From a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) perspective, continuous monitoring refers to the ongoing process of observing, assessing, and tracking security-related activities and events within an information system or organization.
The goal of continuous monitoring is to maintain an accurate and up-to-date understanding of an organization's security posture and to promptly detect and respond to security threats and vulnerabilities. NIST provides guidelines and recommendations for implementing continuous monitoring as part of its broader framework for information security.
Key aspects and principles of continuous monitoring according to NIST:
Real-Time or Near Real-Time Monitoring: Continuous monitoring involves the collection of security-related data and information in real-time or near real-time. This allows organizations to have immediate visibility into security events and potential issues.
Automated Monitoring Tools: NIST emphasizes the use of automated tools and technologies to facilitate continuous monitoring. These tools can help gather, analyze, and correlate security data efficiently.
Integration with Risk Management: Continuous monitoring is closely tied to an organization's risk management processes. It helps organizations identify and assess security risks and vulnerabilities, enabling informed risk management decisions.
Security Metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Organizations should define and track security metrics and KPIs to measure the effectiveness of security controls and the overall security posture. These metrics help in identifying trends and anomalies.
Incident Detection and Response: Continuous monitoring aids in the early detection of security incidents, including cyberattacks, data breaches, and unauthorized access. Rapid incident response is a critical component of the continuous monitoring process.
Security Compliance: Continuous monitoring helps organizations maintain compliance with security policies, standards, and regulations. It enables organizations to demonstrate adherence to security requirements over time.
Asset Inventory: Maintaining an accurate inventory of information assets, including hardware, software, and data, is essential for continuous monitoring. This inventory assists in identifying vulnerabilities and ensuring that security controls are applied to all assets.
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): SIEM systems are often used to centralize and automate the collection, analysis, and correlation of security data from various sources, making them a valuable component of continuous monitoring.
Reporting and Documentation: Continuous monitoring generates reports and documentation that are used for various purposes, including risk management, compliance reporting, and security incident analysis.
Feedback Loop: Continuous monitoring is not a static process; it involves a feedback loop where findings and insights are used to improve security controls, policies, and procedures continuously.
NIST's guidance on continuous monitoring can be found in publications such as NIST Special Publication 800-137, "Information Security Continuous Monitoring (ISCM) for Federal Information Systems and Organizations." These guidelines are particularly relevant for federal agencies and organizations that need to adhere to NIST's security standards and requirements.
Implementing continuous monitoring practices helps organizations stay vigilant against evolving cybersecurity threats and maintain a proactive approach to information security.
Specifically, Per CA-7 of NIST SP 800-53, organizations are to “Develop a system-level continuous monitoring strategy and implement continuous monitoring in accordance with the organization-level continuous monitoring strategy…”. The keyword here is “develop”, which means you need a program in place for CA-7.
We have years of experience working within the broader federal agency apparatus in helping federal contractors develop high-quality, well-written, policies and procedures and additional NIST RMF information security and privacy materials. Our NIST RMF information security and privacy policies, procedures, programs, and plans have been used by thousands of federal contractors in helping organizations develop customized documentation for their growing security and compliance needs.
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