Tomorrow June 6th, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, the government’s cloud security assessment plan known as FedRAMP will begin accepting security certification applications from companies that provide software services and data storage through the cloud.  On Monday, GSA issued a solicitation for cloud providers, both commercial and government, to apply for FedRAMP certification.  FedRAMP is the result of government’s work address security concerns related to the growing practice of cloud computing and  establishes a standardized approach to security assessment, authorizations and continuous monitoring for cloud services and products.  By creating industry-wide security standards and focusing more on risk management, as opposed to strict compliance with reporting metrics, officials expect to improve data security as well as simplify the processes agencies use to purchase cloud services, according to Katie Lewin, director of the federal cloud computing program at the General Services Administration.

As both the cloud and the government’s use of cloud services grew, officials found that there were many inconsistencies to requirements and approaches as each agency began to adopt the cloud.  FedRAMP’s goal is to bring consistency to the process but also give cloud vendors a standard way of providing services to the government.  And with the government’s cloud-first policy, which requires agencies to consider moving applications to the cloud as a first option for new IT projects, this should streamline the process of deploying to the cloud.  This is an ‘approve once, and use many’ approach, reducing the cost and time required to conduct redundant, individual agency security assessment.

Recently, the GSA released a list of nine accredited third-party assessment organizations—or 3PAOs—that will do the initial assessments and test the controls of providers per FedRAMP requirements. The 3PAOs will have an ongoing part in ensuring providers meet requirements.

FedRAMP provides an overall checklist for handling risks associated with Web services that would have a limited, or serious impact on government operations if disrupted.  Cloud providers must implement these security controls to be authorized to provide cloud services to federal agencies.  The government will forbid federal agencies from using a cloud service provider unless the vendor can prove that a FedRAMP-accredited third-party organization has verified and validated the security controls.  Once approved, the cloud vendor would not need to be ‘re-evaluated’ by every government entity that might be interested in their solution.  There may be instances where additional controls are added by agencies to address specific needs.

Independent, third-party auditors are tasked with testing each product/solution for compliance which is intended to save agencies from doing their own risk management assessment.  Details of the auditing process are expected early next month but includes a System Security Plan that clarifies how the requirements of each security control will be met within a cloud computing environment. Within the plan, each control must detail the solutions being deployed such as devices, documents and processes; the responsibilities of providers and government customer to implement the plan; the timing of implementation; and how solution satisfies controls. A Security Assessment Plan details how each control implementation will be assessed and tested to ensure it meets the requirements and the Security Assessment Report explains the issues, findings, and recommendations from the security control assessments detailed in the security assessment plan.  Ultimately, each provider must establish means of preventing unauthorized users from hacking the cloud service.

The regulations allow the contractor to determine which elements of the cloud must be backed up and how frequently. Three backups are required, one available online.  All government information stored on a provider's servers must be encrypted.  When the data is in transit, providers must use a "hardened or alarmed carrier protective distribution system," which detects intrusions, if not using encryption.  Since cloud services may span many geographic areas with various people in the mix, providers must develop measures to guard their operations against supply chain threats.  Also, vendors must disclose all the services they outsource and obtain the board's approval to contract out services in the future.

After receiving the initial applications, FedRAMP program officials will develop a queue order in which to review authorization packages.  Officials will prioritize secure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions, contract vehicles for commodity services, and shared services that align with the administration’s Cloud First policy. 

F5 has an iApp template for NIST Special Publication 800-53 which aims to make compliance with NIST Special Publication 800-53 easier for administrators of BIG-IPs.  It does this by presenting a simplified list of configuration elements together in one place that are related to the security controls defined by the standard. This makes it easier for an administrator to configure a BIG-IP in a manner that complies with the organization's policies and procedures as defined by the standard.  This iApp does not take any actions to make applications being serviced through a BIG-IP compliant with NIST Special Publication 800-53 but focuses on the configuration of the management capabilities of BIG-IP and not on the traffic passing through it.

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