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Critical Security Controls for Effective Cyber Defense

Over the years, many security standards and requirements frameworks have been developed in attempts to address risks to enterprise systems and the critical data in them. However, most of these efforts have essentially become exercises in reporting on compliance and have actually diverted security program resources from the constantly evolving attacks that must be addressed. In 2008, this was recognized as a serious problem by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and they began an effort that took an “offense must inform defense” approach to prioritizing a list of the controls that would have the greatest impact in improving risk posture against real-world threats. A consortium of U.S. and international agencies quickly grew and was joined by experts from private industry and around the globe. Ultimately, recommendations for what became the Critical Security Controls (the Controls) were coordinated through the SANS Institute. In 2013, the stewardship and sustainment of the Controls were transferred to the Council on CyberSecurity (the Council), an independent, global non-profit entity committed to a secure and open Internet.

The Critical Security Controls focuses first on prioritizing security functions that are effective against the latest Advanced Targeted Threats, with a strong emphasis on “What Works” – security controls where products, processes, architectures, and services are in use that have demonstrated real-world effectiveness. Standardization and automation are another top priority, to gain operational efficiencies while also improving effectiveness. The actions defined by the Controls are demonstrably a subset of the comprehensive catalog defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-53. The Controls do not attempt to replace the work of NIST, including the Cybersecurity Framework developed in response to Executive Order 13636. The Controls instead prioritize and focus on a smaller number of actionable controls with high-payoff, aiming for a “must do first” philosophy. Since the Controls were derived from the most common attack patterns and were vetted across a very broad community of government and industry, with very strong consensus on the resulting set of controls, they serve as the basis for immediate high-value action.