Compliance frameworks
The ultimate guide to FedRAMP

The ultimate guide to FedRAMP

For small businesses and large corporations alike, US federal contracts are among the most profitable deals on the market. As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy, and that includes high-dollar contracts. 

If you want to do business with federal entities, FedRAMP authorization is a mandatory checkpoint. Here’s everything you need to get started. 

What is FedRAMP and what does FedRAMP stand for?

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRamp) is a standardized way for federal agencies to vet and approve cloud service providers before engaging in partnerships or business deals. Every US federal agency can only use cloud services that are FedRAMP authorized.

FedRAMP includes an extensive list of security controls and continuous monitoring requirements. If your cloud service is FedRAMP authorized, it gives the federal agency the reassurance that you have security best practices in place to keep their critical information safe.

This standard was created by the Joint Authorization Board or JAB. It was a collaborative effort between the JAB, the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DoD). While it is used by every federal agency, it’s overseen by the JAB.

What is the difference between FedRAMP and NIST?

The federal government has no shortage of security standards and requirements, so it’s easy to mix them up. In particular, what makes FedRAMP different from the NIST security standards?

NIST standards serve as the basis for FedRAMP, specifically NIST 800-53. FedRAMP adapts the security requirements of NIST 800-53 for cloud-based services and applies them to third-party cloud service providers. NIST compliance and FedRAMP authorization are two different processed and each one must be pursued separately.

What are the types of FedRAMP compliance or FedRAMP authorizations?

There are two types of FedRAMP authorization: a JAB P-ATO and an agency P-ATO. ATO stands for authority to operate; this is the language used for a FedRAMP authorization. That means you can either be FedRAMP authorized by JAB itself or by a specific federal agency.

When you’re FedRAMP authorized by a particular agency, you receive the right to provide your cloud service to that agency. With a JAB P-ATO, you can serve any federal agency.

While a JAB P-ATO opens more doors than an ATO for a specific agency, it’s much more difficult to attain. JAB only has the resources to review a certain number of applications for JAB P-ATOs each year. You need to be authorized to work with JAB, and you also need to go through an additional step of third-party readiness assessments.

Who needs to be FedRAMP compliant?

While FedRAMP is a government standard, it is not a law. No organization is legally required to be FedRAMP authorized. However, you can only provide services to federal agencies if you have FedRAMP authorization.

FedRAMP applies exclusively to cloud service providers—organizations that sell cloud-based services or SaaS services. If you offer a cloud service and would like to take on federal agencies as clients, FedRAMP compliance opens that door.

Benefits of FedRAMP certification

Is it worth your investment to become FedRAMP authorized? There are two primary benefits that this project will win for you.

Expanding your business opportunities

The most direct benefit of FedRAMP authorization is that it allows you to be eligible for federal contracts. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee those contracts, but you will not be in consideration without it. Depending on the circumstances and the service you provide, a single federal agency contract could be worth millions.

Achieving high levels of cloud security

Adhering to FedRAMP’s security requirements can be beneficial even if you don’t receive contracts with federal agencies. It can strengthen your cloud security and also make you a more desirable candidate for other clients.

Understandably, the federal government deals with extremely sensitive data. The standards for data security in cloud systems are very high. If a client sees that you are FedRAMP authorized, even if they’re simply a private business or NGO, they will know that you have highly sophisticated security—an incredibly powerful selling point.

How to get FedRAMP certified

Interested in becoming FedRAMP authorized? Here’s a quick overview of the process.

Conduct a preparatory assessment

Before you start working toward FedRAMP certification, you need to understand your current state of security and compliance. Whether you use an automated compliance system, or choose a manual path, you’ll need to go through the FedRAMP requirements one by one and determine which ones you satisfy and which ones you’re missing. From there, you can create a plan for achieving compliance.

Implement any missing aspects of FedRAMP

Now that you have a plan in place, it’s time to get into the legwork for FedRAMP compliance. Use your preparatory assessment as a guide and strategically implement each security control, policy, or safeguard in FedRAMP not yet in place.

Pursue a security assessment report

When you’re confident that you meet all the FedRAMP requirements, the next step is to get a security assessment report or SAR. You can receive this by hiring a third-party assessor to review your implementation of FedRAMP. They prepare the SAR to thoroughly document how you’ve met each of the requirements in this standard.

Submit for authorization

With your SAR in hand, you’ll put together your authorization package with the SAR and select other documentation and officially submit your application. You’ll submit this package to either the JAB (if you’re applying for a JAB P-ATO) or to the agency you want to work with iif you’re applying for an agency P-ATO.

The JAB or authorizing officer will do an initial review and either approve that they have all the materials they need or tell you what further testing they need. When all the documentation is in place, they’ll conduct a final review to determine your authorization. If you meet compliance, they’ll send you a signed P-ATO.

Maintain continuous monitoring

While a FedRAMP P-ATO doesn’t expire, it does require continuous security monitoring with specific tests, reports, and metrics. If you fall short of this continuous monitoring at any time, the issuing agency or JAB can revoke your ATO.

How to begin working toward FedRAMP compliance

Vanta’s automated compliance platform can guide you through FedRAMP with streamlined documentation, custom control creation, continuous monitoring, and instant alerts all in one place. Schedule a Vanta demo today to learn more.

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