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FedRAMP: Understanding the Fundamentals (FAQ)

Any organization seeking to provide cloud products or solutions to a federal agency will need to go through a FedRAMP Readiness Assessment and then a full FedRAMP assessment to receive an Authorization to Operate (ATO) which ensures the security of its hosted information meets FedRAMP requirements. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a government-developed standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring of Cloud Service Providers (CSPs). Only Third Party Assessment Organizations (3PAO) may perform FedRAMP assessments.

Rather than needing multiple assessments, FedRAMP is an integrative standardized audit designed to be a common one-stop-shop for CSPs. FedRAMP follows the “do once, use many” methodology. FedRAMP’s myriad of benefits includes efficiency of resources, both cost effective and time-saving.

The goal of FedRAMP is to increase confidence in the security of cloud solutions through continuous monitoring and consistent use of best information security practices and procedures.

As organizations explore their federal audit options, A-LIGN’s experienced assessors have compiled and answered five frequently asked questions to help organizations better understand the assessment process.

1.      Does FedRAMP apply to me?

Any Cloud Service Provider (CSP) that is currently or looking to become a third-party vendor for federal agencies must become FedRAMP certified. State government agencies may also require third-party CSPs to become FedRAMP certified.

2.      Do CSPs need an agency sponsor to become FedRAMP certified?

No, there are two processes in which CSPs can become FedRAMP certified. The first is through an agency sponsorship when a government entity vouches for a CSP streamlining their approval process. The other option is for CSPs to go through the Joint Authorization Board (JAB) that includes a readiness exam which reviews controls and upon passing provides joint provisional security authorization.

3.      What are the key processes of FedRAMP?

The key processes of FedRAMP include a security assessment, leveraging and authorization, and ongoing assessment and authorization. The security assessment involves a set of requirements from the NIST 800-53 Rev. 4 controls to test security authorizations. In the FedRAMP repository, federal agencies view security authorization packages and leverage these packages to grant authorization. Once granted, continuous assessment and authorization activities must be in place to uphold authorization.

4.      Is penetration testing mandatory for a FedRAMP ATO?

Yes, a penetration test is a mandatory part of the assessment process if the CSP is moderate or high-risk level impact. Third-Party Assessment Organization (3PAO) must perform mandated penetration testing.

5.      How do I start the process of becoming FedRAMP certified?

The process is dependent on an organization’s current level of compliance with NIST SP 800-53 Rev. 4. If an organization has never written a System Security Plan (SSP), evaluating current security controls against the controls in the NIST SP 800-53 Rev. 4 is recommended.

Becoming FedRAMP Compliant

Once a CSP decides FedRAMP is the appropriate audit for their compliance obligations and best fits their security needs, they must choose an accredited third-party assessment organization.

As an accredited 3PAO, A-LIGN can help CSPs understand, navigate, and implement the assessment based on their organization’s type and initiatives regardless of their readiness.

If you have any questions on becoming FedRAMP compliant, please reach out to one of A-LIGN’s experienced assessors at info@a-lign.com or 1-888-702-5446.

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