Why FedRAMP Matters to Non-Federal OrganizationsCommercial companies should explore how FedRAMP can help mitigate risk as they move to the cloud.
The word "compliance" is not a popular one for any technology provider. Whether an organization is in retail, manufacturing, healthcare, or government, navigating complex regulatory environments and processes can hinder technology advancement. While it's often considered a "necessary evil," compliance helps companies maintain high security and data management standards and mitigate security risk, which in the long run is good for everyone. We need to look for better ways to be compliant and still innovate.
Consider the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FedRAMP is a "government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment authorization" for cloud service provider (CSP) solutions. FedRAMP ensures cloud offerings are secure enough to be used by federal agencies, including agencies handling sensitive information and data.
FedRAMP was introduced in 2011 to support the Cloud First policy (now the Cloud Smart policy), which aimed to accelerate the adoption of secure cloud solutions among federal agencies. Rather than allow agencies to continue using individual requirements, FedRAMP continues to streamline authorizations by creating unified standards based on the risk needs of agencies. The goal is to improve agencies' protection of information, streamline and reduce costs of security assessments, and better enable agencies to modernize operations with secure cloud solutions.
This movement to capitalize on the benefits of the cloud is not exclusive to federal agencies — far from it. FedRAMP was created to accelerate adoption within federal government, but non-federal organizations are starting to benefit as well, including critical infrastructure and commercial entities.
FedRAMP for Critical Infrastructure
Any non-federal organization working directly with the government will likely need to comply with the same FedRAMP requirements as agencies themselves. This includes universities and state agencies receiving federal grants, as well as defense contractors that support agency operations in cloud environments. Any program supported by federal funding for non-federal organization needs to adhere to FedRAMP guidelines, and so will the technology providers involved in that program.
Perhaps the biggest non-federal group of organizations looking at FedRAMP solutions today are those in critical infrastructure. Some organizations — for instance, a manufacturer providing components for a missile system — work directly with federal agencies and are required by law to use FedRAMP solutions. However, other organizations across banking, healthcare, insurance, and utility industries are being directed to FedRAMP, too, because these are highly regulated sectors. So, federal agencies are pushing companies in these industries to better ensure the security of citizens' personal information.
Like federal agencies themselves, critical infrastructure companies are feeling the pressure to modernize operations with the cloud while simultaneously being cautious because of security concerns. These organizations are weary, and rightfully so, of being tomorrow's data breach headline. FedRAMP authorized cloud solutions can ease concerns by delivering the same security as federal agencies and exploring the latest cloud solutions vendors have to offer.
Using FedRAMP to Guide Commercial Investment
Commercial businesses across industries understand the benefits that cloud solutions offer in terms of greater operational flexibility and reduced costs, but they don't face the requirements or direct government pressure to use FedRAMP-authorized products. In fact, not all FedRAMP-approved solutions are even available to commercial customers. This depends on how agreements are set up between the software-as-a-service provider and the federal agency that sponsored the authorization, according to FedRAMP guidelines. Of the roughly 17,000 cloud applications available, only around 300 are approved by FedRAMP, and only a limited selection of those will be available for commercial use.
So, why should commercial organizations pay attention to FedRAMP? The answer is trust and confidence.
By understanding the federal cloud marketplace, commercial organizations can identify cloud solutions that can benefit their adoption strategy and be assured those solutions meet the highest security standards. Not only do FedRAMP solutions undergo hundreds of security control checks, the program also includes continuous monitoring that requires providers to immediately flag any product issues to the sponsoring agency. This security transparency further gives everyone — federal agencies, critical infrastructure, or other commercial companies — more confidence in both the cloud solution and the CSP providing it.
And while a FedRAMP solution may not be authorized for commercial use, many CSPs are leveraging the benefits of going through the validation process and incorporating those into their commercial solutions. In other words, many commercial products are becoming more secure as a result of CSPs investing in FedRAMP. Tracking the technology providers that have achieved FedRAMP authorization gives commercial companies a good sense of where to look for advanced, highly secure cloud solutions.
A "Universal FedRAMP" Future
The FedRAMP program today is a primary driver in the acceleration of cloud adoption for federal agencies. While the program is still evolving, it has undoubtedly delivered, providing organizations with trusted cloud solutions that federal agencies can be confident using.
As the program matures, there will be an opportunity to embrace a more consistent, "universal FedRAMP" experience which will guide secure cloud investments across non-government. For now, commercial companies should be proactive in exploring how FedRAMP can help mitigate risk on their journey to the cloud.
Daniel Kent is the Chief Technology Officer for the Cisco Systems Public Sector organization. His group assists government transformation by delivering technologies, services, and offerings into public sector vertical markets including DoD, education, government, and ... View Full Bio