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Securing FedRAMP’s future

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program “is no longer optimized for modern security solutions,” according to a new report the Center for Cybersecurity Policy and Law, a trade association run out of the Washington D.C, law firm Venable.

The Future of FedRAMP draws on documents and interviews with federal agencies and cloud service providers (CSPs) who have worked with FedRAMP. It characterizes the current state of the program as "well intended and partially successful" but challenged by its inability to meet agency and vendor demand for reviews and authorizations, “agencies’ limited reuse of authorizations to operate (ATOs), and the compliance-focused, manually driven certification and maintenance process.”  

Although FedRAMP program managers have "worked diligently to balance its limited authority and resources against a CSP environment that has grown in scale and capability and a policy landscape that has been in flux, the current system is failing to keep pace with growth and change in commercial capabilities," the report said.

Government bureaucracy is called out as one of the primary barriers to improving FedRAMP's speed and capacity. The report notes that multiple stakeholders, including the Office of Management and Budget, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Homeland Security and Congress, all have some role in how the program operates.

The report described FedRAMP as being designed for legacy IT environments, making it ill-suited to address increasingly complex security products as well as emerging technologies like internet-of-things devices and artificial intelligence, which are increasingly integrated and relevant to government cloud environments.

The sum of those issues adds up to what federal IT leaders have been saying about the program for years: It's simply too slow and does not have the capacity to meet demand among federal agencies.

"Because of the way the program is structured, the joint authorization board really right now can only review about three CSP packages per quarter," John Banghart, Venable's senior director for technology risk management, said at a Feb. 21 event announcing the report's release. "That's not a lot, particularly given with the way the landscape is expanding, with the amount of companies that are introducing cloud services and cloud products."

The report recommended government redefine federal IT risk management and emphasize automated and continuous monitoring. This could be accomplished by identifying controls that are ripe for automation, developing automated standards for security assessments, aligning FedRAMP's assessment framework with NIST's Cybersecurity Framework and developing real-time dashboards to monitor cloud environments.

The government should also look for ways to consolidate and standardize risk acceptance processes across government. This was, after all, the primary problem FedRAMP was created to solve. The authors advocated consolidating cloud ATOs processes into one place, perhaps a shared service center, develop clear guidelines for reciprocity and group together agencies with similar risk profiles to make cross-agency ATO acceptance more seamless.

Finally, the government should leverage emerging innovations in cloud and technology markets. This can be achieved through standard configurations for IT environments and components, compliance pathways for service providers looking to sell new technologies to the government.

Matthew Lira, White House special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives, said at the event that the administration understands the challenges.

"We're listening to your feedback and we see a tremendous opportunity to work with you to evolve this program so that it's a framework not only that works today … but can really meet the needs of the next generation of technological innovation," he said.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN. 

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.

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