security oversight, if further analysis is needed before committing
to begin system development (to ensure feasibility at a reasonable
cost), or in rare instances, whether the security requirements are
so strenuous and costly that system development or acquisition will
not be pursued. The sensitivity assessment can be included with
the system initiation documentation either a separate document or
as a section of another planning document. The development of security
features, procedures, and assurances, described in the next section,
builds on the sensitivity assessment.
A sensitivity assessment
can also be performed during the planning stagers of system upgrades
(for either upgrades being procured or developed in house). In this
case, the assessment focuses on the affected areas. If the upgrade
significantly affects the original assessment, steps can be taken
to analyze the impact on the rest of the system. For example, are
new controls needed? Will some controls become necessary?
For most systems, the
development/acquisition phase is more complicated than the initiation
phase. Security activities can be divided into three parts:
security features, assurances, and operational practices;
these security requirements into design specifications; and
- actually acquiring
These divisions apply
to systems that are designed and built in house, to systems that
are purchased, and to systems developed using a hybrid approach.
During the phase, technical
staff and system sponsors should actively work together to ensure
that the technical designs reflect the system's security needs.
As with development and incorporation of other system requirements,
this process requires an open dialogue between technical staff and
system sponsors. It is important to address security requirements
effectively in synchronization with development of the overall system.
During the first part
of the development / acquisition phase, system planners define the
requirements of the system. Security requirements should be developed
at the same time. These requirements can be expressed as technical
features (e.g., access controls), assurances (e.g., background checks
for system developers), or operational practices (e.g., awareness
and training). System security requirements, like other system requirements,
are derived from a number of sources including law, policy, applicable
standards and guidelines, functional needs of the system, and cost-benefit
Law. Besides specific
laws that place security requirements on information, such as the
Privacy Act of 1974, there are laws, court cases, legal options,
and other similar legal material that may affect security directly
Policy. As discussed
in Chapter 5, management officials issue several different types
of policy. System security requirements are often derived from issue-specific
Standards and Guidelines.
International, national, and organizational standards and guidelines
are another source for determining security features, assurances,
and operational practices. Standards and guidelines are often written
in an "if
then" manner (e.g., if the system is encrypting
data, then a particular cryptographic algorithm should be used).
Many organizations specify baseline controls for different types
of systems, such as administrative, mission- or business- critical,
or proprietary. As required, special care should be given to interoperability
Functional Needs of
the System. The purpose of security is to support the function
of the system, not to undermine it. Therefore, many aspects of the
function of the system will produce related security requirements.
When considering security, cost-benefit analysis is done through
risk assessment, which examines the assets, threats, and vulnerabilities
of the system in order to determine the most appropriate, cost-effective
safeguards (that comply with applicable laws, policy, standards,
and the functional needs of the system). Appropriate safeguards
are normally those whose anticipated benefits outweigh their costs.
Benefits and cost include monetary and nonmonetary issues, such
as prevented losses, maintaining an organization's reputation, decreased
user friendliness, or increased system administration.
Risk assessment, like
cost-benefit analysis, is used to support decision-making. It helps
managers select cost-effective safeguards. The extent of the risk
assessment, like that of other cost-benefit analyses, should be
commensurate with the complexity and cost (normally an indicator
of complexity) of the system and the expected benefits of the
assessment. Risk assessment is further discussed n Chapter 7.
Risk assessment can be
performed during the requirements analysis phase of a procurement
or the design phase of a system development cycle. Risk should also
normally be assessed during the development/acquisition phase of
a system upgrade. The risk assessment may be performed once or multiple
times, depending upon the projects methodology.
Care should be taken
in differentiating between security risk assessment and project
risk analysis. Many system development and acquisition projects
analyze the risk of failing to successfully complete the project
- a different activity from security risk assessment.
Security Requirements Into Specifications
features, assurances, and operational practices can yield significant
security information and often voluminous requirements. This information
needs to be validated, updated, and organized into the detailed
security protection requirements and specifications used by systems
designers or purchasers. Specifications can take on quite different
forms, depending on the methodology used for to develop the system,
or whether the system, or parts of the system, are being purchased
off the shelf.
testing specifications early can be critical to being able to
cost-effectively test security features.
As specifications are
developed, it may be necessary to update initial risk assessments.
A safeguard recommended by the risk assessment could be incompatible
with other requirements or a control may be difficult to implement.
For example, a security requirement that prohibits dial-in access
could prevent employees from checking their e-mail while away from
Besides the technical
and operational controls of a system, assurance also should be addressed.
The degree to which assurance (that the security features and practices
can and do work correctly and effectively) is needed should be determined
early. Once the desired level of assurance is determined, it is
necessary to figure out how the system will be tested or reviewed
to determine whether the specifications have been satisfied (to
obtain the desired assurance). This applies to both system developments
and acquisitions. For example, if rigorous assurance is needed,
the ability to test the system or to provide another form of initial
and ongoing assurance needs to be designed into the system or otherwise
provided for. See Chapter 9 for more information.
126.96.36.199 Obtaining the
System and Related Security Activities
During this phase, the
system is actually built or bought. If the system is being built,
security activities may include developing the system's security
aspects, monitoring the development process itself for security
problems, responding to changes, and monitoring threat. Threats
or vulnerabilities that may arise during the development phase include
Trojan horses, incorrect code, poorly functioning development tools,
manipulation of code, and malicious insiders.
If the system is being
acquired off the shelf, security activities may include monitoring
to ensure security is a part of market surveys, contract solicitation
documents, and evaluation of proposed systems. Many systems use
a combination of development and acquisition. In this case, security
activities include both sets.
federal government contracting, it is often useful if personnel
with security expertise participate as members of the source
selection board to help evaluate the security aspects of proposals.
As the system is built
or bought, choices are made about the system, which can affect security.
These choices include selection of specific off-the-shelf products,
finalizing an architecture, or selecting a processing site or platform.
Additional security analysis will probably be necessary.
In addition to obtaining
the system, operational practices need to be developed. These refer
to human activities that take place around the system such as contingency
planning, awareness and training, and preparing documentation. The
chapters in the Operational Controls section of this handbook discuss
these areas. These areas, like technical specifications, should
be considered from the beginning of the development and acquisition
A separate implementation
phase is not always specified in some life cycle planning efforts.
(It is often incorporated into the end of development and acquisition
or the beginning of operation and maintenance.) However, from a
security point of view, a critical security activity, accreditation,
occurs between development and the start of system operation. The
other activities described in this section, turning on the controls
and testing, are often incorporated at the end of the development/acquisition
While obvious, this activity
is often overlooked. When acquired, a system often comes with security
features disabled. These need to be enabled and configured. For
many systems this is a complex task requiring significant skills.
Custom-developed systems may also require similar work.
188.8.131.52 Security Testing
System security testing
includes both the testing of the particular parts of the system
that have been developed or acquired and the testing of the entire
system. Security management, physical facilities, personnel, procedures,
the use of commercial or in-house services (such as networking services),
and contingency planning are examples of areas that affect the security
of the entire system, but may be specified outside of the development
or acquisition cycle. Since only items within the development of
acquisition cycle will have been tested during system acceptance
testing, separate tests or reviews may need to be performed for
these additional security elements.
is a formal testing of the security safeguards implemented in the
computer system to determine whether they meet applicable requirements
and specifications.70 To provide more
reliable technical information, certification is often performed
by an independent reviewer, rather than by the people who designed
System security accreditation
is the formal authorization by the accrediting (management) official
for system operation and an explicit acceptance of risk. It is usually
supported by a review of the system, including its management, operational,
and technical controls. This review may include a detailed technical
evaluation (such as a Federal Information Processing Standard 102
certification, particularly for complex, critical, or high-risk
systems), security evaluation, risk assessment, audit, or other
such review. If the life cycle process is being used to manage a
project (such as a system upgrade), it is important to recognize
that the accreditation is for the entire system, not just for the
with (Organization Directive), I hereby issue an accreditation
for (name of system). This accreditation is my formal declaration
that a satisfactory level of operational security is present
and that the system can operate under reasonable risk. This
accreditation is valid for three years. The system will be
re-evaluated annually to determine if changes have occurred
affecting its security.
The best way to view
computer security accreditation is as a form of quality control.
It forces managers and technical staff to work together to find
the best fit for security, given technical constraints, operational
constraints, and mission requirements. The accreditation process
obliges managers to make critical decisions regarding the adequacy
of security safeguards. A decision based on reliable information
about the effectiveness of technical and non-technical safeguards
and the residual risk is more likely to be a sound decision.
After deciding on the
acceptability of security safeguards and residual risks, the accrediting
official should issue a formal accreditation statement. While most
flaws in system security are not severe enough to remove an operational
system from service or to prevent a new system from becoming operational,
the flaws may require some restrictions on operation (e.g., limitations
on dial-in access or electronic connections to other organizations).
In some cases, an interim accreditation may be granted, allowing
the system to operate requiring review at the end of the interim
period, presumably after security upgrades have been made.
8.4.4 Operation and
Many security activities
take place during the operational phase of a system's life. In general
these fall into three areas: (1) security operations and administration;
(2) operational assurance; and (3) periodic re-analysis of the security.
Figure 8.2 diagrams the flow of security activities during the operational
184.108.40.206 Security Operations
Operation of a system
involves many security activities discussed throughout this handbook.
Performing backups, holding training classes, managing cryptographic
keys, keeping up with user administration and access privileges,
and updating security software are some examples.
assurance examines whether a system is operated according to
its current security requirements. This includes both the actions
of people who operate or use the system and the functioning
of technical controls.
Security is never
perfect when a system is implemented. In addition, system users
and operators discover new ways to intentionally or unintentionally
bypass or subvert security. Changes in the system or the environment
can create new vulnerabilities. Strict adherence to procedures is
rare over time, and procedures become outdated. Thinking risk is
minimal, users may tend to bypass security measures and procedures.
As shown in Figure 8.2,
changes occur. Operational assurance is one way of becoming aware
of these changes whether they are new vulnerabilities (or old vulnerabilities
that have not been corrected), system changes, or environmental
changes. Operational assurance is the process of reviewing an operational
system to see that security controls, both automated and manual,
are functioning correctly and effectively.
To maintain operational
assurance, organizations use two basic methods: system audits
and monitoring. These terms are used loosely within the computer
security community and often overlap. A system audit is a one-time
or periodic event to evaluate security. Monitoring refers to an
ongoing activity that examines either the system or the users. In
general, the more "real-time" an activity is, the more
it falls into the category of monitoring. (See Chapter 9.)
the operational phase of a system life cycle, major and
minor changes will occur. This figure diagrams appropriate
responses to change to help ensure the continued security
of the system at a level acceptable to the accrediting official.
220.127.116.11 Managing Change
change management helps develop new security requirements.
Computer systems and
the environments in which they operate change continually. In response
to various events such as user complaints, availability of new features
and services, or the discovery of new threats and vulnerabilities,
system managers and users modify the system and incorporate new
features, new procedures, and software updates.
The environment in which
the system operates also changes. Networking and interconnections
tend to increase. A new user group may be added, possibly external
groups or anonymous groups. New threats may emerge, such as increases
in network intrusions or the spread of personal computer viruses.
If the system has a configuration control board or other structure
to manage technical system changes, a security specialist can be
assigned to the board to make determinations about whether (and
if so, how) changes will affect security.
Security should also
be considered during system upgrades (and other planned changes)
and in determining the impact of unplanned changes. As shown in
Figure 8.2, when a change occurs or is planned, a determination
is made whether the change is major or minor. A major change, such
as reengineering the structure of the system, significantly affects
the system. Major changes often involve the purchase of new hardware,
software, or services or the development of new software modules.
An organization does
not need to have a specific cutoff for major-minor change decisions.
A sliding scale between the two can be implemented by using a combination
of the following methods:
- Major change.
A major change requires analysis to determine security requirements.
The process described above can be used, although the analysis
may focus only on the area(s) in which the change has occurred
or will occur. If the original analysis and system changes have
been documented throughout the life cycle, the analysis will normally
be much easier. Since these changes result in significant system
acquisitions, development work, or changes in policy, the system
should be reaccredited to ensure that the residual risk is still
- Minor change.
Many of the changes made to a system do not require the extensive
analysis performed for major changes, but do require some analysis.
Each change can involve a limited risk assessment that weighs
the pros (benefits) and cons (costs) and that can even be performed
on-the-fly at meetings. Even if the analysis is conducted informally,
decisions should still be appropriately documented. This process
recognizes that even "small" decisions should be risk-based.
18.104.22.168 Periodic Reaccreditation
Periodically, it is useful
to formally reexamine the security of a system from a wider perspective.
The analysis, which leads to reaccredidation, should address such
questions as: Is the security still sufficient? Are major changes
is important to consider legal requirements for records retention
when disposing of computer systems. For federal systems, system
management officials should consult with their agency office
responsible for retaining and archiving federal records.
The reaccredidation should
address high-level security and management concerns as well as the
implementation of the security. It is not always necessary to perform
a new risk assessment or certification in conjunction with the re-accreditation,
but the activities support each other (and both need be performed
periodically). The more extensive system changes have been, the
more extensive the analyses should be (e.g., a risk assessment or
re-certification). A risk assessment is likely to uncover security
concerns that result in system changes. After the system has been
changed, it may need testing (including certification). Management
then reaccredits the system for continued operation if the risk
electronic information is easy to copy and transmit, information
that is sensitive to disclosure often needs to be controlled
throughout the computer system life cycle so that managers
can ensure its proper disposition. The removal of information
from a storage medium (such as a hard disk or tape) is called
sanitization. Different kinds of sanitization provide
different levels of protection. A distinction can be made
between clearing information (rendering it unrecoverable by
keyboard attack) and purging (rendering information unrecoverable
against laboratory attack). There are three general methods
of purging media: overwriting, degaussing (for magnetic media
only), and destruction.
The disposal phase of
the computer system life cycle involves the disposition of information,
hardware, and software. Information may be moved to another system,
archived, discarded, or destroyed. When archiving information, consider
the method for retrieving the information in the future. The technology
used to create the records may not be readily available in the future.
Hardware and software
can be sold, given away, or discarded. There is rarely a need to
destroy hardware, except for some storage media containing confidential
information that cannot be sanitized without destruction. The disposition
of software needs to be in keeping with its license or other agreements
with the developer, if applicable. Some licenses are site-specific
or contain other agreements that prevent the software from being
Measures may also have
to be taken for the future use of data that has been encrypted,
such as taking appropriate steps to ensure the secure long-term
storage of cryptographic keys.
Like many management
controls, life cycle planning relies upon other controls. Three
closely linked control areas are policy, assurance, and risk management.
Policy. The development
of system-specific policy is an integral part of determining the
life cycle management provides assurance that security is appropriately
considered in system design and operation.
The maintenance of security throughout the operational phase of
a system is a process of risk management: analyzing risk, reducing
risk, and monitoring safeguards. Risk assessment is a critical element
in designing the security of systems and in reaccreditations.
8.6 Cost Considerations
Security is a factor
throughout the life cycle of a system. Sometimes security choices
are made by default, without anyone analyzing why choices are made;
sometimes security choices are made carefully, based on analysis.
The first case is likely to result in a system with poor security
that is susceptible to many types of loss. In the second case, the
cost of life cycle management should be much smaller than
the losses avoided. The major cost considerations for life cycle
management are personnel costs and some delays as the system progresses
through the life cycle for completing analyses and reviews and obtaining
It is possible to overmanage
a system: to spend more time planning, designing, and analyzing
risk than is necessary. Planning, by itself, does not further the
mission or business of an organization. Therefore, while security
life cycle management can yield significant benefits, the effort
should be commensurate with the system's size, complexity, and sensitivity
and the risks associated with the system. In general, the higher
the value of the system, the newer the system's architecture, technologies,
and practices, and the worse the impact if the system security fails,
the more effort should be spent on life cycle management.
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C. "Building Security Into Your System Reduces the Risk of
a Breach." LAN Times, 10(3), 1993. p 47.
A computer system refers to a collection of processes, hardware,
and software that perform a function. This includes applications,
networks, or support systems.
Although this chapter addresses a life cycle process that starts
with system initiation, the process can be initiated at any point
in the life cycle.
An organization will typically have many computer security plans.
However, it is not necessary that a separate and distinct plan exist
for every physical system (e.g., PCs). Plans may address, for example,
the computing resources within an operational element, a major application,
or a group of similar systems (either technologically or functionally).
For brevity and because of the uniqueness of each system, none of
these discussions can include the details of all possible security
activities at any particular life cycle phase.
This is an example of a risk-based decision.
Some federal agencies use a broader definition of the term certification
to refer to security reviews or evaluations, formal or information,
that take place prior to and are used to support accreditation.