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Learn Why StateRAMP Certification Makes Sense for Cloud Service Providers

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Being a technology platform provider to government agencies is a valid goal for American companies. However, becoming an approved vendor isn’t easy, especially for those whose services rely on cloud technology. It’s a long process and companies need to ensure compliance with numerous security requirements, including the recently developed StateRAMP certification.

While this additional requirement may seem daunting, once established, the StateRAMP certification can make applying for state, local, and education contracts easier and faster for IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS providers.

As Zach Fuller, CEO and Co-Founder of Silent Sector, puts it, “Having a StateRAMP certification is an asset that gains trust with government entities, making them more likely to hire you. It also simplifies your bid preparation process when applying for contracts in multiple government agencies, across different states.” 

This is because StateRAMP is recognized by over 20 states, numerous municipalities, and a growing number of educational institutions. Zach Fuller goes on to say, “With a StateRAMP certificate, companies have easier access to contracts from participating governments and organizations. With this one certification, several doors of opportunity are opened.”

In this blog, we’ll explain what StateRAMP is, why it came into existence, compare it with other similar security regulations, and discuss the steps needed to become StateRAMP certified.


What is StateRAMP?

StateRAMP, or State Risk and Authorization Management Program, is a cybersecurity framework for state and local governments, ensuring cloud service providers (CSPs) meet specific security standards. 

It was developed in 2020 by a committee of state security and information experts to create a standardized process to evaluate and approve cloud service providers for work with sensitive and valuable information at the state and local levels. This was in response to a dramatic rise in cyberattacks leveraging cloud security vulnerabilities.

A core function of its development was to bring the benefits of the FedRAMP framework, established in 2011, to the state and local levels. These benefits include:

  • Improve security for government
  • Create a consistent standardized approach for vendor approval
  • Create a list of reliable, approved vendors
  • Close gaps in security gaps between different state governments and agencies
  • Offer a streamlined path to CSPs to serve multiple governments and organizations

How Does StateRAMP Affect Vendors?

Anyone wanting to provide cloud-based services to a government agency that adheres to StateRAMP standards will have to demonstrate their compliance with StateRAMP protocols and prove this with a certificate that demonstrates their StateRAMP status.

Once a vendor has their StateRAMP certification, they can bid on contracts in any region that participates in StateRAMP. This embodies the “Verify Once, Use Many” approach central to other certifications, such as FedRAMP and NIST-800.

For example, if a SaaS provider of a CMMS designed for utility companies gets StateRAMP certified to bid on contracts to work with state-involved run power plants, they can use the same certification to bid on contracts in any StateRAMP region. 

However, this advantage is dependent on the StateRAMP certification, or impact level, the company acquires. If a provider gets certified at one impact level, and then wants to bid on a contract that requires a higher, more rigorous impact level, they will be required to go through another audit to prove they satisfy the requirements of the higher security level.

We’ll discuss StateRAMP impact levels in an upcoming section.

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3 Milestones of the StateRAMP Certification Process

The process of becoming StateRAMP certified involves a number of steps, or milestones. The following table lists the different milestones of the StateRAMP certification process. Note: The initial step, not included in the table, is to first become a member of StateRAMP.

Status

Requirements

3PAO Involvement

Government Sponsor

Ready

Minimum Mandatory Requirements

Conducts Readiness Assessment Report

Not Required

Authorized

Meets all NIST controls by impact level

Completes Security Assessment Report

Required

Provisional

Meets minimum and most critical controls, but not all

Involved for initial assessment

Required



StateRAMP Impact Levels

StateRAMP organizes cloud service providers (CSPs) into impact levels based on the sensitivity of data they manage, tailoring security measures to the potential risks of data breaches. This system streamlines the compliance process for CSPs aiming to work with state and local governments, ensuring they implement appropriate safeguards.

StateRAMP has four impact levels, that include:

  • Low Impact: For systems with minimal breach impact, requiring 125 security controls. A specialized set for SaaS systems targets specific applications with lower requirements.
  • Low Impact+: Enhances the Low Impact level with additional controls from the Moderate Impact level for greater security.
  • Moderate Impact: For handling private, unclassified data, necessitating a comprehensive suite of 325 security controls to mitigate more significant risks.
  • StateRAMP High: Aligns with FedRAMP High baseline controls and is utilized for the most sensitive and critical systems for the highest level of security.

StateRAMP vs. FedRAMP

At first glance, StateRAMP may seem like a clone of its federal counterpart, FedRAMP. However, while both frameworks share a common goal of securing cloud services, their operational scopes differ significantly. 

FedRAMP is tailored for federal agencies, setting the standard for cloud security across the national government landscape. StateRAMP, on the other hand, adapts these rigorous federal guidelines for state and local government levels, addressing the unique cybersecurity challenges and regulatory requirements faced by these entities. 

This means while FedRAMP-certified CSPs meet high federal standards, StateRAMP certification ensures that CSPs are also attuned to the nuanced needs of state and local governments.

Pro-Tip: Do I need a StateRAMP certification if my company is FedRAMP certified?
“If you’re FedRAMP certified, the process to StateRAMP certification should be rather simple and involve just registering with StateRAMP and paying the fees.

“However, it also depends on the FedRAMP certification level that’s been previously established – so while the process may be smoother, there’s still a small amount of work to be done to secure your StateRAMP certification.”   -Zach Fuller, Silent Sector



StateRAMP vs. NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a comprehensive set of guidelines and security controls, notably through its Special Publication 800-53. Both StateRAMP and FedRAMP incorporate NIST's standards, yet their applications within each framework vary. 

StateRAMP's adaptation of NIST guidelines ensures that CSPs can meet the specific security requirements of state and local governments, offering a more focused compliance pathway that reflects the diverse landscape of governmental cybersecurity needs. 

Through this alignment with NIST standards, StateRAMP ensures a robust security posture that is both broad in scope and specific in its applicability to the public sector.

What is the Difference Between SOC 2 and StateRAMP?

While SOC 2 focuses on a company's non-financial reporting controls related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and/or privacy, StateRAMP zeroes in on the security of cloud services offered to state and local governments. 

SOC 2 is broader, applicable across industries, and centers on organizational controls. In contrast, StateRAMP is specific to cloud service providers looking to work with public sector entities, ensuring they meet defined security standards and protocols aligned with governmental requirements. 

How Long Does StateRAMP Certification Take?

Every organization is different and has varying security postures, certification goals, and other unique nuances that will impact how long it will take for them to become StateRAMP certified. 

For instance, an organization that is already FedRAMP certified will have a much easier time completing their StateRAMP requirements than one that has not been through the process of security audit before.

Now, if all the stars align and no hiccups or delays spring up, the StateRAMP certification process is likely to take around 6 months. However, we all know how easily plans can go a bit sideways, or be put on a backburner when more urgent concerns arise. 

For a more conservative, realistic expectation, it’s safe for companies new to the process to plan for anywhere between 6 months to 18 months. Of course, if that timeframe needs to be shortened, consider working with a compliance readiness expert to keep the project moving as quickly as it can.

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Ready to Become StateRAMP Certified? Crucial Next Steps.

Embarking on the journey to StateRAMP certification involves several key steps: adopting a cyber policy requiring vendor verification, engaging a FedRAMP-authorized 3PAO for assessments, and submitting security packages to the StateRAMP PMO for review. 

Once approved, providers are listed on the Authorized Vendor List, showcasing their compliance and security level.

Given the complexity of these steps, partnering with a cybersecurity consultant experienced in navigating StateRAMP's requirements is invaluable. Such a partnership not only streamlines the certification process but also ensures adherence to the rigorous standards set forth by StateRAMP.

An expert consultant, like Silent Sector, can guide you through each phase, from initial assessment to final submission, enhancing your path to certification and ultimately, to securing government contracts.

To learn more about starting your StateRAMP certification, contact the experts at Silent Sector.

About the Author

Written by Haidon Storro

Cybersecurity Research & Content Manager, Silent Sector -- Haidon Storro is a Cyber Security Analyst for CVS Health. She has her BS in IT Cyber Security as well as security certifications like CompTIA Security+ and ISC2. While Haidon is newer to the security community, she has dedicated herself to learning as much as she can through internships, online courses, and conventions like DefCon. In her free time, she enjoys reading about new advancements in technology, going to security meetups and participating in cyber defense competitions. One of Haidon’s goals is to make the connected world safer by bridging the human aspect with technology.