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CIS Benchmarks 101

First of a multi-part series on the CIS benchmarking process, by Pravin Goyal.


What are CIS Benchmarks?

The CIS Security Benchmarks program provides well-defined, un-biased and consensus-based industry best practices to help organizations assess and improve their security. The Security Benchmarks program is recognized as a trusted, independent authority that facilitates the collaboration of public and private industry experts to achieve consensus on practical and actionable solutions. Because of the reputation, these benchmarks are recommended as industry-accepted system hardening standards and are used by organizations in meeting various compliance requirements such as PCI and HIPAA.

What is the typical CIS benchmark development process?

CIS Benchmarks are created using a consensus review process comprised of subject matter experts. Consensus participants provide perspective from a diverse set of backgrounds such as consulting, software development, audit and compliance, security research, operations, government, and legal. Each CIS benchmark undergoes two phases of consensus review. The first phase occurs during initial benchmark development. During this phase, subject matter experts convene to discuss, create, and test working drafts of the benchmark. This discussion occurs until consensus has been reached on benchmark recommendations. The second phase begins after the benchmark has been published. During this phase, all feedback provided by the Internet community is reviewed by the consensus team for incorporation in the future versions of the benchmark.

What does it take to develop a new benchmark?

It is easy to contribute to CIS benchmarks. Just write to the CIS community program managers with your proposal for addition. The respective program manager will respond to you followed by a call to understand your proposition and discuss timelines, project announcement and project marketing to attract community participants. With some internal approvals, the project is created in around two weeks of time.

How long does it usually takes to develop a new benchmark?

It usually takes around 12-24 weeks based on the number of participants in the community and the size of the project.

Who else is providing security benchmarks like CIS does?

I would say none. CIS provides the broadest set of benchmarks covering both software and hardware. These include databases, operating systems, applications, mobile operating systems, firewalls, browsers, office applications and almost anything else that touches IT. The only other agency that provides a subset of the benchmarks is DISA. Also, sometimes vendors provide security documentation in the benchmark format. For example, VMware provides a VMware vSphere hardening guide for securing vSphere deployments.

How can we contribute?

Join the existing CIS communities. It is exciting and challenging, and you will get to work with amazing people.

How do we implement CIS benchmarks in our product?

You have two ways to implement CIS benchmarks. The first one leverages the content directly from CIS. The second method is to develop your own proprietary content to implement the benchmark.

Tell us a bit about CIS Docker and CIS Android benchmarks?

Both CIS Docker and CIS Android benchmarks have fascinating community members. I had the privilege to work on both as an author. One thing interesting to note is that CIS Docker benchmark exists from Docker version 1.6.  At that time not many people knew Docker or Docker security. But, the community did an amazing job by documenting 84 security recommendations! That is the power of community.  I'll cover Docker and Android in more detail in a future segment.



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