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Government agencies and the organizations that service federal clients are bound by a set of compliance controls. Especially as it relates to the storage and transmission of sensitive data in a rapidly-expanding cloud environment, these standardized controls make it easier to evaluate the security posture of contractors and authorize their use within the federal sphere.

Two such standards, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), support the U.S. government’s Cloud-Smart policy by establishing consistent security standards across agencies and their contractors (like cloud service providers). Security and efficiency are the driving forces behind the regulations, but what is the difference between FISMA and FedRAMP?

What FISMA and FedRAMP Have in Common

Both FISMA and FedRAMP are built on the foundation of NIST controls, and both have information security within government systems as their primary objective. With the federal government as the single largest creator, aggregator, and circulator of information in the country, the need to reduce information security risk is clear. In addition, each classify Low, Medium, and High levels of system implementation risk. However, there are a few distinct contrasts between FISMA and FedRAMP.

The Journey to ATO

FedRAMP is a “do once, use many times” authorization where organizations are awarded an Authority To Operate (ATO) that may be leveraged across agencies and programs. Built with Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) in mind, FedRAMP streamlines the process by which federal agencies access market innovations – once an organization has been granted the ATO, it’s considered “safe” for use within the federal government. Because of this framework, the authorization process is more stringent and rigorous for applying organizations.

By contrast, FISMA is a “one-to-one” authorization. Organizations are awarded an ATO specific to the agency or project at hand based on the unique requirements of the individual program needs. Each authorization is completed one at a time and reviews of the security program are repeated annually. Because of this, an organization may need to maintain multiple ATOs (and, by extension, complete multiple security assessments) across several agencies to perform their mission under the federal contract.

Other Differences Between FISMA and FedRAMP

While all operators within the federal sphere (agencies, programs, and contractors) are required to comply with FISMA standards on data protection, the purview of FedRAMP extends exclusively to the adoption of technologies from CSPs. 

Other distinctions between FISMA and FedRAMP arise in the way security assessments are conducted. Unlike FISMA, where assessments are performed by the agency directly or by any third party who conducts security reviews, cloud service providers pursuing FedRAMP compliance must obtain an independent security assessment from an un-invested party – a 3PAO (third-party assessment organization). All federal agencies are required to have an independent assessment of their security implementation, but only FedRAMP requires the involvement of a specialized 3PAO.

Accelerate through the Cloud with Streamlined Accreditation

By allowing agencies greater authority to adopt cloud-based services, the federal government is helping to broaden IT infrastructure investments in the cloud. If your organization or agency is looking to fast-track the A&A approval path, GovDataHosting can help you navigate the differences between FISMA and FedRAMP with fully-managed cloud hosting services. Our turn-key solutions lower implementation risk and maintain compliance with bundled price models and value savings. Get in touch today to discuss your path to the cloud with us.

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