If you are new to the U.S. government’s rules for federal government contractors, there can be a host of tricky compliance terms to navigate. So here is a quick primer on two of the most important terms a CISO is likely to encounter: NIST and FedRAMP.

NIST Background

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) produces standards and risk assessment frameworks for a wide range of subjects, including cybersecurity. These documents typically take the form of Special Publications (SP).

For example, the NIST SP 800 series deals with computer security. Specifically, NIST 800-53 Revision 4, Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations, details the security and privacy controls that must be in place for information systems in the U.S. government.

Other publications in the SP 800 series cover issues such as including risk management (SP 800-37 and SP 800-30,) and business continuity planning (SP 800-34).

Why Is NIST Important?

The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) and Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (also called FISMA, and which updates the original law) require U.S. government agencies to implement information security controls using a risk-based approach to information security and cybersecurity assessment. Each agency must report its compliance annually to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — and the primary framework used for FISMA compliance is detailed in NIST SP 800-53.

In other words, to be a government contractor, your business must comply with NIST standards to meet annual FISMA compliance requirements. In addition, contractors managing IT systems on behalf of government agencies may also be required to report their compliance with FISMA and other security standards, such as the PCI-DSS standard for protecting credit card data.

How FedRAMP Enters the Compliance Picture

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) helps U.S. government agencies to reap the benefits of cloud services while minimizing duplicative information security work. It essentially serves as a seal of approval for cloud service providers (CSPs); when a CSP meets FedRAMP standards, federal agencies can use that CSP without the exhaustive due diligence and testing that might typically happen.

CSPs offer cloud products, such as IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, for sale to the government. These systems must meet the requirements of FISMA; FedRAMP provides a way to streamline the security and risk assessment process for maximum efficiency, so organizations can engage in a cloud-first strategy.

FedRAMP relies on several of the NIST SP documents, including 800-53 as a library of system controls and 800-37 for risk management. The streamlining occurs with a focus on which controls the CSP manages and which are managed by the agency purchasing the cloud services.

For example, a SaaS provider will offer the same shared physical security protections to all users due to the use of a single data center or hosting facility, leading to a low risk for these users. Conversely, each acquiring agency is responsible for implementing appropriate password controls which are sufficiently secure.

A CSP that wants to sell services to the U.S. government must identify which controls are relevant to the services the CSP is selling, and then engage a qualified third-party assessment organization (3PAO) to conduct a risk assessment. Once this assessment has been conducted on behalf of one government agency, other agencies may rely on the report of that assessment without having to conduct their own — saving time and money.

How Are NIST and FedRAMP Connected?

NIST provides standards and guidelines around risk management, information security, and privacy controls for information systems used by the U.S. government. FedRAMP employs the NIST guidelines to enable U.S. government agencies to use cloud services securely and efficiently.

In other words, if you’re a cloud service provider and want to bid on government contracts, you must comply with NIST standards so that you can be part of the FedRAMP program and have a much easier time offering your services to U.S. government customers.

While NIST and FedRAMP compliance are not required for private organizations that don’t bid on federal government contracts, following those standards is still a wise idea for any organization that wants to take a smart approach to cloud-based services and cybersecurity.

Manage NIST and FedRAMP Compliance with RiskOptics

RiskOptics makes managing both NIST and FedRAMP compliance pain-free. The RiskOptics ROAR Platform has FedRAMP and NIST SP 800-53 controls pre-loaded, so you can leverage existing work from compliance with other regulations to get FedRAMP compliant. You can also prepare evidence for your 3PAO quickly and more easily with the audit module.

To learn more about managing NIST and FedRAMP controls in our comprehensive risk management platform, schedule a demo today.

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