NIST defines “critical software” with a broad range of…

The goal is to enable stronger security practices for government-purchased software mandated by President Biden’s cybersecurity executive order.

A significant part of the Biden administration’s wide-ranging cybersecurity executive order (EO) mandates that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) define what constitutes “critical software,” a deliverable that is central to the wider effort of securing software supply chains. Last week NIST made good on this assignment when it released a preliminary list of software categories within the scope of this definition.

The EO stipulates that NIST’s definition “shall reflect the level of privilege or access required to function, integration and dependencies with other software, direct access to networking and computing resources, performance of a function critical to trust, and potential for harm if compromised.” Thus, the goal of the definition is to drive several additional activities required under the EO to shape how the federal government purchases and manages deployed critical software.

One driving principle behind the critical software definition is that when combined with other aspects of the EO, software acquisition by the federal government would tilt over time toward only those products that have met reasonable security measures. The hope is that the federal government’s “power of the purse” would spill over to the private sector because most major software suppliers sell to both public and private sector customers and would find it more efficient to create a single secure product for both sectors.

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