By Jim Hietala, The Open Group
The Open Group recently published the Open Automated Compliance Expert Markup Language (O-ACEML) standard. This new technical standard addresses needs to automate the process of configuring IT environments to meet compliance requirements. O-ACEML will also enable customer organizations and their auditors to streamline data gathering and reporting on compliance postures.
O-ACEML is aimed at helping organizations to reduce the cost of compliance by easing manual compliance processes. The standard is an open, simple, and well defined XML schema that allows compliance requirements to be described in machine understandable XML, as opposed to requiring humans to interpret text from documents. The standard also allows for a remediation element, which enables multiple requirements (from different compliance regulations) to be blended into a single policy. An example of where this is needed would be in password length and complexity requirements, which may differ between different regulations. O-ACEML allows for the most secure setting to be selected and applied, enabling all of the regulations to be met or exceeded.
O-ACEML is intended to allow platform vendors and compliance management and IT-GRC providers to utilize a common language for exchanging compliance information. The existence of a single common standard will benefit platform vendors and compliance management tool vendors, by reducing development costs and providing a single data interchange format. Customer organizations will benefit by reducing costs for managing compliance in complex IT environments, and by increasing effectiveness. Where previously organizations might have just polled a small but representative sample of their environment to assess compliance, the existence of a standard allowing automated compliance checking makes it feasible to survey the entire environment rather than just a small sample. Organizations publishing government compliance regulations, as well as the de facto standard compliance organizations that have emerged in many industries will benefit by enabling more cost effective adoption and simpler compliance with their regulations and standards.
In terms of how O-ACEML relates to other compliance related standards and content frameworks, it has similarities and differences to NIST’s Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP), and to the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF). One of the main differences is that O-ACEML was architected such that a Compliance Organization could author its IT security requirements in a high-level language, without the need to understand the specific configuration command and settings an OS or device will use to implement the requirement. A distinguishing capability of O-ACEML is that it gathers artifacts as it moves from Compliance Organization directive, implementation on a particular device, and the result of the configuration command. The final step of this automation not only produces a computer system configured meet or exceed the compliance requirements, it also produces an xml document from which compliance reporting can be simplified. The Open Group plans to work with NIST and the creators of the UCF to ensure interoperability and integration between O-ACEML and SCAP and UCF.
If you have responsibility for managing compliance in your organization, or if you are a vendor whose software product involves compliance or security configuration management, we invite you to learn more about O-ACEML.
An IT security industry veteran, Jim Hietala is Vice President of Security at The Open Group, where he is responsible for security programs and standards activities. He holds the CISSP and GSEC certifications. Jim is based in the U.S.