Best Practices for Achieving FedRAMP Authorization

November 26, 20235 min read

Understanding FedRAMP

Definition and Goals

  • FedRAMP: The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program is a US government-wide program that standardizes the security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.
  • Goal: To ensure that all federal data is secure in cloud environments.

Key Components

  • Security Assessment Framework: Based on NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) guidelines, specifically NIST 800-53.
  • Uniform Set of Standards: Ensures that cloud services are consistent and reusable across the government.
  • Oversight: Maintain security assurances over time through continual monitoring.


Understand the Requirements

  • Research and understand the comprehensive list of controls and documentation required by FedRAMP.
  • Map existing organizational practices against FedRAMP requirements.

Assemble a Dedicated Team

  • Form a team with a combination of expertise in cloud technology, cybersecurity, compliance, and project management.
  • Assign clear roles and responsibilities.

Select the Right Cloud Service Offering (CSO)

  • Choose a CSO that aligns well with the compliance and security needs of federal agencies.
  • Evaluate market demand to ensure there’s a business case for pursuing FedRAMP authorization.

Decide on a Service Model and Deployment

  • Determine which cloud service model (IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS) best fits the offering.
  • Choose between public, private, community, or hybrid cloud deployment, keeping federal requirements in mind.

Documentation and Controls

Establish Comprehensive Documentation

  • Document all aspects of security controls, policies, and procedures.
  • Ensure the System Security Plan (SSP) is exhaustive and up-to-date.

Implement Required Controls

  • Apply the applicable NIST controls rigorously.
  • Prepare for rigorous testing and assessments by third-party Assessment Organizations (3PAOs).

Establish Incident Response and Continuous Monitoring

  • Develop an incident response plan adhering to FedRAMP templates and guidelines.
  • Set up continuous monitoring capabilities that meet the FedRAMP requirements.

3PAO Assessment

Select a Qualified 3PAO

  • Choose a third-party assessment organization that is accredited and has experience with FedRAMP assessments.

Engage Early with 3PAO

  • Work with the 3PAO from an early stage to gain an understanding of assessment expectations.
  • Use their expertise to refine and improve your security controls.

Pre-Assessment Readiness

  • Conduct a pre-assessment or readiness check with the 3PAO.
  • Address any findings that emerge during this preliminary assessment.

The Authorization Process

Joint Authorization Board (JAB) vs. Agency Authorization

  • Determine whether to pursue JAB Provisional Authorization (P-ATO) or an Agency Authorization.
  • JAB authorization is more rigorous but can be leveraged across many agencies.

Complete the Authorization Package

  • Work with the 3PAO to complete the authorization package accurately and thoroughly.
  • Ensure all required documents, such as the SSP, are included.

Addressing Findings and Gaps

  • Work diligently to address any findings from the assessment.
  • Implement remediations and provide evidence to the 3PAO and authorizing agencies.

Maintenance and Continuous Monitoring

Regularly Update Documentation

  • Maintain up-to-date documentation that reflects changes in the environment or controls.
  • Update the SSP and any other critical documents as changes occur.

Ongoing Assessment and Authorization

  • FedRAMP requires a reassessment at least every three years, or when significant changes occur.
  • Stay prepared for less predictable reassessment triggers, like security incidents.

Continuous Improvement Cycle

  • Use the lessons learned during the authorization process to continuously improve security postures.
  • Engage in a cycle of continuous improvement with constant feedback loops.

Key Takeaways for Success

  • Thoroughly understand FedRAMP requirements and maintain meticulous documentation.
  • Assemble a cross-functional team that can navigate the complexities of FedRAMP.
  • Rigorously implement and test security controls.
  • Engage with experienced 3PAOs throughout the process for guidance and assessment.
  • Treat FedRAMP authorization as an ongoing process, not a one-time goal.

Achieving FedRAMP authorization requires a methodical and detailed approach. By adhering to these best practices, a cloud service provider can effectively navigate the process while establishing a robust security posture that earns the trust of federal agencies.