What is OSCAL and Why Does it Matter?

NIST first released OSCAL, short for Open Security Controls Assessment Language, in June 2021. According to NIST, “An important goal of OSCAL is to move the security controls and control baselines from a text-based and manual approach (using word processors or spreadsheets) to a set of standardized and machine-readable formats. With systems security information represented in OSCAL, security professionals will be able to automate security assessment, auditing, and continuous monitoring processes.” OSCAL formats are expressed in XML, JSON, and YAML.

The introduction of this new framework is exciting for security professionals as it aims to address a variety of issues around security controls and control assessment. However, there may be some potential limitations and cost implications involved when transitioning your system’s security information to an OSCAL format. BSC Systems is here to help you navigate the pros and cons of this new standardized framework so you can decide if it’s right for your organization. We can also assist if you need to adopt OSCAL to meet client or agency requirements.

Benefits of OSCAL

  • Increases Assessment Timeliness, Accuracy and Consistency of Information:
    • One of the main benefits of OSCAL is its ability to streamline how controls and profiles are represented. Assessors often use spreadsheets or Word Documents, that may vary in formatting, to display this information. Because these spreadsheets are not machine-readable and may contain inconsistencies, professionals are required to spend additional time manually uploading controls onto information systems. The use of OSCAL formats should save security professionals time and provide a consistent repository of data, while also increasing the accuracy and consistency of their information.  
  • Ability to Share Control Information Between Multiple Parties:
    • OSCAL doesn’t just allow for standardization within your own organization, but between all organizations who utilize OSCAL formats. Sharing control implementation information between multiple parties is much easier when everyone is utilizing the same framework. 
  • Ensures Ongoing Assessment: 
    • As a result of the decrease in assessment-related labor, your system will be able to be assessed more often by more platforms. Therefore, OSCAL increases the potential for constant monitoring capability, mobility and continuous assurance. 

Limitations of OSCAL 

The main limitation of utilizing OSCAL is that some organizations (both federal and commercial) haven’t adopted it yet. Therefore, those that still haven’t made the transition will not be ready to accept any OSCAL-formatted documentation that you may have. In addition, different organizations may have different standards/formats, which increases the workload.

Potential Cost Implications of OSCAL

When considering implementing OSCAL, it’s important to factor in potential costs. As with implementing any new data framework, there is time and cost that is associated with the employee labor that goes into transitioning your system. The full implementation timeline for OSCAL is still being determined, as it’s still a relatively new framework. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure that you have the time and labor resources needed for the initial transition and any updates that are released. That’s a good reason to plan now so your organization can begin the process before it is required.

Additional Resources for OSCAL

NIST provides tutorials and additional resources for using the metadata section required for all OSCAL content, as well as how to use OSCAL properties and links to provide extended data in OSCAL content.