Reinventing FedRAMP

Posted February 15th, 2011 by

“Cloud computing is about gracefully losing control while maintaining accountability even if the operational responsibility falls upon one or more third parties.”
–CSA Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing V2.1

Now enter FedRAMP.  FedRAMP is a way to share Assessment and Authorization information for a cloud provider with its Government tenants.  In case you’re not “in the know”, you can go check out the draft process and supporting templates at  So far a good idea, and I really do support what’s going on with FedRAMP, except for somewhere along the lines we went astray because we tried to kluge doctrine that most people understand over the top of cloud computing which most people also don’t really understand.

I’ve already done my part to submit comments officially, I just want to put some ideas out there to keep the conversation going. As I see it, these are/should be the goals for FedRAMP:

  • Delineation of responsibilities between cloud provider and cloud tenant.  Also knowing where there are gaps.
  • Transparency in operations.  Understanding how the cloud provider does their security parts.
  • Transparency in risk.  Know what you’re buying.
  • Build maturity in cloud providers’ security program.
  • Help cloud providers build a “Governmentized” security program.

So now for the juicy part, how I would do a “clean room” implementation of FedRAMP on Planet Rybolov, “All the Authorizing Officials are informed, the Auditors are helpful, and every ISSO is above average”?  This is my “short list” of how to get the job done:

  • Authorization: Sorry, not going to happen on Planet Rybolov.  At least, authorization by FedRAMP, mostly because it’s a cheat for the tenant agencies–they should be making their own risk decisions based on risk, cost, and benefit.  Acceptance of risk is a tenant-specific thing based on the data types and missions being moved into the cloud, baseline security provided by the cloud provider, the security features of the products/services purchased, and the tenant’s specific configuration on all of the above.  However, FedRAMP can support that by helping the tenant agency by being a repository of information.
  • 800-53 controls: A cloud service provider manages a set of common controls across all of their customers.  Really what the tenant needs to know is what is not provided by the cloud service provider.  A simple RACI matrix works here beautifully, as does the phrase “This control is not applicable because XXXXX is not present in the cloud infrastructure”.  This entire approach of “build one set of controls definitions for all clouds” does not really work because not all clouds and cloud service providers are the same, even if they’re the same deployment model.
  • Tenant Responsibilities: Even though it’s in the controls matrix, there needs to be an Acceptable Use Policy for the cloud environment.  A message to providers: this is needed to keep you out of trouble because it limits the potential impacts to yourself and the other cloud tenants.  Good examples would be “Do not put classified data on my unclassified cloud”.
  • Use Automation: CloudAudit is the “how” for FedRAMP.  It provides a structure to query a cloud (or the FedRAMP PMO) to find out compliance and security management information.  Using a tool, you could query for a specific control or get documents, policy statements, or even SCAP assessment content.
  • Changing Responsibilities: Things change.  As a cloud provider matures, releases new products, or moves up and down the SPI stack ({Software|Platform|Infrastructure}as a Service), the balance of responsibilities change.  There needs to be a vehicle to disseminate these changes.  Normally in the IA world we do this with a Plan of Actions and Milestones but from the viewpoint of the cloud provider, this is more along the lines of a release schedule and/or roadmap.  Not that I’m personally signing up for this, but a quarterly/semi-annually tenant agency security meeting would be a good way to get this information out.

Then there is the special interest comment:  I’ve heard some rumblings (and read some articles, shame on you security industry press for republishing SANS press releases) about how FedRAMP would be better accomplished by using the 20 Critical Security Controls.  Honestly, this is far from the truth: a set of controls scoped to the modern enterprise (General Support System supporting end users) or project (Major Application) does not scale to an infrastructure-and-server cloud. While it might make sense to use 20 CSC in other places (agency-wide controls), please do your part to squash this idea of using it for cloud computing whenever and wherever you see it.


Ramp photo by ell brown.

Similar Posts:

Posted in FISMA, Risk Management, What Works | 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1.  Tweets that mention Reinventing FedRAMP | The Guerilla CISO -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by rybolov and Chris Burton, novainfosec. novainfosec said: #NOVABLOGGER: Reinventing FedRAMP […]

  2.  Reinventing FedRAMP | Says:

    […] head on over to the post on The Guerilla CISO and let @rybolov know what you think. If you are based in NoVA, DC, or MD and would like to write a […]

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

Visitor Geolocationing Widget: