DHS Establishes Information Sharing Capability and Process Required under CISA; Issues Multi-Agency Information Sharing Guidance

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has posted four documents on the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) website to satisfy several requirements set forth in the  Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 (“CISA”).  Details on the four documents are provided below.

By way of background, CISA was passed into law on December 18, 2015 and provides authorization for, among other things, the sharing of cyber threat indicators and defensive measures by and between the federal government, private entities, and state, local, and tribal governments.  The law also provides liability protections for non-Federal entities that share or receive cyber threat indicators or defensive measures, provided that these activities are conducted “in accordance with” the Act.  This requires, among other things, that (1) the information shared meets the definitions of cyber threat indicator or defensive measure, as applicable; (2) that the sharing be “for a cybersecurity purpose”; and (3) that the sharing entity comply with the requirement to screen information prior to sharing it for personal information that is not directly related to a cybersecurity threat and remove it.

In addition, when sharing with the federal government via electronic means, liability protections generally attach only if the information is submitted through the capability and process required to be established by DHS under the act.  CISA directs that this be “through electronic mail or media, an interactive form on an Internet website, or a real time, automated process between information systems.”



In keeping with these requirements, the three ways DHS has established for entities to electronically submit cyber threat indicators to the federal government are as follows:

  1. Via DHS’ Automated Indicator Sharing (“AIS”) program, which allows entities to share information with the federal government in real time by connecting through a specialized client to an AIS server operated by DHS’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC).  Information shared in this manner must conform to the Structured Threat Information eXchange (STIX) and be transmitted via the Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information (TAXII), which are the format and exchange mechanisms, respectively, selected by DHS for real time threat sharing.  Among other features of AIS, DHS notes that it:
    • Performs a series of automated analyses and technical mitigations to ensure that personally identifiable information that is not directly related to a cybersecurity threat is removed before any information is shared (with human review where necessary); and
    • Anonymizes the identity of the submitter of the information, unless the submitter has consented to sharing its identity.
  2. Via email.  When using this method, entities must email “ncciccustomerservice@hq.dhs.gov” and ensure that the shared information conforms to specified formatting requirements.
  3. Via a webform established by DHS for this purpose.

DHS discusses these methods for sharing cyber threat indicators and defensive measures with the federal government in one of the four documents it posted: Interim Procedures Related to the Receipt of Cyber Threat Indicators and Defensive Measures by the Federal Government.  This document, issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General in consultation with the heads of appropriate federal agencies, “describes the processes for receiving, handling, and disseminating information that is shared pursuant to CISA,” as required under Section 105(a)(1) of CISA.

The other three documents that DHS posted to its website generally satisfy specific directives in CISA to provide additional detail around certain processes, as follows:

  1. Guidance to Assist Non-Federal Entities to Share Cyber Threat Indicators and Defensive Measures with Federal Entities under the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015: This document responds to Congress’s directive in Section 105(a)(4) of CISA and provides guidance on (1) types of information that would qualify as a cyber threat indicator that would be unlikely to include information that is not directly connected to a cybersecurity threat that is also personal information or personally identifiable information, and (2) types of information protected by otherwise applicable privacy laws and that are unlikely to be directly related to a cybersecurity threat.
  2. Privacy and Civil Liberties Interim Guidelines: Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015:  Section 105(b)(1) of CISA directs the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to “jointly develop, submit to Congress, and make available to the public interim guidelines relating to privacy and civil liberties which shall govern the receipt, retention, use, and dissemination of cyber threat indicators by a Federal entity obtained in connection with activities authorized in this title.”  The interim guidelines created in response to this directive direct federal entities to “follow procedures designed to limit the effect on privacy and civil liberties of federal activities under CISA.”  Specifically, the interim guidelines define CISA-specific implementations of the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) set forth in Appendix A of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, namely: transparency, individual participation, purpose specification, purpose specification, data minimization, use limitation, data quality and integrity, security, and accountability and auditing.
  3. Sharing of Cyber Threat Indicators and Defensive Measures by the Federal Government under the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015: In response to a directive in Section 103 of CISA, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General, in consultation with the heads of appropriate federal entities, issued these procedures, which “facilitate and promote” the sharing of threat information by the federal government with non-federal entities, such as private entities and state and local governments.  Such sharing falls into the following categories:
    • Timely sharing of classified cyber threat indicators and defensive measures in the possession of the Federal Government with representatives of relevant federal entities and nonfederal entities that have appropriate security clearances;
    • Timely sharing with relevant federal entities and non-federal entities of cyber threat indicators, defensive measures, and information relating to cybersecurity threats or authorized uses under this title, in the possession of the Federal Government that may be declassified and shared at an unclassified level;
    • Timely sharing with relevant federal entities and non-federal entities, or the public if appropriate, of unclassified, including controlled unclassified, cyber threat indicators and defensive measures in the possession of the Federal Government;
    • Timely sharing with federal entities and non-federal entities, if appropriate, of information relating to cybersecurity threats or authorized uses under this title, in the possession of the Federal Government about cybersecurity threats to such entities to prevent or mitigate adverse effects from such cybersecurity threats; and
    • Periodic sharing, through publication and targeted outreach, of cybersecurity best practices that are developed based on ongoing analyses of cyber threat indicators, defensive measures, and information relating to cybersecurity threats or authorized uses under this title, in the possession of the Federal Government, with attention to accessibility and implementation challenges faced by small business concerns (as defined in Section 3 of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 632)).

The procedures note that the required information sharing is currently implemented through a series of existing programs, of which the procedures provide an overview.  The procedures also provide an overview of the roles and responsibilities of federal entities, non-federal entities, and Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) and Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAOs) in the information sharing context.

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