Companies compete fiercely for the privilege of winning and executing government contracts. Successfully bidding for and winning a government contract can put a company on the map and ensure its long-term viability. Some companies focus exclusively on providing the government with products and services.
In the United States, specific cybersecurity certifications are required if a company hopes to win a government contract. In this article, we are going to look at some of the cybersecurity concerns revolving around government contracts, discuss why certification is necessary, and investigate some of the top requirements for government contractors.
Pros and Cons of Government Contracts
Both benefits and challenges face companies that wish to become government contractors. Companies should evaluate the pros and cons before beginning a campaign to win a government contract.
Following are some of the benefits of being a government contractor.
- The contracts can be lucrative.
- Contracts are typically long-term.
- Winning subsequent contracts is facilitated by winning the first one.
- Payment is typically made promptly.
The following challenges may face government contractors.
- The government closely regulates and monitors performance.
- Regulations can be costly and time-consuming to implement.
- It can be difficult to compete effectively and win contracts.
- Companies need to be well-organized to perform well.
Why are Cybersecurity Certifications Necessary?
The increasing prevalence of virulent cyberattacks has made it necessary for all government contractors to demonstrate their aptitude in providing security in an IT environment. Government decision-makers require assurance that the contractors selected to work on projects have the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain a secure environment.
Threat actors have many techniques at their disposal with which to attack the IT infrastructures and data resources of government contractors. The following common cybersecurity dangers face companies working for the government.
- Malware - Malware is malicious software that can take multiple forms and have varying purposes. Some malware may be designed to corrupt and destroy data while others may monitor a computer and collect login credentials or other sensitive information.
- Ransomware - This is a specific form of malware that encrypts an organization’s data and holds it for ransom. New variants of ransomware also exfiltrate sensitive data and publicly disclose it if ransom demands are not met.
- Phishing - This is a social engineering attack in which threat actors attempt to trick the victim into disclosing sensitive information or clicking on a malicious link that will deliver malware to the environment.
- Advanced persistent threats (APTs) - Advanced persistent threats gain access to an environment and remain hidden while performing malicious activity. They are usually used to gather and transmit sensitive information to threat actors. APTs are often initiated by government-backed entities to conduct espionage.
- Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks - This type of attack attempts to disrupt normal traffic patterns of a server or network to degrade performance or cause a system outage.
Cybersecurity Concerns for Government Contractors
Government contractors are subject to the same types of cyberattacks as companies in the private sector. However, the ramifications of a data breach can be much more serious when government information is in play.
- Compromised defense information can put the nation and members of the armed services at risk.
- Breaches can expose classified policy information regarding all aspects of the government.
- Emergency response systems can be compromised, making them less trustworthy in times of crisis.
- Industrial espionage conducted by state-sponsored organizations can put sensitive and valuable intellectual property at risk.
The Top Cybersecurity Requirements for Government Contractors
Depending on the specifics of the contractor’s role, they may need to adhere to several different security requirements when working for the government. The following are the most relevant requirements for US government contractors. Companies competing for government contracts should have a firm understanding of these requirements and the methods they will use to fulfill them.
Federal Information Security Modernization Act
The Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA 2014) updated the Federal Government’s cybersecurity policies. The Act defines the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) role in administering and implementing information security policies for Federal Executive Branch civilian agencies. It also granted DHS a role in developing the policies and overseeing compliance by those agencies.
Additional aspects of FISMA 2014 include:
- Authorizing DHS to provide operational and technical assistance for Federal Executive Branch civilian agencies;
- Placing the federal information security incident center within the DHS;
- Revising policies regarding the notification of individuals affected by federal agency data breaches;
- Requiring agencies to report major IT security incidents and breaches when they occur;
- Simplifying FISMA reporting to eliminate waste and inefficiencies.
This clause in the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), added in November 2021, addresses the basic safeguarding of covered contractor information systems. The safeguards apply to all contractors and subcontractors that process, store, or transmit federal contract information. Fifteen basic safeguards are defined with the understanding that additional requirements may be mandated by specific federal agencies or departments.
The cybersecurity safeguards include:
- Limiting system access to authorized users;
- Limiting the allowable types of transactions and functions;
- Controlling information posted on publicly accessible information systems;
- Authenticating users before permitting access to information systems;
- Limiting physical access to information systems;
- Providing updated malware protection;
- Performing periodic security scans and real-time scans of sources introduced into the environment.
DOD Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) clause 252.204-7012
Another clause recently added to DFARS in January 2023 is designed to safeguard covered defense information and cyber incident reporting. The clause specifies multiple activities that need to be followed by government contractors that include:
- Providing adequate security for all covered contractor information systems;
- Implementing the security requirements defined in NIST 800-171;
- Ensuring cloud providers meet security requirements equivalent to those established by the Government for the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) Moderate baseline;
- Adhering to cyber incident reporting requirements.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 800-171 is a special publication that provides the requirements for protecting the confidentiality of controlled unclassified information (CUI). Defense contractors must implement NIST 800-171 to comply with the requirement of providing adequate security outlined in DFARS clause 252.204-7012.
Though the requirements may seem complex, there is help available through each individual state’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Center. The MEP Center will be able to provide guidance on how to implement NIST 800-171 and attain DFARS compliance. An especially informative resource is the NIST Self-Assessment Handbook.
The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification is designed to safeguard sensitive national security information. The new model maintains the original goal of protecting sensitive information and adds some enhancements that strengthen certification.
CMMC 2.0 simplifies the original standard and clarifies cybersecurity requirements. The model focuses on advanced cybersecurity standards and third-party assessments. It also increases the Department of Defense’s oversight of professional and ethical standards regarding cybersecurity assessments.
These enhancements are expected to ensure the accountability of government contractors to implement cybersecurity standards while minimizing barriers that hinder compliance. The model is meant to promote a collaborative culture of cybersecurity and increase the public’s trust in the CMMC ecosystem.
How XDR Improves Government Contractors’ Cybersecurity Posture
Government contractors need to ensure a secure IT environment or potentially put sensitive and classified information at risk. XDR can be instrumental in identifying subtle threats and APTs that may be directed at government contractors by rogue nation-states or to conduct industrial espionage.
XDR supplements traditional cybersecurity measures by providing a holistic view of the entire environment and consolidating threat information in a centralized solution. XDR works as part of a comprehensive strategy that includes your existing cybersecurity landscape. The specific benefits of XDR include:
- Identifying malware activity that has escaped detection from traditional defense mechanisms;
- Detecting subtle lateral movements and weak signals from diverse parts of the environment that may indicate the presence of sophisticated threat actors or APTs;
- XDR provides a consolidated single-pane-of-glass where all alerts can be viewed reducing the complexity of monitoring multiple sources;
- Alerting security personnel when anomalies are detected so they can be addressed promptly to minimize risk to the environment.
Companies can use all the help they can get in meeting the challenges of attaining the necessary certifications and following the cybersecurity guidelines required for government contractors. XDR offers enhanced threat detection that can be the difference between a contract-ending data breach and a successful long-term collaboration between a company and the government.
Talk to the cybersecurity experts at Samurai and learn how XDR can be incorporated into your existing environment to strengthen your cybersecurity posture and help you win US government contracts.
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