FedRAMP: Friend or Foe for Cloud Security?


Baan AlsinawiCloud security is on everyone’s minds these days. You can’t go a day without reading about an organization either planning its move to the cloud or actively deploying a cloud-based architecture. A great example is the latest news about the US Department of Defense and its ongoing move to the cloud.

The US government is leading the charge by encouraging the private sector to provide secure cloud service offerings that enable federal agencies to adopt the cloud-first policy (established by the Office of Management and Budget in 2016) using FedRAMP. FedRAMP is a US government-wide approach for security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. It sets a high bar for compliance with standards that ensure effective risk management of cloud systems used by the federal government.

There is even some chatter now about efforts to establish FedRAMP as a law, in an effort to encourage agencies to adopt the cloud at a more rapid pace. The delay in adoption is by no small measure related to the complexity, the intensive resource requirements of the current FedRAMP processes and finding providers that are FedRAMP-certified.

One of the main considerations to the adoption of FedRAMP on a wider scale is the difficulty for the industry, Third Party Assessment Organization (3PAO) and Cloud Service Providers (CSP) to determine what the profitability model is for engaging in the FedRAMP program.

Establishing such metrics can offer key drivers for industry adoption, perhaps by allowing CSPs to determine how offering FedRAMP-accredited IaaS/SaaS/PaaS can be truly beneficial and profitable for the company’s bottom line, at the same time allowing the agencies to determine the cost effectiveness of a move to the cloud.

While achieving FedRAMP accreditation has many challenges (as TalaTek learned over the past 18 months during deployment of its own cloud-based solution), there are clear benefits for the federal agencies and the industry to work with a FedRAMP-authorized service providers. At a high level, these include an established trust in the effectiveness of implemented controls and improvement of data protection measures.

Despite the many challenges for adoption, I am a big believer in the benefits outweighing the challenges of the FedRAMP program, especially in the long run, after the kinks are ironed out and the program maturity improves through increased adoption of both government and private industry.

The FedRAMP program provides significant value by increasing protection of data in a consistent and efficient manner – a key need among government organizations and especially among information sharing agencies – by providing these key benefits:

  • Enables a more successful move to the cloud for federal agencies;
  • Ensures a minimum security baseline for all cloud services;
  • Provides managed security continuity for a cloud offering versus a onetime compliance activity;
  • Standardizes requirements for all cloud service providers; and
  • Creates a 3PAO cadre that is capable, certified and can ensure quality assurance for cloud implementations.

By providing a unified, government-wide framework for managing risk, FedRAMP overcomes the downside of duplication of effort and inefficiency associated with existing federal assessment and authorization processes.

When considering a move to the cloud and the level of security that is necessary, we should all take risk management seriously and invest in skill development and knowledge, as well as in adapting the processes for the 21st century and getting ready for the reality of the dominance of the cloud in our near future. FedRAMP provides the roadmap for any organization to achieve these goals.

Baan Alsinawi, TalaTek founder and president

[ISACA Now Blog]

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