Comprehensive Guide to DoD’s CMMC Compliance Standards

The year 2021 has been a vociferous period in the era of cyber espionage. According to data from the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), there were 30 major cyber-attacks from January to March 2021 compared to “just” 21 incidents the previous year over the same period. That’s why the US Department of Defense (DoD) has come up with the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (abbreviated as CMMC) to help secure sensitive data handled by defense contractors. CMMC compliance will become a requirement by the DoD by 2025.

What is the CMMC?

The CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) is a unified standard that defines the implementation of cybersecurity within the defense industrial base (DIB), including over 300,000 organizations in the supply chain. It is the DoD’s response to the rising compromises of sensitive defense information stored in contractors’ information systems.

The DoD released the much-anticipated CMMC version 1.0 on January 31, 2020. The draft was made with significant input from Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, University Affiliated Research Centers, and the industry players.

What Actions the DoD Contractors Should Take Now

Previously, defense contractors were mandated with implementing, monitoring, and certifying all security parameters for their IT systems and any sensitive DoD information they stored on or transmitted through those systems. Today, contractors remain responsible for implementing all critical cybersecurity requirements. However, the CMMC changes this status quo by requiring third-party assessments of defense contractors’ compliance with certain mandatory security practices, capabilities, and procedures to better adapt to evolving threats from various adversaries.

The next step for DoD contractors is to immediately learn the CMMC’s technical requirements and prepare beforehand for certification and long-term cybersecurity agility. Very soon, the DoD is expected to release the details on how they will conduct CMMC assessments and how contractors can challenge those assessments. DoD contractors who have already begun evaluating their procedures, practices, and gaps will be well-positioned to navigate the assessment process and easily meet the mandatory CMMC requirements once the details are finalized.

The Key Drivers of the CMMC Compliance

COVID-19 has been a huge contributor to the almost 30% increase in the number of cyberattacks. Over the last couple of months, cyber espionage surrounding coronavirus vaccine information has made headlines across the globe. Thanks to vaccine diplomacy taking off, the rate of government-sponsored malfeasance has skyrocketed as well.

Other than the cyber attacks surrounding the vaccine, the US Department of Defense (DoD) and other government security agencies have been continually targeted by cybercriminals. However, with the CMMC compliance requirements, the DoD hopes to mitigate most of these attacks, and the good news is that contractors have until 2025 to meet the unified standards.

CMMC Compliance Cost Expectations

While the CMMC doesn’t replace the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-171 entirely, it includes and builds on these standards for a more precise purpose. According to DoD officials, only 1% of Defense Industrial Base vendors have implemented all 110 controls from the NIST. Due to NIST SP 800-171’s substantial costs and complex requirements, many DoD vendors and contractors have been unable to meet these many demands.

With the CMMC, the DoD establishes five key levels of cybersecurity preparedness, spanning from Level 1 (basic cybersecurity preparedness) through to Level 5 (progressive/advanced capabilities). Typically, the number of controls required increases at each level, allowing vendors to scale as needed.

Achieving CMMC Compliance at Every Level

Any company seeking CMMC compliance must first recognize which level it wants to achieve to decide on the best steps required to comply with corresponding standards. Typically, levels one and two grant vendors access to Federal Contract Information (FCI), which encompasses information not availed to the public, but necessary for vendors to develop products or services.

At level one, the CMMC practices required to achieve compliance could be cybersecurity standards your business already has in place, which would move your company to level two even if you don’t document them. However, it’s always critical to document everything to ensure you’re meeting the standards.

Level three’s closely overlaps with the NIST SP 800-171 standards, giving vendors access to Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Basically, CUI is information that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls but not classified information. Very few companies are likely to go beyond level three to accomplish level four and five advanced standards.

Prepare To Be Agile

Although CMMC certification is soon becoming a minimum requirement for organizations to be eligible for DoD contract awards, you should never view your cyber-compliance as “foolproof” once you achieve the certification. According to DoD, the CMMC is a just starting point for transforming vendors’ internal cybersecurity culture, and companies must focus on preparing for any evolving threats. By fostering a culture of cyber flexibility and resiliency within your organizations on top of your CMMC certification, your company will better compete in a marketplace marred with sophisticated threats.

Partnering With Virtual IT To Achieve CMMC Compliance

Unlike NIST standards, the CMMC has no self-certification options. To achieve compliance by 2025, your company must meet the standards stipulated by the new assessment guides by the DoD. Unfortunately, the level three guide is 430 pages long, which is quite a bit of reading material even for the technically-minded business leaders and contractors.

Additionally, the document only lists what contractors need to accomplish but doesn’t break down the information on how to achieve and maintain compliance. This is where working with an MSP certified by the DoD’s CMMC Accreditation Body makes the difference. However, with the stakes so high for organizations seeking compliance, it’s vital to take the time to vet MSPs and pick one with the capabilities to deliver promptly and on budget. Any delay in passing the CMMC certification audit can undermine your bid for government contracts, affecting your bottom line.

Virtual IT works with leading organizations in Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, and St. Louis. If DoD contracts form a substantial part of your revenue streams, you’ll want to keep tabs on the CMMC compliance requirements and ensure that your company is ready by the 2025 deadline. Besides helping organizations with cybersecurity compliance, we offer complete outsourced IT services to keep your business competitive, productive, and efficient. Contact us today to learn more about CMMC compliance and how Virtual IT can help you beat the compliance deadline!

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