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FedRAMP security requirements put a premium on automation

When it comes to the federal government’s cloud rules, security automation is king.

That was the message from Matt Goodrich, director for the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), GSA. Goodrich spoke at the Cloud Security Alliance Summit Monday during RSA Conference 2018 and talked about the history of and lessons learned from FedRAMP, which was first introduced in 2011.

“We wanted to standardize how the federal government does authorizations for cloud products,” Goodrich said, describing the chaos of each individual department and agency having its own set of guidelines and approaches for approving cloud service providers.

Goodrich described in detail the vision behind the regulatory program, the security issues that drove its creation and how FedRAMP security requirements were developed. One of the more interesting details he discussed was the importance of security automation for those requirements.

Three impact levels

FedRAMP has a three-tiered system for cloud service offerings based on impact level: Low, Moderate and High. Low impact systems include public websites with non-sensitive data, which have 35 FedRAMP security requirements. Goodrich said his organization has reduced the number of requirements for Low impact systems, which had been more than 100. “With these systems, we’re looking to ask [cloud providers]: Do you have a basic security program? Do you do scanning, do you patch, and do you have vulnerability management processes like that,” he said.

Moderate impact systems, meanwhile, include approximately 80% of all data across the federal government, and as such they have 325 FedRAMP security requirements for cloud providers. That includes having a well-operated risk management program, Goodrich said, as well as encryption and access controls around the data.

High impact systems are another story. “These are some of the most sensitive systems we have across the government,” Goodrich said, such as Department of Defense data. Compromises of these systems’ data, he said, could lead to financial catastrophes for government agencies and private sector organizations or even loss of life. High impact systems have 420 FedRAMP security requirements, and the focus of those requirements is on security automation.

“Basically we’re looking for a high degree of automation behind a lot of what these high impact systems do,” Goodrich said. “If you can cut what a human can do and have a machine do it, then that’s what’s going to have to be implemented. It’s the difference between moderate and high systems.”

A lot of the FedRAMP security requirements for moderate and high systems are the same, Goodrich said, but it’s how cloud providers implement the controls for those requirements that are different. Having configuration management tools, for example, in place will get you a contract to maintain moderate impact systems in the cloud, but having automated configuration management tools will get you in the door for high impact systems.

Security automation is something that’s been talked about for years, but new developments and investments around AI and automation seem to have reignited interest lately. Goodrich’s insights echo similar statements at the RSA Conference this week from the private sector on the value of automated systems that not only alleviate the burden on infosec professionals but also enhance security operations within an organization.

CrowdStrike, for instance, introduced Falcon X, the newest part of its cloud-based Falcon platform, which automates malware analysis processes to help enterprises respond to security incidents faster. In addition, ISACA’s State of Cybersecurity 2018 report emphasized the value of security automation in offsetting the shortage of skill infosec personnel within an organization.

FedRAMP’s security requirements make it clear the U.S. government doesn’t trust humans to handle its most sensitive data – which begs the question: Should enterprises adopt the same approach?

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