The benefits and shortcomings of OSCAL

The Open Security Controls Assessment Language (OSCAL) promises a streamlined, efficient, and consistent approach to managing cybersecurity frameworks. While it offers clear advantages, how does it perform in real-world scenarios? And what can be done to address its limitations? Let's explore.

Sleek v2.0 public release is here

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What has changed in our latest release?

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All new features available for all public channel users

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Coding collaboration with over 200 users at once

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What is OSCAL?

As says, OSCAL is a framework for documenting and assessing the security controls of an information system. Its stated goals are to decrease the paperwork burden by moving from a text-based and manual approach (using word processors or spreadsheets) to a set of standardized, machine-readable formats.

As of November, 2023, OSCAL has a handful of different models, expressed in XML, JSON, and YAML:

  • Catalog: A set of published controls, e.g. NIST 800-53
  • Profile: A tailored selection of controls from a catalog, e.g. FedRAMP High Baseline
  • System Security Plan (SSP): A description of how an information system implements controls.
  • Plan of Actions & Milestones (POA&M): Used to identify risk and track remediation. 
  • Security Assessment Plan (SAP): Outlines the plan for assessing an information system.
  • Security Assessment Results (SAR): Represents the results of an information systems assessment.

The Benefits of OSCAL

With features like machine-readable formats and API integrations, OSCAL aims to make your life easier, whether it's about obtaining FedRAMP authorization or continuous compliance monitoring.

Faster Approvals

  • Control Standardization: OSCAL replaces ambiguous prose with precise, machine-readable formats, increasing accuracy and consistency, speeding up approval processes.
  • Component and Framework Assessment: It simplifies the assessment of complex, multi-component systems, supporting a unified view across diverse regulatory requirements.
  • Interoperability and Automation: OSCAL helps transition organizations from manual to automated documentation, enhancing system communication and compliance efficiency.

Enhanced System Security Assessments

  • Framework Uniformity: By standardizing security control representations, OSCAL ensures consistent, efficient assessments across multiple frameworks.
  • Continuous Compliance: A machine-readable format promotes ongoing security evaluations, leading to more timely and labor-efficient assessment cycles.
  • Support Multiple Regulatory Frameworks Simultaneously: Often, a system needs to support multiple regulatory frameworks. OSCAL supports the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA); the NIST Cybersecurity Risk Management Framework (RMF); the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); NIST SP 800-53; ISO 27001; SOC 2; and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Read more about NIST’s goals for OSCAL.

The Limitations of OSCAL

While OSCAL offers a forward-thinking approach to security control assessment, it's not without its challenges.

No Compliance Automation Out of the Box

Think of OSCAL not as a ready-to-use software but as a new language designed for security compliance. It's made for tech experts to build tools that everyone can use. Without these tools, getting to grips with OSCAL's detailed and technical format requires a lot of specialized knowledge, which can be quite overwhelming.

Complex Component Documentation

Creating detailed documentation across diverse components, especially in intricate cloud environments, is complex and time-consuming with OSCAL.

Less Redundant, but Still Redundant

OSCAL's architecture, while reducing some repetitive tasks in compliance reporting, still has its challenges. For every component in a system, OSCAL requires that all associated controls be updated individually. This creates a substantial manual workload, especially when a single change affects multiple references within the documentation.

Watch: Kenny explains what is required to take advantage of the benefits OSCAL.

How Paramify's Risk Solutions Addresses OSCAL’s Limitations 

Introducing Risk Solutions

Through the 1-hour Paramify intake process you will get your tailored Risk Solutions, which are leveraged to address several OSCAL limitations.

Learn more how Risk Solutions simplify compliance.

Your Key to OSCAL Adoption

The Risk Solutions Platform is the tool you need to effectively implement OSCAL for your organization. It bypasses the complex learning curve and provides an intuitive way to produce accurate OSCAL deliverables, like SSPs.

Simplified Component Management

By providing a framework that scales with your intricate cloud environments, Risk Solutions facilitates seamless adaptation and minimize the documentation effort required for each component. 

Streamlining Updates

Paramify's Risk Solutions significantly streamlines the update process within OSCAL's framework. With Paramify, you make a single update to a Risk Solution, and it automatically synchronizes that change across all related components, controls, and compliance documents. This capability spans across different security frameworks, ensuring consistent and accurate updates without the need to manually edit each control for every component. By integrating with Paramify, you can effectively manage and reduce redundancy, saving valuable time and resources in maintaining compliance documentation.

Beyond Components

Risk Solutions goes beyond OSCAL’s component model by providing a holistic view of how various elements work together to implement specific controls. It enables more targeted and streamlined compliance documentation.

Already have an SSP? 

Import your existing SSP to automatically generate your OSCAL SSP.


While OSCAL offers numerous advantages, it also brings in an additional layer of complexity. Paramify aims to simplify this process, offering an efficient, uniform, and consistent approach to managing compliance documentation.

Request Demo

Are you ready to see the first draft of your OSCAL SSP? Paramify is here to guide you every step of the way. Schedule a demo with us today.

About the author

Adam Johnson boasts 15 years in information systems, with special expertise in product marketing and management. He's always had an interest in Cybersecurity.‍ A family man at heart, Adam enjoys biking, soccer, and traveling with his wife and three kids.