Information Center

FedRAMP Compliance Explained: A Comprehensive Overview

Since data breaches are becoming more frequent, customers are naturally suspicious of companies that could be easy targets. No one wants to do business with an organization at a higher risk of being hacked. And this is especially true when it comes to the Federal government.

While one may assume that federal agencies have impenetrable security, data suggests otherwise. On top of being just as vulnerable as other organizations, they're also a top target for hackers.

On record, 2018 is the worst year for the U.S. government in terms of cyber security. During that year, there were 13,107 reported breaches on federal agencies. These resulted in costs totaling 13.7 billion.

Considering the sensitive nature of the information federal agencies have about the country and its citizens, such threats are a major cause for concern.

This is why the federal government takes cybersecurity seriously by implementing guidelines that all partner organizations must follow. By ensuring its partners are maintaining high cybersecurity standards and authorizations, the government is lowering its risks.

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is one of the government's initiatives to help organizations provide secure cloud services and products.

In this article, you'll find a comprehensive overview of FedRAMP, including what it is, its objectives, when it was developed, who it applies to, why it's important, what it takes to be certified, steps to FedRAMP authorization, and much more.

What Is FedRamp?

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a U.S. government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring of cloud products and services.

FedRAMP aims to reduce the risk of data breaches and protect sensitive information by ensuring that cloud products and services meet a minimum level of security requirements.

What Is the Goal of FedRAMP?

Over the last decade, cloud technology has risen to prominence, and with good reason. It has made it much easier to scale up services more quickly.

But with the promise of faster service delivery comes greater risk—especially when protecting customer data.

FedRAMP provides a set of security standards and processes that ensure cloud-based services and products are reliable, safe, and secure.

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) resulted from this in 2011. FedRAMP streamlines security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services employed by federal agencies that save, process, or share federal information.

FedRAMP's goals can be summarized as follows:

  • Ensure federal information is secure when using cloud services
  • To save the federal government time and money by making cloud services reusable

To achieve these goals, FedRAMP has multiple areas of focus. These include:

  • Developing a singular, reliable security authorization process can help reduce contrasting efforts often seen in various agencies
  • Leveraging NIST and FISMA to assess cloud security
  • Enhance collaboration between vendors and agencies
  • Drive uniformity across security packages by standardizing best practices
  • Help agencies adapt to the cloud by creating a central repository for shared resources

History of FedRAMP

Although FedRAMP was launched over a decade ago, its roots date further back. To improve electronic government services, Congress passed the E-Government Act of 2002. This act established a Federal Chief Information Officer position within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

One of its key features was the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA). It advocated for using a cyber security framework to defend against threats. Since then, cloud technology has been one of the technologies that have altered how federal agencies interact with data.

Cloud technology enhances efficiency and reduces operating, and procurement costs significantly, saving the federal government billions in annual costs. However, it comes with an additional layer of cyber risk.

In 2011, the U.S. government officially established FedRAMP to govern cloud service providers offering federal agencies services and products. This was after Steve VanRockel, the Federal CIO of the OMB, sent a memo to U.S. federal agencies that outlined the need for a cloud security framework.

The memo proposed the establishment of FedRAMP as an effective tool for managing the security risk of cloud services. The program was officially launched in 2012 when the U.S. government issued its authorization to begin operations and start certifying cloud service providers.

Since then, FedRAMP has evolved and is now the federal standard for cloud security assessments that ensure the security of cloud services used by federal agencies.

Who Does FedRAMP Apply To?

FedRAMP applies to any cloud service or product used by the federal government. This includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. It also applies to contractors and vendors who provide services on behalf of the government.

The FedRAMP program requires cloud service providers to design and implement an efficiently secure environment that meets the required security controls.

Why Is FedRAMP Important?

Today, government agencies rely on secure cloud services more than ever before. The proliferation of mobile technology has forced organizations to adopt new technologies such as Cloud Computing, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) to remain competitive.

FedRAMP is important because it ensures that cloud services used by the federal government meet security standards. It helps protect federal data, reduce costs and improve efficiencies. By providing an effective way for agencies to evaluate and manage the risk of cloud services, FedRAMP simplifies the process of identifying, assessing, and authorizing cloud services used by federal agencies.

What Does it Take to Become FedRAMP Certified?

To become FedRAMP certified, cloud service providers must undergo a rigorous authorization process. The process begins with completing a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) for their cloud service or product. Once the SAQ is completed and approved, they must submit an Impact Assessment Brief (IAB) and a Plan of Action & Milestones (POA&M).

The IAB provides an overview of the system's architecture and security controls, while the POA&M outlines the security requirements that organizations must meet.

Once the IAB and POA&M are approved, cloud service providers can begin the official FedRAMP certification process.

FedRAMP authorization can be achieved in two ways:

1. Joint Authorization Board (JAB) Provisional Authority to Operate

The JAB issues a provisional authorization in this process, which lets agencies know that the risk has been reviewed. JAB authorization is an important first approval, and the cloud service provider must then submit it to a full agency review.

Cloud service providers with high or moderate risk will find this process most beneficial.

2. Agency Authorization

Agencies are responsible for authorizing cloud services and products that use FedRAMP standards. They must assess the overall risk and determine if the system complies with all security requirements before it can be authorized.

FedRAMP Compliance Categories

The U.S. government has established different categories of FedRAMP compliance: Low, Moderate, High, and Not Authorized. Each category carries security requirements that must be met based on the sensitivity of the information involved.

Moreover, they're based on the potential impact a security breach may have on three key areas:

  • Confidentiality-Protections for privacy and proprietary information
  • Integrity-Protections for data accuracy and completeness
  • Availability-Ensuring access to authorized users when needed

1. FedRAMP Low Impact Level

Low-impact level security is the baseline for cloud systems and data. It's low-risk and designed to support services and products meant for public use. Systems and information at this level are not critical to an agency's mission, operations, finances, reputation, or personnel. Therefore any loss of confidentiality of availability will not have a significant impact.

125 controls secure systems at this level. These are the technologies and processes cloud service providers use to secure government data stored in the cloud.

2. FedRAMP Moderate Impact Level

At this impact level, the data in question is referred to as controlled unclassified information. It's not publicly available and includes personally identifiable information. This data type is subject to the 325 controls of the FedRAMP moderate impact level.

If these controls are not in place, it could directly impact an agency’s Main purpose. Regular activities might be hindered, resources might be lost, and people's personal information could get out.

3. FedRAMP High Impact Level

Before June 2016, when FedRAMP published the high-level security baseline, government agencies could only contract cloud service providers for basic and moderate-level operations. But with the high-level security baseline, agencies can now contract cloud service providers for more sensitive operations.

High-risk systems must meet 421 controls designed to protect data classified as high-value assets. An agency typically owns this data and could include national security information, trade secrets, and financial records.

The 421 controls are comprehensive and provide the highest level of protection for sensitive government data stored in the cloud.

The high impact level should be used for the federal government's most sensitive, unclassified information. This applies to areas where a breach could have disastrous consequences like damage to an institution, financial ruin, or loss of life. These include law enforcement, emergency operations, financial services, and healthcare systems.

FedRAMP Governance

The FedRAMP program is overseen by executive branch entities who work together to develop, manage, and operate the program. The following are FedRAMP's governing bodies:

  • The Joint Authorization Board (JAB)- This is the main governing and decision-making body for FedRAMP. It consists of chief information officers (CIOs) from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Department of Defense (DOD).
  • Office of Management and Budget (OMB)- The OMB provides guidance, direction, and policy on federal information technology.
  • FedRAMP Program Management Office (PMO)- This office is responsible for developing the program's framework, managing compliance efforts, and providing oversight of service providers.
  • CIO Council- This council provides direction and guidance to agencies on cloud computing efforts.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)- Provides technical and cybersecurity assessments of cloud services providers through their "Authority to Operate" process.

Examples of FedRAMP Certified Programs

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program has certified several cloud-based services, including:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Microsoft Azure Government Cloud
  • Google Cloud Platform for Government
  • Salesforce
  • Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for Government

These cloud-based services comply with FedRAMP’s security requirements and have achieved the necessary authorization. As a result, federal agencies can use any of these services to store sensitive government data in the cloud without compromising their security.

FedRAMP Certification

To be certified, cloud service providers must meet the security requirements outlined in the FedRAMP Framework. This includes a Risk Assessment Report (RAR) outlining the risks associated with the proposed service, a Security Assessment Plan (SAP) outlining how risks will be mitigated, and an Authorization Package demonstrating compliance with controls.

Once the cloud service provider has met all these requirements, they can apply for authorization to operate their services in a government environment. If approved, they will receive provisional authorization to operate (P-ATO) from the Joint Authorization Board, valid for three years.

Steps to FedRAMP Authorization

There are four general steps in the FedRAMP authorization process, regardless of which specific type of authorization you pursue.

  1. Package development includes an authorization kick-off meeting, followed by the provider completing a System Security Plan. After that, a FedRAMP-approved third-party assessment organization develops a Security Assessment Plan.
  2. Assessment- The security assessment organization submits a report detailing its findings and recommendations. The service provider creates a remediation plan with milestones to correct the deficiencies identified in the report.
  3. Authorization- Once the JAB or authorizing agency determines that the risks are low enough, they'll send an Authority to Operate letter to the FedRAMP project management office. Afterward, the provider's name is then included in the FedRAMP Marketplace.
  4. Monitoring- Each agency that uses the security service will receive monthly monitoring reports.

FedRAMP Authorization Best Practices

Achieving FedRAMP authorization is no easy feat, but it's crucial for all parties involved that cloud service providers succeed once they begin the process.

FedRAMP interviewed several small businesses and start-ups about what lessons they learned during authorization to help others. Here are the seven best tips that these companies had for successfully navigating the authorization process:

  • Determine how FedRAMP applies to your product and perform gap analysis.
  • Get buy-in throughout the organization, including members of the technical and executive teams.
  • Find an agency partner that already uses your product or is willing to commit to using it.
  • Clearly define your boundaries, including everything from the internal components to the connections with external services and how information and metadata flow.
  • Rather than thinking of FedRAMP as a project with an endpoint, see it as an ongoing program that monitors services constantly.
  • Consider your authorization approach carefully, as you may need multiple authorizations for different products.
  • The FedRAMP PMO is an important asset that can help you with both technical questions and long-term planning.

Benefits of FedRAMP Compliance

While complying with FedRAMP is mandatory, you shouldn't view it as an obligation but an investment. This is because there are significant benefits to becoming certified, some of which include:

  • Increased trust and security when it comes to storing confidential government data.
  • Cost savings due to the decreased need for infrastructure and data center upkeep.
  • A streamlined authorization process that allows agencies to access cloud services quickly.
  • Increased market share as government agencies are more likely to choose FedRAMP-compliant providers over those who are not certified.
  • Improved compliance with other security standards such as HIPAA and SOX.
  • Reducing the risk of data breaches and other malicious attacks by having a robust system in place.
  • Reduced time to market for services with FedRAMP-compliant features.
  • Improved trust between federal agencies and cloud service providers.

How Veritas Can Help

As with other cybersecurity measures, achieving FedRAMP compliance takes a lot of work. Along with determining the level of compliance you need to achieve and completing the authorization process, there are many other important steps for successful implementation.

Veritas is dedicated to helping our customers gain and maintain FedRAMP compliance, so you can trust us to provide the assistance you need. We have a team of experienced professionals that understand the complexities of this process and can offer guidance.

Veritas can help you get there with our full range of services, including:

  • Compliance assessments- Our team of experts can audit your systems and processes to identify any areas that need attention.
  • Gap analysis- We'll provide a detailed assessment of the gaps between what is required for FedRAMP compliance and what your current systems are capable of providing.
  • Vulnerability scans- Our team can conduct a security scan of your systems to uncover any weaknesses that need attention.
  • Policy and procedure development- We'll help you create and implement the necessary policies and procedures for FedRAMP compliance, including documentation and training.
  • Configuration auditing- Our experts will review your configuration settings to ensure they meet.
  • FedRAMP requirements Security scans- Our team can conduct regular security scans to detect any potential threats and ensure your systems are secure.

Why Should You Choose Veritas

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program was developed to ensure that cloud service providers meet a rigorous set of security requirements before being authorized to serve federal agencies. It provides a high level of assurance that sensitive government data is protected and safeguarded.

Veritas is the ideal choice for companies looking to achieve FedRAMP compliance. Here are some of the reasons you should choose us:

Unparalleled Expertise and Experience- Our team of experts have extensive knowledge and experience with FedRAMP compliance and can provide the guidance you need to ensure success.

Comprehensive Services- We offer a full range of services for those looking to achieve FedRAMP certification, from assessments and gap analysis to policy development and security scans.

Dedicated Support- Our customer service is second to none, and we'll be there to provide support every step of the way.

Cost-Effective Solutions- We offer cost-effective solutions that can help you save money on compliance costs.

Conclusion

FedRAMP is an important cybersecurity measure for government agencies and cloud service providers alike. It provides a high level of assurance that sensitive data is secure and helps companies gain a larger market share.

Veritas can help you ensure FedRAMP compliance with our full range of services and dedicated customer support. By utilizing our services, you can be sure that you are taking the right steps to achieve FedRAMP compliance.

So contact us today to get started. We’re here to help you navigate the complexities of FedRAMP compliance and keep your data secure.

 

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The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a government-wide cybersecurity program developed to provide standardized security requirements for cloud service providers serving federal agencies.

FedRAMP applies to all federal agencies and cloud service providers that provide services to them.

To achieve FedRAMP certification, cloud service providers must meet rigorous security requirements and demonstrate compliance. This includes vulnerability scans, configuration audits, policy development, and other steps.

FedRAMP is important for protecting sensitive data, ensuring compliance with government regulations, and gaining a larger market share.

Veritas offers a full range of services for FedRAMP certification, including compliance assessments, gap analysis, vulnerability scans, policy development, configuration auditing, security scans, and more.