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The Cybersecurity Partnership Between the Private Sector and Our Government: Protecting Our National and Economic Security


Chairmen Rockefeller and Carper, Ranking Members Thune and Coburn, members of the Committees, I am Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a non-regulatory bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Thank you for this opportunity to testify today on NIST’s role under Executive Order 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” and our responsibility to develop a framework for reducing cyber risks to critical infrastructure.

The Role of NIST in Cybersecurity

Let me begin with a few words on NIST itself: NIST’s mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. Our work in addressing technical challenges related to national priorities has ranged from projects related to the Smart Grid and electronic health records to atomic clocks, advanced nanomaterials, and computer chips.

In the area of cybersecurity, we have worked with federal agencies, industry, and academia since 1972 on the development of the Data Encryption Standard. Our role to research, develop and deploy information security standards and technology to protect information systems against threats to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information and services, was strengthened through the Computer Security Act of 1987 and reaffirmed through the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.

Consistent with this mission, NIST is actively engaged with industry, academia, and other parts of the Federal government including the intelligence community, and elements of the law enforcement and national security communities, coordinating and prioritizing cybersecurity research, standards development, standards conformance demonstration and cybersecurity education and outreach.

Our broader work in the areas of information security, trusted networks, and software quality is applicable to a wide variety of users, from small and medium enterprises to large private and public organizations including agencies of the federal government and companies involved with critical infrastructure.

Executive Order 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity”

On February 13, 2013, the President signed Executive Order 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” which gave NIST the responsibility to develop a framework to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure (the Cybersecurity Framework). As directed in the Executive Order, NIST, working with industry, will develop the Cybersecurity Framework and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will establish performance goals. DHS, in coordination with sector-specific agencies, will then support the adoption of the Cybersecurity Framework by owners and operators of critical infrastructure and other interested entities, through a voluntary program.

Our partnership with DHS will drive much of our effort. Last month I signed a Memorandum of Agreement with DHS Under Secretary Rand Beers to ensure that our work with industry for the Cybersecurity Framework, and also with cybersecurity standards, best practices, and metrics, is fully integrated with the information sharing, threat analysis, response, and operational work of DHS. This will enable a more holistic approach to addressing the complex nature of the challenge at hand.

A Cybersecurity Framework is an important element in addressing the challenges of improving the cybersecurity of our critical infrastructure. A NIST-coordinated and industry-led Framework will draw on standards and best practices that industry is already involved in developing and adopting. NIST coordination will ensure that the process is open and transparent to all stakeholders, and will ensure a robust technical underpinning to the framework. This approach will significantly bolster the relevance of the resulting Framework to industry, making it more appealing for industry to adopt.

Why This Approach?

This multi-stakeholder approach leverages the respective strengths of the public and private sectors, and helps develop solutions in which both sides will be invested. The approach does not dictate solutions to industry, but rather facilitates industry coming together to offer and develop solutions that the private sector is best positioned to embrace.

I would also like to note that this is not a new or novel approach for NIST. We have utilized very similar approaches in the recent past to address other pressing national priorities. The lessons learned from those experiences are informing how we are planning for and structuring our current effort. In 2009, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) mandated NIST to develop a standards framework to help with the deployment of a nationwide, end-to-end interoperable Smart Grid. Following a similar approach to the one envisioned for the Cybersecurity Framework, NIST coordinated a forward leaning approach involving more than 1500 representatives from approximately 21 distinct domains that now constitute the Smart Grid.

This effort led to the development of a framework called the Smart Grid Roadmap that defined the domains of the Smart Grid and the interfaces for those domains, identified existing standards for these domains, prioritized standards needs and identified standards gaps. Many of these standards gaps are currently being addressed in various standards development organizations around the world. We are seeing the results of this effort pay off in many ways. Cybersecurity standards are being developed and adopted to secure different elements of the electrical grid. Standards based deployments of secure Smart Meters are enabling consumers safe and secure access to data about electricity usage. The U.S. Smart Grid Roadmap is being used as a template for frameworks in many countries around the world. Automakers are reaching agreement regarding chargers for electric vehicles. All these developments have helped address important policy objectives while also positioning the U.S. as a leader in Smart Grid development and deployment.

Another example of how NIST has brought together the public and private sector to address technical challenges is NIST’s work in the area of Cloud Computing technologies. The unique partnership formed by NIST has enabled us to develop important definitions and architectures, and is now enabling broad federal government deployment of secure Cloud Computing technologies.

What is the Cybersecurity Framework?

The Cybersecurity Framework will consist of standards, methodologies, procedures and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks for critical infrastructure. Once the Framework is established, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with sector-specific agencies, will then support the adoption of the Cybersecurity Framework by owners and operators of critical infrastructure and other interested entities through a voluntary program. Regulatory agencies will also review the Cybersecurity Framework to determine if current cybersecurity requirements are sufficient, and propose new actions if it is determined they are insufficient.

This approach reflects both the need for enhancing the security of our critical infrastructure and the reality that the bulk of critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. Any efforts to better protect critical infrastructure need to be supported and implemented by the owners and operators of this infrastructure. It also reflects the reality that many in the private sector are already doing the right things to protect their systems and should not be diverted from those efforts through new requirements.

The Important Role of Standards in the Cybersecurity Framework

I’d like to explain why this approach relies on standards, methodologies, procedures and processes, and why we believe it to be a critical part of our work under the Executive Order. First of all, by standards, I am referring to agreed-upon best practices against which we can benchmark performance. Thus, these are NOT regulations. Typically these standards are the result of industry coming together to develop solutions for market needs and are developed in open discussions and agreed upon by consensus of the participants. This process also gives standards the power of broad acceptance around the world.

Standards have a unique and key attribute of scalability. By this I mean, that when we can use solutions that are already adopted by industry, or can readily be adopted and used by industry, then those same solutions reduce transactions costs for our businesses and provide economies of scale when deployed in other markets, which makes our industries more competitive.

A partnership with industry to develop, maintain, and implement voluntary consensus standards related to cybersecurity best ensures the interoperability, security and resiliency of this global infrastructure and makes us all more secure. It also allows this infrastructure to evolve in a way that embraces both security and innovation—allowing a market to flourish to create new types of secure products for the benefit of all Americans.

Developing the Cybersecurity Framework

NIST’s initial steps towards implementing the Executive Order include issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to gather relevant input from industry and other stakeholders, and asking stakeholders to participate in the Cybersecurity Framework process. This RFI was published last week and we are already getting informal feedback from industry and other stakeholders on the RFI. Given the diversity of sectors in critical infrastructure, these initial efforts will help identify existing cross-sector security standards and guidelines that are immediately applicable or likely to be applicable to critical infrastructure.

Industry has begun responding to the RFI and is coming to the table to work with us on this analysis.

Underlying all of this work, NIST sees its role in developing the Cybersecurity Framework as partnering with industry and other stakeholders to help them develop the Framework. In addition to this critical convening role, our work will be to compile and provide guidance on principles that are applicable across the sectors for the full-range of quickly evolving threats, based on inputs from DHS and other agencies. NIST’s unique technical expertise in various aspects of cybersecurity related research, technology development and an established track record of working with a broad cross-section of industry and government agencies in the development of standards and best practices positions us very well to address this significant national challenge in a timely and effective manner.

The approach of the Executive Order will allow industry to protect our Nation from the growing cybersecurity threat while enhancing America’s ability to innovate and compete in a global market. It also helps grow the market for secure, interoperable, innovative products to be used by consumers anywhere.

Next Steps

The Executive Order requirement for the Framework to be developed within one year, and a preliminary framework due within eight months gives this task a sense of urgency. We have already initiated an aggressive outreach program to raise awareness of this issue and begin engaging industry and stakeholders. Over the next few months, NIST will bring many diverse stakeholders to the table through a series of “deep-dive” engagements. Throughout the year, you can expect NIST to use its capabilities to gather the input needed to develop the Framework.

In addition to the Request for Information (RFI), we are planning a series of workshops and events to ensure that we can cover the breadth of considerations that will be needed to make this national priority a success. Our first workshop will be held in early April to initiate the process of identifying existing resources and gaps, and to prioritize the issues to be addressed as part of the framework. In May, we are planning to release initial findings from early analyses of the responses to the RFI. This will mark a transition into the dialogue regarding the foundations of the framework.

In June, the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, and Treasury will submit reports regarding incentives designed to increase participation with the voluntary program. NIST will be supporting the report drafted by the Department of Commerce, which will analyze the benefits and relative effectiveness of such incentives.

Around the five-month mark, in July, NIST will host a workshop to present initial considerations for the Framework, based on the analysis conducted with the responses to the RFI. This workshop will be the most in-depth of the three, with an emphasis on particular issues that have been identified from the initial work – including the specific needs of different sectors. At eight months, we will have an initial draft Framework that clearly outlines areas of focus and initial lists of standards, guidelines and best practices that fall into those areas.

In a year’s time, once we have developed an initial Framework, there will still be much to do. For example, our partners at the Department of Homeland Security will be working with specific sectors to build strong voluntary programs for specific critical infrastructure areas. Their work will then inform the needs of critical infrastructure and the next versions of the Framework. The goal at the end of this process will be for industry to take and update the Cybersecurity Framework themselves—allowing it to evolve when needed.


The cybersecurity challenge facing critical infrastructure is greater than it ever has been. The President’s Executive Order reflects this reality, and lays out an ambitious agenda founded on active collaboration between the public and private sectors. NIST is mindful of the weighty responsibilities with which we have been charged by President Obama, and we are committed to listening to, and working actively with, critical infrastructure owners and operators to develop a Cybersecurity Framework.

Thank you, for the opportunity to present NIST’s views regarding critical infrastructure cybersecurity security challenges. I appreciate the Committees holding this joint hearing—it is reflective of the working partnership we have with Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to tackle cybersecurity issues. We have a lot of work ahead of us—and I look forward to working with both Committees to help us address these pressing challenges. I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

Created December 6, 2016