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Navigating Cybersecurity and Compliance with IT Support

With cyber threats becoming more advanced and widespread, a rigorous approach to cybersecurity has never been a greater strategic imperative for businesses. Government contractors face a greater challenge than most in securing highly sensitive data while complying with federal and state-level cybersecurity regulations.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the cybersecurity regulations and frameworks government contractors are required to satisfy and explain how an IT support provider can play a pivotal role in terms of implementing the mandated measures and helping businesses demonstrate compliance.

But first, a little bit about us…

Infinity Technologies – IT Support and Cybersecurity Tailored to the Needs of Regulated Sectors

From our base in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Infinity Technologies helps regulated businesses build secure digital infrastructures that meet the requirements of leading data protection regulations and standards, including NIST SP 800-171, the CMMC, FISMA, and HIPPA, among others. We offer end-to-end compliance solutions for government contractors and healthcare companies. Our services cover everything needed to ensure ongoing compliance, including compliance assessments, strategic consultancy, continuous monitoring, and managed cybersecurity solutions.

For more information on how our experienced team can help you grow, build trust, and secure new contracts through cybersecurity compliance, contact us today.

NIST – SP 800-171

First published in December 2015, NIST Special Publication 800-171 contains guidelines to help non-federal organizations maintain a robust cybersecurity posture and safeguard Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) in their possession. CUI refers to a range of information types that require heightened safeguards or distribution controls. Examples include (but are not limited to) unclassified health, defense, intelligence, and finance data.

Applicable to contractors, subcontractors, and other non-federal organizations that handle CUI, NIST SP 800-171 sets out a number of key mandated requirements:

· Access Controls: Covered organizations are required to establish and maintain information action controls that are relevant to individual job roles and responsibilities. Robust authentication protocols should be used to verify the identities of those seeking access to CUI.

· Awareness and Training: Personnel requiring access to CUI must be enrolled on cybersecurity awareness training to ensure they understand their duties and responsibilities in terms of protecting sensitive information.

· Monitoring and Accountability: Organizations must have mechanisms and structures in place to track and record activity relating to CUI, including audit logs, audit trails, and detailed incident response procedures.

· Threat Protection: Comprehensive controls must be in place to protect information systems, networks, and communication channels against malware, unauthorized access, and other cyber threats.

· Regular Security Assessments: Regular security assessments must be undertaken to ensure information systems used for CUI processing remain secure and compliant. Assessment activities should seek to identify vulnerabilities in systems so that the necessary remedial action can be taken.

· Configuration Management: Baseline security configurations should be established covering all systems hosting or processing CUI. Documented processes for configuration change approval should be active, ensuring all modifications are controlled and tracked.

Navigating NIST – SP 800-171 Compliance with an IT Support Partner

If NIST – SP 800-171 is part of your business’s compliance landscape, an IT support provider could be of assistance in a number of crucial ways.

Firstly, an IT partner will be able to offer strategic guidance on policy development, incident response planning, security training, and other procedural and policy-related cybersecurity considerations. They’ll be able to leverage their experience and context-based insights to identify gaps in your policy framework and support you in introducing obligatory improvements.

They’ll also be able to deploy and manage the security controls stipulated by the framework, including (as applicable) encryption, access controls, and intrusion prevention systems.

Furthermore, an IT partner can carry out the continuous monitoring and assessment activities necessary to ensure ongoing NIST SP 800-171 compliance. Such activities might include security audits, vulnerability scanning, and penetration testing.

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC)

Developed by the Department of Defense, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification applies to contractors and subcontractors that operate within the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). Built upon existing regulations (NIST SP 800-171 in particular) the CMMC is a framework designed to standardize cybersecurity practices across the defense sector, and enhance the protection afforded to controlled unclassified information (CUI) and other sensitive information types.

While many of the central principles of NIST SP 800-171 carry over to the CMMC, there are several notable points of differentiation. These include:

· Tiered Maturity Levels: The CMMC delineates cybersecurity practices and controls into 5 distinct maturity levels, ranging from level 1 (basic cyber hygiene) to level 5 (advanced/progressive).

· Universally Mandated for Defense Contractors: When assessment begins in 2025, CMMC compliance will be a minimum requirement for any organization seeking to bid for Department of Defense contracts, unlike NIST SP 800-171, which isn’t a universal requirement. The stipulated maturity level will vary across contract opportunities, reflecting factors such as the nature and sensitivity of information being handled.

· Certification: The certification component of the CMMC requires organizations to undertake a formal cybersecurity assessment process at the hands of accredited third-party assessors. This exercise evaluates an organization’s application of security controls and practices, determines compliance with the CMMC’s requirements, and assigns an appropriate level of maturity.

Navigating the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification with an IT Support Partner

If your business is looking to pursue CMMC certification, an IT support partner could play a pivotal and multi-facetted role in helping you get there. Here’s how:

· Compliance Gap Analysis: An IT provider can use security assessment exercises to identify gaps in your security framework and determine whether your security controls are aligned with the CMMC’s requirements.

· Implementation and Management of Controls: An IT provider can help you implement and manage the controls mandated by the CMMC maturity level you’re seeking certification against. They’ll be able to configure information systems in accordance with mandated security settings, maintain threat mitigation measures such as firewalls and malware countermeasures, and manage the infrastructure needed to support your incident response strategy.

· Supporting Documentation: An IT provider can help you develop the documentation and evidence required to support your certification bid. This might include security plans, information security policies, configuration management documentation, and proof of compliance with specific technical controls.

· Ongoing Monitoring and Support: Through the provision of managed cybersecurity services, an IT provider can monitor your digital assets, take real-time action against security threats, and gather the security event data necessary to maintain compliance. Regular security assessments, updates, and enhancements will ensure your security posture always exceeds the required standard.

Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

Enacted in 2002, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is a cybersecurity risk management framework that applies to federal government agencies and, by extension, their contractors and subcontractors. FISMA applies to a wide range of suppliers or service providers to federal agencies, including IT providers, software vendors, and consulting firms.

FISMA’s cybersecurity stipulations are based heavily on the standards and guidelines of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, with NIST – SP 800-171 featuring heavily in its provisions. Key requirements of FISMA include:

· Risk Management: Agencies and their contractors must implement risk management practices that adhere to NIST standards and guidelines. A risk management framework must be established to systematize the identification, assessment, and management of cybersecurity risks affecting federal information and related systems.

· Information Security Policies and Controls: FISMA requires covered entities to establish and maintain information security policies, supported by the appropriate procedures and technical controls. These policies and controls should be tailored to account for the agency’s risk environment. They should be comprehensive, covering everything from access controls and incident response to configuration management and security training.

· Security Controls: FISMA mandates that covered entities apply security controls advocated by NIST Special Publication 800-53 to protect federal information systems from a range of digital threats. Threat monitoring, encryption, access controls, and secure authentication are just some of the areas that provisions are made for.

· Continuous Monitoring: FISMA stresses the importance of continuous monitoring capabilities that enable security incidents to be detected, tracked, and responded to in a timely manner. Organizations should also have programs in place to continuously monitor for security vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of security controls.

· Incident Response and Reporting: Entities covered by FISMA are required to have fully documented incident response plans, detailing the course of action to be taken in the event of a cybersecurity incident. This plan should seek to limit the spread of harm and restore federal information and information systems in a timely manner.

Navigating FISMA Compliance with the Help of an IT Support Partner

IT providers are well-versed in helping organizations achieve compliance with FISMA and other federally mandated cybersecurity regulations. Here’s the role they can play in helping you maintain FISMA compliance:

· Security and Compliance Audits: An IT partner can conduct security and compliance audits to determine where your current cybersecurity posture meets the standard and where there’s scope for improvement.

· Managed Security Controls: An IT provider can establish and maintain FISMA-mandated security controls on your behalf, including both procedural and technical elements. They’ll ensure the appropriate threat mitigations are active, configure your systems to optimize security, and create policies and procedures that reflect your business’s setup and risk exposure.

· Monitoring and Response: An IT provider can set up monitoring infrastructure that enables you to proactively and responsively combat security threats and vulnerabilities. They’ll also be able to establish an incident response strategy that enables you to counter and recover from security incidents in a way that preserves the integrity of critical systems and data.

· Compliance Corroboration: An IT provider can help you assemble the documentation required to demonstrate your compliance with FISMA for submission to regulatory authorities. This includes (but is not limited to) risk management frameworks, incident response strategies, and evidence of the application of security controls and threat mitigations.

In Summary

Government contractors handle some of the most sensitive information around, from the personal data of citizens, to classified documents with national security implications. Steering a course through the cybersecurity demands of regulators can be an onerous and daunting task, one that leaves business owners fearing the prospect of legal repercussions and non-compliance fines. However, by partnering with a compliance-focused IT provider you can gain peace of mind knowing that your policies, procedures, and technical controls align with your regulatory obligations. By creating and maintaining a compliance framework for your business, an IT partner can deliver robust protection against threats while supporting your adherence to stringent government standards.