FAST 2021: Incorporating IT Security into Acquisitions

Posted by Laura Stanton
on May 6, 2021

Join us May 13th at 1:00 pm EDT for a live webinar led by GSA’s IT Acquisition experts as we explore:

  • Benefits in shifting from a compliance model to the cybersecurity maturity model
  • Adopting a supply chain risk evaluation approach in government contracting
  • Easy to understand acquisition planning packages (e.g., playbooks, checklists, templates)

The 3-hour session features an overview of requirements and evaluation factors used in developing the 2nd Generation Information Technology (2GIT) blanket purchase agreement; and a quick look into the GSA’s IT Solutions Navigator connecting buyers with resources, tools, and decision support for IT procurements.

This is the third session in GSA’s 2021 monthly Federal Acquisition Service Training (FAST) Conference series. Each session is worth up to 3 Continuous Learning Points. You can find the full lineup of events here.

Registration is open and free for agency and industry partners. Reserve your virtual seat today – we look forward to seeing you there!

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

To get updates for this blog, please sign up on the right-hand side of the page where it says Sign up for Blog Updates.

Continue Reading...

Continuous Monitoring: Keeping Your System Up to Date and Prepared for Cyberattacks

Posted by Laura Stanton
on March 10, 2021

Continuous monitoring of IT systems is an evolving process. It adapts as new technologies and capabilities become available and as organizations are faced with advanced and persistent threats. However, the core strategies of continuous monitoring lay the foundation for safe and secured federal IT systems.

Continuous monitoring helps agencies identify, resolve, and understand key insights regarding certain risks to their information systems. The Risk Management Framework (RMF) process consists of several steps that include preparing a system for authorization, authorizing the system, and continuously monitoring the system until the next authorization process begins. The monitoring step is essential for agencies that want to minimize risks to their security systems.

As mentioned in previous posts, the Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) Special Item Number (SIN) solution is available for agencies in need of cybersecurity services, including RMF. GSA’s HACS solution connects agencies with vendors who have passed an oral technical evaluation for cybersecurity services, making it easier for agencies to find quality vendors to assist with continuous monitoring strategies and Security Operations Centers (SOCs) activities.

After agencies obtain Authorization to Operate (ATO), they move into the continuous monitoring step of the RMF process. Though continuous monitoring strategies can vary by agency, usual tasks include near real-time risk management and ongoing authorization based on the system environment of operation. This step’s dynamic processes determine if a system’s security controls continue to be effective over time.

Risk Management Framework (RMF) image
Disclaimer: RMF steps can vary based on an organization’s cybersecurity needs.

RMF services are available through GSA’s HACS SIN. A Statement of Work (SOW) for the RMF process can be found on the HACS website and includes example language for procuring services for the Monitor Step. The SOW outlines several subtasks that make up the continuous monitoring phase of RMF.

Roles and Responsibilities within the Continuous Monitoring Strategy

As part of the continuous monitoring process, the agency will oversee information system and environment changes. This process involves determining the security impact of proposed or actual changes to the information system and its environment of operation.

Security Control Assessments

An Information Owner (IO), Security Control Assessor (SCA), Information System Security Officer (ISSO), and Information System Security Engineer (ISSE) will be responsible for ongoing security control assessments. The IO is an inherently governmental position; however, contractors can provide support for the other roles in most situations. In these assessments, personnel examine the technical, management, and operational security controls within an information system. This practice ensures that a system is in accordance with the agency’s monitoring strategy.

Risk Determination

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) performs ongoing risk determination and acceptance as a part of continuous monitoring. This task consists of reviewing the reported security status of the information system (including the effectiveness of security controls employed within, and inherited by, the system) on an ongoing basis. The CISO aims to determine whether the risk to the agency’s system remains acceptable. If a risk is not acceptable, remediation will take place. This CISO is in an inherently governmental position; however, contractors can provide subject matter expertise and recommendations for risk determinations.

Ongoing Remediation

The IO and ISSO take part in ongoing remediation actions throughout the continuous monitoring process. Along with the Information System Owner (ISO) and the Common Control Provider (CCP), these personnel conduct remediation actions based on the results of ongoing monitoring activities, the assessment of risk, and outstanding items in the Plan of Action and Milestones.

For more information on HACS RMF services and how using the HACS SIN can make it easier for your agency to monitor its systems, visit the HACS homepage or download the customizable RMF Statement of Work (SOW).

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

To get updates for this blog, please sign up on the right-hand side of the page where it says Sign up for Blog Updates.

Continue Reading...

Veteran Owned Companies Bring Cybersecurity Expertise to Federal Customers

Posted by Laura Stanton
on November 12, 2020

As we celebrate Veterans Day, we want to take a moment to appreciate all of the men and women who contribute to this great nation through their service in our military. America’s veterans are one of our most valued resources. Veterans bring a unique skill set, knowledge, and experience to everything they do; and GSA has been able to tap into their valuable expertise through our Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) contract for IT Services, VETS 2.

GSA’s VETS 2 Governmentwide Acquisition Contract is available to all federal customers. Agencies purchasing IT services through the VETS 2 contract demonstrate how prevalent veterans are in supporting mission-critical IT services needs across the federal landscape. One of the important core capabilities of VETS 2 is Cybersecurity. The SDVOSB firms on the contract have done the work, and 77 percent of the firms have extensive experience in cybersecurity. More than 60 of the VETS 2 industry partners have a secret or top-secret facilities clearance. These companies are well established in the IT industry. The background they bring with their previous military experience has been key to their success.

The IRS, Treasury, DHS, DoD, Army, and Air Force have all tapped into the expertise of our VETS 2 Industry Partners. They have placed task orders on the contract for IT Security and Cybersecurity requirements. Since the inception of the VETS 2 contract in February of 2018, there have been 21 task orders specifically to support IT Security needs within the government. This shows that veterans can provide the specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities that are needed today.

The single largest task order that has been issued on the VETS 2 contract was completed by GSA’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FEDSIM) on behalf of the United States Army Pacific (USARPAC). This task order will help USARPAC in providing a quality-focused process and capability that enables effective sustainment and modernization of critical Command, Control, Communications, Computers (C4), and IT systems. These services include site surveys, engineering, design, procurement, logistics, implementation, operations and maintenance, knowledge management, cybersecurity, and training of new and existing C4 IT systems. This is an excellent example of the broad capabilities available through VETS 2.

2020 has been hugely successful for the VETS 2 contract, with 97 task orders worth more than $1 billion. This contract is only in its third year and is already surpassing expectations. There are 69 industry partners on the contract with a variety of specialized IT services core capabilities. VETS 2 is also a Best-in-Class contract as designated by the Office of Management and Budget. Federal customers using VETS 2 will receive socioeconomic credit toward small business goals as well as credit toward their
Spend Under Management goals.

On Veteran’s Day each year, we reflect on the hard, mission-enabling work our veterans continue to deliver for our government every day, and I couldn’t be more proud of our VETS 2 team and industry partners.

For more information about the industry partners on the contract, check out our VETS 2 website.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

To get updates for this blog, please sign up on the right-hand side of the page where it says Sign up for Blog Updates.

Continue Reading...

Authorization to Operate: Preparing Your Agency’s Information System

Posted by Laura Stanton
on October 30, 2020

To close out National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, here are some steps federal agencies can take to protect their IT systems from cyber attacks and cybersecurity vulnerabilities using the Authorization to Operate (ATO) process.

An ATO demonstrates that a federal agency has gone through a federally approved, detailed process to protect an IT system from incidents such as cyberattacks, security breaches, malware, and phishing attempts. Many federal IT systems are required to obtain an ATO to process government data and federal regulations recommend that agencies follow the Risk Management Framework (RMF) to become authorized.

GSA’s Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) Special Item Number (SIN) provides solutions for all of an agency’s cybersecurity service needs, including RMF. The HACS SIN connects agencies with vendors who have passed oral technical evaluations for cybersecurity services performed within the RMF, and who are ready to assist agencies with the RMF process for a successful authorization.

RMF Graphic full definitions ATO highlight (3)
Disclaimer: RMF steps can vary based on an organization’s cybersecurity needs.

All of the steps, tasks, and activities that precede the “Authorize” step of the RMF help to prepare the information system for the authorizing official’s appraisal. The authorizing official is not a contractor, but a federal employee of whichever agency is seeking ATO.

The HACS SIN connects federal agencies with contractors who can help in each stage of the RMF. Contractors can assist agencies in producing the deliverables associated with each RMF step listed in the chart below.

Disclaimer: RMF deliverables can vary based on an organization’s cybersecurity needs.

Once an agency has successfully completed the first four steps of the RMF (“Categorize” through “Assess”), an authorizing official will evaluate the system. The authorizing official for the federal agency in question evaluates residual risks identified during the security control assessment, and makes the decision to authorize the system to operate, deny its operation, or ask the agency to address any issues.

When granting an ATO, authorizing officials look for the following checklist of items:

  • Plan of Action and Milestones (POA&M)
  • Authorization Package
  • Final Risk Determination and Risk Acceptance
  • Authorization Decision

The POA&M is one of the most important deliverables produced in the RMF process. It reflects organizational priorities for addressing any remaining weaknesses and deficiencies in an information system and its environment of operation. The Authorization Package includes all key documents including the security plan, security assessment report, and the POA&M. 

Following the RMF steps helps your agency to achieve ATO, but the work does not end after an ATO is issued. Agencies must also continuously monitor their systems to ensure that security controls remain effective over time.

In addition, many federal agencies must reauthorize their information systems every three years by going through the RMF process again. This is where the final step of the RMF, “Monitor Controls,” is important. As part of continuous monitoring, a sample of the applicable security controls are tested annually, periodic vulnerability scanning is performed, and security impact analysis of changes are performed. If an agency continuously monitors its systems over those three years by documenting specific technical changes, environment changes, or changes to the organizational risk management strategy, it may be easier to renew an ATO because any security risks can  be mitigated at the time they occur. 

For more information on HACS RMF services and how using the HACS SIN can make it easier for your agency to achieve an ATO, visit the HACS homepage or download the customizable RMF Statement of Work (SOW).

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

To get updates for this blog, please sign up on the right-hand side of the page where it says Sign up for Blog Updates.

Continue Reading...

Cybersecurity Best Practices During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted by Bill Zielinski
on June 2, 2020

The unprecedented and extraordinary efforts by businesses and Federal agencies to keep employees and customers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic have also inadvertently opened the door to cyberattacks.

Large-scale transitions to work-from-home technologies, heightened activity on many public-facing networks, and greater use of online services have presented new openings for cyber attackers to exploit. As people around the world shelter in place, they turn to online platforms to chat with friends, shop, work, and go to school. That transition to virtual life puts a large strain on cybersecurity controls.

Federal agencies face new daily challenges in assuring the security of networks. In the midst of the current global pandemic that imperative is even greater — they must protect their institutions while ensuring that daily tasks go on uninterrupted. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recommends that agencies “make risk-based decisions as appropriate to meet mission needs” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important now for agency leaders to focus on supporting technologies and capabilities that are absolutely essential to their organizations’ operations. Priority actions — and relevant technologies — may include testing already existing security plans, continuously monitoring security systems, and maintaining access security. GSA’s Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) Special Item Number (SIN) provides Federal agencies with rapid access to cybersecurity vendors who can assist with the following priority actions and more.

Best practices

Testing and having incident response plans in place are helpful for any agency. If an agency has plans such as incident response, disaster recovery, or continuity, it is important to test those plans and assess any risks as soon as possible. GSA’s HACS SIN provides rapid access to vendors evaluated for incident response services.

Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) should continue to monitor their systems closely in order to identify cybersecurity events and incidents as soon as they may appear. Focus areas include monitoring networks for new strains of malware, monitoring collaboration tools such as Google Drive or Dropbox, and monitoring personnel activity. CISOs can also monitor their systems by using Intrusion Detection Systems or their preferred live network monitoring software. The HACS SIN is an efficient way to access these capabilities.

Access management in a remote work environment is another essential focus area during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though cybersecurity is essential, so is the physical safety of the American people. Agencies are encouraging teleworking whenever possible to adhere to the Government’s social distancing guidelines, and cybersecurity experts are needed to help make telework safe and secure for employees.

With many — if not all — of an agency’s employees working from home, click-through rates for phishing emails may increase when employees no longer work closely enough with coworkers to ask them in person about suspicious activity. Remote work can also require agencies to enable offsite access to critical and/or confidential information, which can increase the risk of a cyber attack. Employees can mitigate this risk by adhering to their agency’s access control policy and utilizing secure connections (such as Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and/or VPN) when accessing Government networks containing sensitive information.

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human challenge, with heads of agencies and employees all juggling professional duties with personal and family responsibilities. The risk of cyberattacks will be elevated, but by focusing now on cyber activities — testing response plans, monitoring security systems, and maintaining personnel security — agencies can successfully maintain their security.

GSA is here to help connect Federal agencies with vendors that provide necessary cybersecurity services during this time through the HACS SIN solution. For more information, visit the HACS Homepage. To learn more about the additional services the HACS SIN provides, watch our HACS Overview Video.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

To get updates for this blog, please sign up on the right-hand side of the page where it says Sign up for Blog Updates.

Continue Reading...

Incident Response: Protecting Your Agency Before and After a Cyberattack

Posted by Bill Zielinski
on March 10, 2020

As cyberattacks increase in size and frequency, it is important for every agency to protect its network from incidents that can jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an information system. The Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security determined that 74 percent of federal agencies participating in their 2018 assessment had cybersecurity programs that were either at risk or high risk.

While an agency can take proactive measures to prevent cyberattacks, an incident may still occur. When a cyberattack or other damaging incident occurs in an agency’s network, reactive measures such as incident response must be taken to preserve the integrity of the information system.

Incident response is the methodology an organization uses to respond to and manage a cyberattack. A data breach or cyberattack can wreak havoc and potentially affect employee security, intellectual property, and agency time and resources. Incident response protocol aims to reduce this damage and recover as quickly as possible.

Incident response protects organizations against four common types of incidents:

GSA’s Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) Special Item Number (SIN) offers incident response services to help organizations with compromised systems. These services help to determine the extent of the incident, remove the adversary from systems, and restore networks to a more secure state.

HACS incident response services can also be used to proactively plan for future attacks. The benefits of preparing and maintaining an incident response plan helps agencies handle cybersecurity events and minimizes the impact of potential threats while strengthening an agency’s defenses against any future incidents.

Below is an example of an incident response plan:

Incident Response StepAction Taken
Preparation Create an asset list and system baseline.
Detection and AnalysisAnalyze events to determine whether they constitute an incident.
Containment, Eradication, and RecoveryPrevent further damage from an incident, and determine the cause of an incident so that the system can be returned to the previously known neutral state. Restore compromised system to operational status.
Post-Incident ActivityProvide final report of the incident identifying current procedures for efficacy and whether those procedures were followed properly.

Another benefit of the HACS SIN is that the vendors included under the incident response subcategory have passed a technical evaluation and can provide individualized incident response plans. If an agency already has an incident response plan, vendors can evaluate the plan and provide services that adapt to that individualized plan. Vendors use qualified resources to minimize the impact of cyber-attacks and avoid future incidents. Incident response services can also augment agency resources during a large scale incident.

For more information on incident response and how GSA’s HACS SIN can provide your agency with incident response services, please visit the HACS Homepage.

To learn more about the additional services the HACS SIN provides, watch our HACS Overview Video.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

To get updates for this blog, please sign up on the right-hand side of the page where it says Sign up for Blog Updates.

Continue Reading...