How Cybersecurity Can Make or Break a Government Contract

Published August 8, 2023
by Dave Stenger

Federal, state, and local government agencies rely on networks of outside vendors and service providers to maintain essential systems, reliably provide services, and keep important operations up and running. However, to earn the trust of public organizations and officials and secure government contracts, cloud service providers and similar organizations must demonstrate a commitment to addressing cybersecurity issues. Let’s examine some of the most important factors that can determine a provider’s ability to work as a trusted government partner.

Capability to Handle Sensitive Data and Information

Public agencies at every government level deal with vast amounts of private and sensitive data. Ensuring the security of confidential or classified information is crucial. Organizations competing for government business and contracts must protect sensitive material from unauthorized access or misuse. Entities that have implemented security measures such as robust encryption techniques, access controls, data segregation, intrusion detection systems, and incident response plans will be better positioned to prove their commitment to privacy and data protection.

Demonstrated Regulatory Compliance

Governments have strict regulations regarding data privacy. Contracts with service providers (SPs) and other outside providers include specific standards and requirements related to cybersecurity. Adhering to regulations is essential for businesses qualifying for and maintaining government contracts.

Several specific regulations related to cybersecurity widely regarded as essential include:

  • FAR Clause 52.204-21 
    The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) documents the rules and regulations under which the government and vendors can do business. The FAR implements uniform regulations and procedures that federal agencies must adhere to during procurement. 
  • FAR Clause 52.204-21
    “Basic Safeguarding of Covered Contractor Information Systems,” outlines federal contractors’ minimum requirements and procedures for protecting their systems from cyberattacks or breaches. 
  • The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) 
    Created in 2011 to provide a cost-effective means to use secure cloud services in the federal government, the FedRAMP establishes security standards for cloud service providers. 
  • DFARS 252.204-7012 
    Part of the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) governing cybersecurity requirements for federal contractors, Clause 252.204-7012 introduces several requirements for contractors and subcontractors to perform adequate security and responsibilities when reporting or discovering a cybersecurity incident.

    Providers must implement specific security controls and practices, undergo assessments of these controls, and report any cybersecurity incidents that affect a covered defense information system (or other information that requires protection to safeguard national security). Any malicious software discovered and isolated connected to a reported cybersecurity incident must also be submitted to the Department of Defense’s Cyber Crime Center.

    DFARS Clause 252.204-7012 also imposes obligations on CSPs to ensure that any subcontractors or entities they engage with comply with the same security requirements. CSPs must flow down the clause to these parties and ensure that CDI is appropriately protected throughout the supply chain.
  • NIST SP 800-171 
    DFARS also requires that contractors adhere to applicable regulations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The institute’s Special Publication 800-171, one in a series of NIST cybersecurity standards, addresses how government contractors and subcontractors should manage controlled unclassified information (CUI). 

    NIST 800-171 is designed specifically for non-federal organizations and provides SPs with recommended security requirements for protecting the confidentiality of CUI. Compliance involves implementing and maintaining the security controls specified in the publication, including access control, incident response, risk assessment, and personnel security.

    SPs engaging subcontractors or other third-party entities must ensure that those entities also comply with NIST SP 800-171 requirements. The responsibility for protecting CUI extends to these subcontractors, and SPs must include appropriate contractual provisions and oversight mechanisms to ensure compliance throughout the supply chain.
  • CMMC 2.0 
    The current NIST cybersecurity framework was used as initial inspiration to create the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). CMMC 2.0 is also viewed as an extension of DFARS 252.204-7012, adding a certification process as new verification for meeting FAR cybersecurity requirements. 

    Depending on the type and sensitivity of information entrusted to a contracting service provider, the CMMC 2.0 program requires companies to implement cybersecurity standards at one of three progressively advanced levels. Assessments allow the Department of Defense to verify a contractor’s installation of clear cybersecurity standards, and those who handle sensitive unclassified information are required to achieve a particular CMMC level as a stipulation of being awarded a contract.

Enhanced Physical Security

In addition to robust digital and online data protection initiatives, SPs must go above and beyond in demonstrating physical security measures to safeguard data centers, critical servers, and other infrastructure. 

Physical and environmental security measures should include, at a minimum, thorough access controls, video surveillance, fire detection and suppression systems, and redundancies that ensure data integrity and service availability in light of damage or other compromises to an organization’s facility.

Because people are the biggest threat to cybersecurity, government service providers have to take proactive measures to mitigate risk such as conducting background checks and screening processes for employees and contractors. Government providers must provide security awareness training to employees educating them about physical security practices and the importance of safeguarding CUI.

Plans for Incident Response 

While no agency or business wants the occasion to activate them, government agencies need SP partners who have and can implement robust incident response action plans. A cyberattack or systems breach could incite significant financial or reputational consequences or disrupt critical infrastructure such as transportation, energy, or defense systems. 

Rapid-response steps upon detecting a cybersecurity incident, such as initiating an investigation and mitigating the impact of any disruptions, while maintaining essential business or operations is paramount. 

A Commitment to Continuous Improvement

Regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing are crucial in identifying potential pitfalls or weaknesses in a contracting CSP’s cybersecurity infrastructure. Governments often require full transparency from contracting partners. SPs must be diligent about providing audit reports and other evidence of proactive measures to demonstrate their commitment to improving cybersecurity on an ongoing basis while fulfilling government contracts.

RAMPxchange: A Place to Discover Like-Minded, Cybersecurity-Conscious Public & Private Partners

Public agencies and private businesses can’t improve our nation’s cybersecurity posture on their own. Government contracts’ cybersecurity requirements have grown robust, and specific stipulations will only continue to increase in scope and importance as new cyber threats emerge across our country’s increasingly digital and online operations. 

Government contracts are highly sought after, and the competitive landscape for securing cybersecurity government contracts can be nuanced and daunting or overwhelming. 

RAMPxchange unites private sector organizations and public government agencies in a comprehensive marketplace for cybersecurity defenders. Qualified and verified vendors can discover new business opportunities and expand services to a larger customer base, while those sourcing cybersecurity services through RAMPxchange can procure providers proven to meet high privacy and security standards.

Contact us to learn more about joining RAMPxchange and playing your role in improving America’s overall cybersecurity posture.