It isn’t easy to think where we would be in the world of technology today without the cloud (or cloud computing), which has grown to be a crucial component of information technology (IT) infrastructure and one of the most frequently used technical sources for on-demand delivery of IT services. With only a few keystrokes, you can now provide access to advanced operation networks, storage, servers, etc. But cloud computing does more than just look hip; it helps businesses of all sizes adapt quickly to changing customer resource needs.
Having become such an essential part of how the majority of companies and enterprises conduct business, the U.S. federal government rightly thought it necessary to introduce the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) compliance standard to ensure the security and dependability of cloud services, especially those utilized by the federal government.
So what is FedRAMP? The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a federal initiative that offers a standardized method for cloud product and service security evaluation, authorization, and ongoing monitoring. It was developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in collaboration with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Defense (DoD). It was assigned to be represented on the Joint Authorization Board (JAB). With the “Cloud First” mandate making it essential for federal agencies to “default to cloud-based solutions whenever secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud options exist,” establishing the FedRAMP compliance standard was a genius move for federal agencies to make use of the multitude of advantages provided by cloud computing services.
However, a new regulatory framework means a lot of further information. And if you are looking to get your company FedRAMP certified, chances are you are already swamped with an overwhelming bunch of questions. That’s why we are here to help you! We at Akitra have curated this blog with information about all the key aspects you need to be aware of to become FedRAMP certified and continue to avail yourself of the benefits of cloud services. Are you eager to know more?
Well, let’s get started!
Primary Objectives of FedRAMP
To guarantee that all federal data is secure in cloud settings, FedRAMP mandates that covered organizations install several security procedures. The FedRAMP compliance of all cloud service providers (including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS applications) must be proven before they can be employed by federal agencies or seek these kinds of business agreements in the future.
FedRAMP’s primary objectives are to:
- Ensure that the cloud-based programs and services utilized by government organizations have adequate security measures;
- Facilitate effective and economical acquisition of information systems and services; and,
- Reduce costs associated with risk management and duplication of work among government entities.
Does Your Business Need to be FedRAMP Certified?
You must show that your system is FedRAMP compliant if your business offers cloud computing services or software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and you are interested in working with a U.S. government agency. Every contract with the federal government contains standardized language for the FedRAMP obligations.
You must obtain the necessary authorization for your system before selling it to a federal government agency. Your organization will have to put in a lot of effort to complete the FedRAMP authorization procedure. As a result, as soon as you decide to target federal agencies as clients, you must comprehend the FedRAMP authorization procedure. Before beginning the FedRAMP compliance journey, you must have a fully designed operating system and a leadership team dedicated to and entirely on board with the FedRAMP procedure.
How Can You Achieve FedRAMP Compliance?
They need to prove FedRAMP compliance or to get a FedRAMP authorization or ATO, and there are two different ways.
- Getting a FedRAMP ATO directly from a federal agency; and,
- Getting a FedRAMP P-ATO from the JAB (the more challenging route).
What’s the Difference?
The scope of the authorization, or ATO, distinguishes a JAB P-ATO from an Agency FedRAMP ATO.
Having an Agency FedRAMP ATO does not imply that other agencies are permitted to utilize that CSO; instead, it exclusively applies to that agency. Each federal agency has a unique risk appetite. Thus when assessing a CSO for FedRAMP compliance and potential authorization, each federal agency will consider its particular risk appetite when determining the CSO’s degree of compliance. Another federal agency is not required to accept the FedRAMP ATO from another agency since that agency can have a more cautious risk appetite. They would be in charge of issuing their own ATO or FedRAMP permission.
The central tenet of FedRAMP is to “do once, use many times” regarding security evaluations, CSO permission, and ongoing monitoring.
Other federal agencies that want to use a CSO will assess the authorization package against their risk profile and decide whether the security assessment and resulting security posture of the FedRAMP-authorized CSO are sufficient to meet their risk tolerance once the CSO has obtained a FedRAMP ATO with an agency. The second federal agency may then issue its FedRAMP authorization if it is. If additional specifications and testing are required, they will be addressed and sufficiently tested to satisfy the needs of the second federal agency.
The second federal agency may issue a FedRAMP ATO from their organization once the additional security standards have been satisfied. Any succeeding federal agency can use the authorization package to give their own FedRAMP ATO for their agency once an agency has gotten a FedRAMP ATO. This agency path is used for the majority of FedRAMP authorizations.
When it comes to JAB, it isn’t easy to achieve compliance within a short period of time. Though it is made up of officials from the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the General Services Administration (GSA), the JAB cannot officially take on risk for any federal agency. Therefore, the JAB’s ATO is only provisional, indicating that the JAB has examined and approved the CSO’s risk posture. However, each federal agency is still required to issue its own agency ATO, meaning that it accepts the risk associated with using a certain CSO. Since JAB accounts for all federal agencies when assessing CSPs’ security posture, a JAB P-ATO effectively serves as the strictest FedRAMP authorization requiring no additional security testing.
The FedRAMP Compliance Process: What Does it Involve?
Demonstrating FedRAMP compliance, whether by obtaining an agency ATO or a JAB P-ATO, is a challenging process. CSPs (particularly management) must be ready to devote considerable time and resources (both financial and human) to the process.
Here’s what the procedure looks like:
For starters, one needs to prepare for a FedRAMP ATO and document the application of the security controls. This procedure is started by CSPs classifying their CSO in line with FIPS-199. The corresponding NIST 800-53 controls (and FedRAMP supplementary controls) that will apply to the CSO will depend on the category that results (Low, Moderate, or High).
CSPs should create a roadmap to fulfill the controls as it might necessitate architectural changes to their current cloud service in the public sector. Numerous other papers are also necessary, such as a contingency plan, incident response plan, and configuration management plan, to mention a few. The SSP is the process’s foundational (and complex) document. CSPs should pay attention to the work required to create the documentation and put the controls in place for the CSO. A smooth evaluation process will be significantly helped by the caliber of the paperwork and the meticulousness with which the controls are applied.
The assessment phase can start as soon as the SSP and other necessary papers are ready, reviewed, and authorized. The next step is for a third-party assessment organization (3PAO) to create a security assessment plan (SAP) outlining the CSO’s testing methodology.
The third-party assessment organization will evaluate the application of the controls after receiving CSO (and federal agency, for an agency ATO) approval and create a security assessment report (SAR). It is crucial to remember that the security analysis must be carried out on a system ready for production. A test system or a development system cannot be used for assessments.
The federal agency reviews and approves the SAR during this phase (for agency authorization). Before certifying the SAR, federal agencies may demand more testing. An agency ATO letter (for the agency path) is issued after the SAR is authorized and submitted to a secure repository, together with all other necessary documentation. After reviewing the supporting paperwork, the FedRAMP PMO decides whether to grant the FedRAMP authorization.
- Continuous Monitoring
After achieving an initial agency ATO or JAB P-ATO, the CSP moves into ongoing monitoring. The CSP ensures the evaluated controls continue to function well during this phase. At predetermined intervals (e.g., continuous/constant, monthly, annually), a subset of controls is observed, and information regarding compliance is given to the authorizing agency.
Databases, servers, and web applications are monthly vulnerability scans’ targets. 3PAOs must also conduct an annual evaluation of the CSO.
Checklist of FedRAMP Compliance Requirements
- Finish FedRAMP documentation, including the FedRAMP SSP;
- Implement security measures in line with FIPS 199 classification;
- Have a FedRAMP Third Party Assessment Organization evaluate CSO (3PAO);
- Evaluate findings;
- Create an action plan and milestones (POA&M);
- Obtain an Agency ATO or a Provisional ATO from the Joint Authorization Board (JAB) (P-ATO); and,
- Incorporate monthly vulnerability scans into a Continuous Monitoring (ConMon) program.
Get FedRAMP Certified with Akitra!
Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that the organizations they work with are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk. Compliance certification fills that need.
Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our service helps customers become certified for FedRAMP compliance standards, along with other frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, NIST CSF, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, FedRAMP, CCPA, CMMC, and more such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s Risk Management product for overall risk management for your company, Trust Center, and AI-based Automated Questionnaire Response product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes, delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently.
The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings, including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.
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