2019 has been a year of pivotal developments for defense contractors in the realm of cybersecurity compliance. The Department of Defense (DoD) issued six guidance memoranda to assist its acquisition personnel in developing “effective cybersecurity strategies to enhance existing protection requirements,” including a mandate for the Defense Contract Management Agency to include cybersecurity compliance as a part of a contractor’s purchasing system audit and approval. 2019 also saw the first False Claims Act whistleblower litigation related to contractors’ compliance with DoD cybersecurity contracting provisions.
Beyond merely focusing on enforcement of existing compliance obligations, the DoD upped the ante in June 2019 with its announcement of its forthcoming Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). CMMC is the next step in the DoD’s efforts to protect the government’s sensitive, unclassified information against data exfiltration, and once it goes into effect CMMC will be a mandatory, third-party certification for all DoD contractors and subcontractors.
While there remain many unanswered questions surrounding the details and implementation of CMMC, the DoD has made clear that CMMC is coming and the defense contracting community must be ready to implement these requirements in order to continue receiving defense contracts, subcontracts and other DoD-funded agreements.
What Will CMMC Require?
As currently drafted, CMMC will require all defense contractors and subcontractors to undergo a third party assessment of their internal cybersecurity technical practices and process maturity against published standards. This assessment will result in certification at one of five levels – 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest – or no certification. Each subsequent level is cumulative, meaning a company must meet the requirements of all lower levels to qualify for a higher level of certification. In addition, an organization must satisfy both the defined practices and process maturity criteria within a given level across all areas of the model to achieve certification at that level (e.g., having a Level 3 assessment on technical practices and Level 2 on process maturity results in an overall Level 2 certification).
The DoD expects contractor CMMC assessments to begin in early June 2020. CMMC requirements will start appearing in DoD Requests for Information around this same time, and they become mandatory in all DoD solicitations beginning fall 2020. Once implemented, each DoD solicitation will identify the minimum required CMMC level a company must have to be eligible for that contract award.
On December 6, 2019, the DoD released Version 0.7 of the draft CMMC framework. This update refines the technical practice requirements for Levels 1-5 and provides further guidance regarding process maturity expectations. Level 1 identifies 17 basic requirements, mostly consistent with existing general government contractor cybersecurity requirements, while Level 3 aligns with full NIST SP 800-171 Rev 1 compliance. Levels 4 and 5 require “proactive” and “progressive” cybersecurity programs, respectively, and impose additional practices derived from Draft NIST SP 800-171B and other heightened cyber standards. These top two levels are expected to be reserved for companies handling information related to critical technologies.
The CMMC model will not be static, however: it will be adapted and revised whenever and however needed as the DoD identifies new threat vectors. While a company’s certification is generally expected to last for three years, including interim spot checks, model revisions could necessitate earlier reassessment.
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