Hardening DOD's cybersecurity blanket

Federal agencies have intensified their emphasis on cybersecurity and that means more scrutiny on how contractors protect their sensitive data.

As interoperability continues to be a priority within the Defense Department, the concern surrounding the protection of data has also increased. We can see this in the adoption by DOD of the more stringent Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) protocols for contractors, a framework that ensures contractors can adequately protect sensitive data.

Federal agencies have recently intensified their emphasis on cyber security, as focus has expanded from preventing attacks to assuming attacks are imminent and minimizing the impact. Their concern is more than justified, as the cadence of high-profile breaches in recent years demonstrates.

Cyber security had been a priority of DOD for years before the Solar Winds affair ripped away the government’s security blanket, exposing some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets. Even now, months after it was identified, the extent of the damage from that still-unfolding attack is not fully known, but it appears to be massive.

In a newly published book by New York Times cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth, ominously titled “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race,” the author talks about so-called Zero-Day code – software bugs that allow hackers to break into devices and move around undetected inside them – based on operating system flaws which had been surreptitiously collected and stored for possible future attacks on hostile entities. Somehow, these were stolen and, in some cases, made available for sale on the Dark Web.

It all came at a point when the United States had, by its own choice, become the most internet-dependent nation on earth, with essentially every business, government, nonprofit, and consumer organization unable to accomplish their day to day without internet. What this meant was that any of those systems could readily be hacked and, in a worst-case scenario, shut down or rendered inoperable without a single shot being fired. America’s most vital digital lifelines, in other words, are frighteningly vulnerable to hostile attacks and exposed to unthinkable damage.

DOD is aware of this and in order to maintain combat readiness, a constant stream of innovation in areas including offensive and defensive cybersecurity initiatives in order to protect those mission critical assets is essential. At the same time, the agency also understands that innovation is more likely to come from private contractors than from within its own ranks. As a result, requiring contractors to meet certain security requirements has been a DOD practice for many years. But for most of that time, satisfying security conditions has been just another checkbox for suppliers to tick on their way to performing their assigned tasks. It was largely a once-and-done exercise that most contractors considered complete by the outset of their work.

A significant problem, of course, is that security threats are not static, and standards don’t adapt as quickly as malicious actors. If anything, the world of hackers and attackers has been even more agile than organizations which pride themselves on flexibility. Security, in other words, is a constant battle against an irregular army of very nimble foes. In 2010, for example, the state of Utah, home to some critical data infrastructure utilized by US intelligence was experiencing between 25,000 and 80,000 attacks each day. By last year, they were seeing peaks of more than 300 million a day, mostly from botnets searching for signs of weakness in government computer programs. Most were fended off, but not all.

The highly publicized hemorrhage of personal data over the past decade has raised public awareness about the importance of safeguarding sensitive information. But not everyone has the know-how or resources to do it. The same applies to government contractors. Private companies seeking contracts from DOD cover the spectrum in size and resources. Some giant firms, making complex products in multiple facilities with tens of thousands of employees, have both the experience and capacity to satisfy some of the Department’s most stringent security requirements. Others, which include boutique shops with only a handful of employees, have neither. Their experience with security may be limited to issuing employee passwords, and their finances are sometimes quite fragile. 

That puts DOD in something of a quandary. On the one hand, they need the creative abilities that a small contractor can bring. On the other, they don’t want a contractor to unwittingly create a hole in the agency’s cybersecurity perimeter. To reduce that possibility, a number of NIST and DFARS standards/regulations have been published over the years documenting cybersecurity requirements, the most recent is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC. DFARS 252.204-7012 required contractors to conduct a self-assessment based on the NIST SP-800-171 standards and provide a Plan of Action and Milestones (POA&M) on how they will fix the areas of non-compliance and create a System Security Plan (SSP), all by December 31, 2017. Now, with the adoption of CMMC, cybersecurity contractors will have to prove maturity processes and best practices that meet several separate security standards and frameworks, and be certified by a third party, before engaging in any work for DOD.

CMMC certification will not be required right away for all defense contractors, although it envisions eventually becoming mandatory for everyone doing business with DOD. It provides compliance standards for five different trust levels, at least one of which will be required for either an initial contract award or the continuation of one previously in force; it also requires independent verification of compliance. Contractors should expect to spend between $3,000 - $5,000 for the the most basic level of maturity.

As an evolutionary step along the path toward modernization, innovation, and greater security, the CMMC initiative, much of which is supported by volunteers, represents a welcome new focus on standards as well as an important contribution to a nimbler national security structure. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.