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In the digital age, the federal government’s cybersecurity infrastructure faces evolving threats requiring a robust and comprehensive cyber defense strategy. The introduction of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) M-24-04 FISMA guidance is a critical step forward in the ongoing battle against cyber vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, this guidance underscores the importance of agencies deploying a unified attack surface management strategy, aligning with zero-trust principles and enhancing the security of high-value assets (HVAs), among other priorities.

At the heart of the OMB’s guidance is recognizing the multifaceted nature of federal systems’ cyber threats. From supply chain attacks to zero-day exploits and beyond, the threat landscape has evolved far beyond the capability of traditional perimeter-based defenses to contain.

In response, the OMB mandates a shift toward modernizing federal systems and networks aligning with zero-trust principles, acknowledging that threats exist within and beyond traditional network boundaries. This paradigm shift requires a holistic approach to managing the attack surface, providing agency leaders with a concrete strategy while safeguarding vital government data.

One of the standout challenges identified in the FISMA Guidance concerns the inventory and management of Internet of Things (IoT) and Operational Technology (OT) devices. By the end of 2024, agencies are expected to maintain a real-time inventory of these devices, comprising various specific attributes from asset identification and categorization to vendor information and security controls.

In this case, agency leaders should look to public-private partnerships to provide tools for real-time detection and assessment of IoT and OT device risks. This strategy ensures compliance with OMB’s directives and strengthens the overall cybersecurity posture of federal agencies.

The guidance also emphasizes the importance of continuous visibility of the external attack surface, mandating that agencies provide the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) with a comprehensive list of internet-accessible systems and promptly report any changes. Agencies should turn to unified attack surface management strategies to address this requirement head-on, which enables agencies to maintain an up-to-date inventory of external assets and comply efficiently with CISA reporting requirements.

In tackling HVAs, the OMB insists on a rigorous assessment and prioritization of risks, employing metrics and standards derived from previous mandates. Unified attack surface management with the right tools can provide an ideal mechanism for quantifying risk, prioritizing remediation efforts, and documenting risk reduction across an agency—fulfilling the OMB’s vision of a risk-based approach to cybersecurity.

Moreover, a holistic risk-based approach to cybersecurity, as advocated by the M-24-04 guidance, marks a significant shift from compliance-focused strategies to more dynamic, risk management-oriented practices. This comprehensive vulnerability management and remediation framework targets a reduction in cyber risk, setting a new standard in cybersecurity asset management.

A new era of federal cyber resilience

The security of federal systems is paramount in an area characterized by sophisticated cyber threats and attacks against the U.S. government. The OMB’s updated FISMA requirements, captured in the M-24-04 guidance, provide a blueprint for federal leaders to enhance their cybersecurity posture.

By deploying a unified approach encompassing zero-trust principles, innovative IoT/OT inventory management, and strategic HVA management, agency leaders can fortify their network defenses against the various foreign and domestic cyber threats they face.

As we move forward, it is clear the journey toward a secure federal cyber landscape is both complex and challenging. Yet, with a unified attack surface management strategy at their disposal, federal leaders have a potent tactic to navigate the evolving cyber threat landscape.

By embracing this strategy and the principles embedded in the OMB’s latest guidance, agency leaders can look toward a future where the integrity of their federal systems and networks remains secured through cyber risk management best practices, not just for the present but for many years to come.

Kunal Modasiya is Vice President of Product Management & Growth at Qualys.


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National Cyber Security