Today the advisory committee charged by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with providing critical assistance to the communications industry with a sector-specific implementation of cybersecurity risk management and a path forward for accountability approved a more than 400-page report that identifies best practices, provides a variety of important tools and resources for communications companies of different sizes and types to manage cybersecurity risks, and recommends a path forward. Chairman Wheeler attended the meeting and called the work of the group “damn important.”

The Cybersecurity Risk Management and Best Practices Final Report (the “Final Report”) was produced by Working Group 4 of the Communications Security Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC). The CSRIC is a FCC advisory committee composed of public, private and public-interest community participants, and the CSRIC working group that developed the Final Report was helmed by the commercial communications industry and included over 100 expert participants working in five major industry segments: broadcast; cable; satellite; wireless and wireline. The Final Report suggests priorities and best practices for voluntary cybersecurity risk management in each of these segments.

The project was designed to enhance cybersecurity, in part, by providing guidance, tailoring and best practices for the communications industry to assist with implementation on a voluntary basis of the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity established in February, 2014, by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the Department of Commerce which, in turn was developed pursuant to the President’s February 12, 2013, Executive Order 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. The project was also designed to develop voluntary mechanisms to provide assurance that communications providers are taking steps to manage cybersecurity risks. In addition, FCC Chairman Wheeler challenged private sector stakeholders to create a “new regulatory paradigm” of business-driven cybersecurity risk management.  

The voluntary mechanisms to provide assurances that cybersecurity risks are being addressed that are identified in the Final Report include: voluntary meetings of the companies with the FCC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is the sector-specific agency (SSA) assigned certain relevant responsibilities for the communications sector; certain expanded reporting in the sector annual report that is connected to the DHS role; active participation in a DHS program that emphasizes converging critical infrastructure community resources to support cybersecurity risk management, connecting critical infrastructure stakeholders to the national resilience effort and coordinating critical infrastructure cross-sector efforts. It also calls for availability of the critical communications infrastructure to be a key indicator of cybersecurity risk management. 

The Final Report also includes a series of recommendations for the FCC, including leveraging a variety of resources and capabilities, promoting voluntary collaboration and facilitating threat information sharing, among other activities.  

The Final Report is lengthy and often complex, but is intended to be very helpful to the communications industry in managing cybersecurity risks. It is certainly not a silver bullet—there are none when it comes to cybersecurity—but, at the same time, there may well be a variety of types of cybersecurity, and even legal risks to communications companies that ignore this tool. It will be important for companies of all sizes in these industry segments to review the Final Report and consider, with help if needed, whether and how it can help their cybersecurity risk management decisions. 

The CSRIC serves for two years and today marked the end of the term of the current CSRIC.  The FCC is currently appointing a new CSRIC to advise the FCC on cybersecurity and other public safety and homeland security issues and its charter begins tomorrow.