The Role of FedRAMP in Federal Agency Digital Transformation and Cybersecurity

April 25, 2024 James Imanian

FedRAMP Federal digital transformation cybersecurity

Not too long ago, when I was designing, building, operating and defending networks, the government organizations I worked with were burdened with many tasks related to deploying a new capability. We needed to decide and plan how it would be assessed and authorized, deployed, maintained, operated, patched, defended and, of course, when and how to upgrade the capability.

Assessment and authorization would take months, if not over a year, for a system or set of capabilities. Deploying and setting up complex on-premises software demanded extensive time and resources from our IT teams. Maintenance was continuous, requiring regular monitoring and troubleshooting to ensure smooth operation.

Patching was particularly critical and time-sensitive, as any delay in addressing vulnerabilities could lead to security breaches. Our IT staff had to be constantly alert, integrating updates while minimizing business interruption. Upgrading software often posed a significant challenge, as comprehensive testing was needed to avoid operational downtime.

Cybersecurity was another intense area of focus. Internal resources had to construct and maintain robust defense systems, with dedicated personnel to monitor and counteract threats promptly. Each application increased the potential attack surface, necessitating sophisticated and wide-ranging security expertise.

“A FedRAMP-authorized identity security solution is more than a product – it’s a strategic ally in the mission to protect the nation’s digital frontiers. “

The Challenges of Deploying New Capabilities

The responsibilities of securing, maintaining and refreshing software were complex and costly, falling squarely on organizations’ internal teams – a demanding reality now alleviated by the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

Another factor in designing, operating and defending networks has been the evolution of cybersecurity toward the Zero Trust framework. The increasing complexity of cyberthreats has driven organizations to adopt a Zero Trust mindset, the rise of cloud and remote access technologies – and the recognition that traditional perimeter-based security is no longer sufficient.

Today, federal agencies have many competing requirements to meet beyond cybersecurity directives. We often talk about agencies needing to meet Executive Order (EO) 14028, issued in 2021 and centering around improving U.S. cybersecurity. The Biden administration has also tasked federal agencies with “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government” (EO 14058). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued further guidance in 2023 with “Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience” (OMB M-23-22). In essence, agencies have two daunting goals in the digital transformation of their services while improving their cybersecurity.

One way to quickly achieve both requirements is to use software-as-a-service (SaaS) capabilities that have gone through the FedRAMP authorization process. Using the trusted FedRAMP process, agencies can rapidly procure and deploy solutions to meet their mission objectives.

Improving Cybersecurity Today Means Going on a Zero Trust Journey

Agencies have a lot on their plates, and for most of them, cybersecurity is not their core competency. Using solutions that have a FedRAMP authorization enables agencies to focus on their core competencies, delivering services to customers while conducting their digital transformation and maintaining cybersecurity. Adopting cloud-based solutions is an attractive business strategy, as organizations can streamline operations and reduce costs.

EO 14028 assigns agencies the responsibility to modernize their cybersecurity and advance toward a Zero Trust architecture. Zero Trust can be considered a foundational initiative that, together with an organized framework like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, enables decision-makers and security leaders to achieve pragmatic and effective security implementations. Zero Trust efforts must incorporate, coordinate and integrate a challenging combination of policies, practices and technologies to succeed. As agencies begin consuming more capabilities from the cloud, the ability to use solutions that have already undergone the FedRAMP process will speed the transition.

Identity Security Capabilities Need the Highest Security

Identity security capabilities are foundational to protecting agency assets and identity is the target of many of the new attack methods we hear about from our customers and red team. I firmly believe that identity security capabilities should be a focus area of an organization’s overall security efforts. In today’s digital landscape, where cyberthreats constantly evolve and become more sophisticated, strong identity and access management controls are crucial for protecting sensitive data and systems. Identity security capabilities serve as the gateway to an organization’s resources. Identities, whether they belong to users, applications or devices, are the primary vectors through which access is granted or denied. Without robust identity security measures in place, an organization becomes vulnerable to unauthorized access, data breaches and other cyberthreats.

Agencies should use solutions authorized at the FedRAMP High-impact level since the effect of the loss of confidentiality, integrity or availability will have severe repercussions on operations. The newly authorized identity and endpoint privilege management solutions from CyberArk are what many agencies can use to evolve their Zero Trust maturity and meet the control requirements for your IT environments.

Benefits of FedRAMP to Zero Trust – Maintaining Speed to Value

As agencies continue to deploy more pieces of their Zero Trust architecture, the union with a FedRAMP-authorized identity security solution is more than compatible – it’s strategic. It enables a robust, compliant, future-focused stance against cyberthreats, ensuring the journey is embarked upon and sustained with a vigilant and compliant guardian.

I recommend that agencies adopt FedRAMP-authorized identity security solutions and engage in continuous education and training for their personnel. Understanding that adversary and agency objectives are dynamic means ensuring your security solutions’ functionality matures in response and recognizing that your people are your best line of defense. Moreover, agencies should work closely with their solution providers to ensure mission objectives are effectively accomplished as a team. Collaboration is vital in cybersecurity – a partnership approach can significantly enhance the effectiveness of serving your customers and maturing your Zero Trust strategy.

The journey to Zero Trust is ongoing. With the right tools and mindset, government agencies can look forward to a more secure future. A FedRAMP-authorized identity security solution is more than a product – it’s a strategic ally in the mission to protect the nation’s digital frontiers.

James Imanian is senior director of the U.S. Federal Technology Office at CyberArk.

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