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NIST Defines Critical Software for Biden’s Cybersecurity Executive Order

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a definition of “critical software” in adherence with President Biden’s cybersecurity executive order.

This section provides the definition of EO-critical software. Following that is a table with a preliminary list of software categories recommended for the initial phase along with some explanatory material. At a later date, CISA will provide the authoritative list of software categories that are within the scope of the definition and to be included in the initial phase of implementation. A pointer to that information will be provided here when available.

Finally, there is a set of FAQs at the bottom of the page that provides answers to questions that may arise about the interpretation of the definition, the phased approach, and other related topics.

EO-critical software is defined as any software that has, or has direct software dependencies upon, one or more components with at least one of these attributes:

  • is designed to run with elevated privilege or manage privileges;
  • has direct or privileged access to networking or computing resources;
  • is designed to control access to data or operational technology;
  • performs a function critical to trust; or,
  • operates outside of normal trust boundaries with privileged access.

The definition applies to software of all forms (e.g., standalone software, software integral to specific devices or hardware components, cloud-based software) purchased for, or deployed in, production systems and used for operational purposes. Other use cases, such as software solely used for research or testing that is not deployed in production systems, are outside of the scope of this definition. (See FAQ #10 and FAQ #11.)

NIST recommends that the initial EO implementation phase focus on standalone, on-premises software that has security-critical functions or poses similar significant potential for harm if compromised. Subsequent phases may address other categories of software such as:

  • software that controls access to data;
  • cloud-based and hybrid software;
  • software development tools such as code repository systems, development tools, testing software, integration software, packaging software, and deployment software;
  • software components in boot-level firmware; or
  • software components in operational technology (OT).

The table below provides a preliminary list of software categories considered to be EO-critical. This table is provided to illustrate the application of the definition of EO-critical software to the scope of the recommended initial implementation phase described above. As noted previously, CISA will provide the authoritative list of software categories at a later date.

Read more at NIST

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