What is UAE SIA (NESA)?
The UAE Signals Intelligence Agency (SIA)—formerly known as the National Electronic Security Authority (NESA)—is a federal authority that's responsible for enhancing cybersecurity policies and procedures in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It was introduced in June 2014 to oversee the security and resilience of the UAE's critical information infrastructure and to ensure the implementation of effective cybersecurity measures.
The UAE Information Assurance (IA) Regulation (sometimes known as NESA regulatory compliance) is the set of management and technical controls to establish, implement, maintain, and enhance the nation's information security measures. The UAE IA Regulation is developed by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (often abbreviated to TRA) and it is a crucial component of the National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS).
Who must comply with UAE IA Regulation?
Consequences of UAE IA Regulation non-compliance
The IA Regulation sets out essential baseline requirements for protecting the critical information infrastructure of the United Arab Emirates. Although it has not specifically elaborated on penalties for non-compliance, not complying with the regulation can lead to increased scrutiny from regulators and the SIA/NESA. This may result in expensive audits, lawsuits, and the need for increased manpower.
In some cases, the UAE government can suspend the operations of an organization found to be in non-compliance with the IA Regulation. The government may also impose financial penalties on organizations that are found to be in non-compliance with the IA Regulation in accordance with the severity of the violation.
UAE IA Regulation requirements for compliance
According to the official guidelineof the UAE government, complying with UAE IA Regulation is based on four key elements: controls, sub-controls, performance indicators, and automation and implementation guidance for controls.
All of the security controls specified in the UAE IA Regulation must be considered by each entity. Any entity that wants to claim compliance with the regulation must implement these controls based on the following requirements:
- "Always Applicable" controls:These controls are essential and must be implemented by any entity that wants to claim compliance with the UAE IA Regulation. Omitting any of these controls is not acceptable and will result in non-compliance.
- Risk-based controls:An entity must determine which of the security controls provided in the UAE IA Regulation are applicable to its particular situation based on the results of a risk assessment. Any controls that are excluded from the implementation plan must be justified and evidence must be provided, demonstrating that the associated risks have been accepted by accountable persons or authorizing entities.
The overall set of security controls that are "Always Applicable" and those security controls that have been determined as being applicable based on the risk assessment are "mandatory" for the entity to implement. These controls will be the basis of the compliance monitoring scheme.
While all the sub-controls of the "Always Applicable" security controls must be implemented, an entity may deviate from them if justified and appropriately supported. The acceptance of such deviations should be based on an informed decision-making process and risk assessment.
The UAE IA Regulation includes performance indicators that serve as basic guidelines for entities to assess the quality and effectiveness of their compliance with controls and control sub-families. While entities can deviate from these performance indicators, they are obligated to provide a justification for the deviation and specify new performance indicators if necessary.
Automation, Threat/Vulnerability Description for Sub-Families of Controls, and implementation guidance for controls:
UAE IA Regulation roadmap
The UAE IA Regulation recommends adopting a risk-based approach while implementing the compliance. Following a risk-based approach ensures that the security controls are in accordance with the risk and magnitude in case of a potential breach. Performing risk management is the most crucial step toward implementing the regulation. Here are the 8 key activities mentioned in the UAE IA Regulation'srisk-based approach.
- Establishing the environment
- Risk identification
- Risk estimation
- Risk evaluation
- Risk treatment
- Risk acceptance
- Risk monitoring and review
- Risk communication and consultation
Applicability of controls
Organizations have to identify the security controls that are mandatory to implement based on the list of applicable controls from the entity risk management process, apart from the "Always Applicable" controls. If there is no entity risk assessment then all the security controls are applicable and are mandatory for the implementation.
Prioritization of controls
The UAE IA Regulation framework organizes security controls in order of importance to ensure a minimum level of data protection. This prioritization is based on the impact that security controls have on safeguarding data. It helps organizations to:
- Mitigate common threats
- Build foundational IA capabilities
The security controls are categorized into four priority levels, namely P1, P2, P3, and P4. These priority levels are assigned in order of importance, with P1 being the highest priority and P4 being the lowest.
All critical entities implementing the UAE IA Regulation are required to implement all applicable security controls across the four priority levels. However, they should prioritize the implementation of P1 security controls, as these have the highest relative impact in protecting against critical threats and building foundational information assurance capabilities.
UAE IA Regulation best practices: A checklist
UAE IA Regulation: Key controls to consider
For effective adoption and progression of the UAE IA Regulation, you should adhere to the security controls that are mandatory for implementation based on the list of applicable controls resulting from the entity risk assessment process.
The UAE IA Regulation's guidelinesspecifies security controls are organized into two categories: management controls and technical controls. The management controls are further divided into six families, while the technical controls are divided into nine families. Some of the key controls are in the table below.
|M1. Strategy and Planning||An information security strategy should be defined and an operating model is to be developed to adhere to the strategy. Information security plans should be developed for every major service to identify and mitigate risks.|
|M2. Information Security Risk Management||An information security risk management process should be implemented. An awareness and training program should also be established.|
|M4. Compliance||Organizations should comply with legal requirements, security policies, and technical standards.|
|T1. Asset Management||Assets should be managed and information should be classified and labeled.|
|T.3 Operations Management||To ensure an appropriate level of information security, it is crucial to establish operational procedures and clearly define responsibilities.|
|T.6 Third Party Security||Third-party security management should be done to ensure that third parties implement and uphold the necessary level of information security and service delivery.|
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