CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) is a security framework developed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to protect the country’s defense industrial base from cyber threats. The framework establishes requirements that organizations must meet before conducting business as defense contractors or subcontractors. If your company intends to participate in the DoD’s supply chain, you will likely need an authorized third-party assessor to get you through the CMMC compliance process.
While the latest iteration of CMMC (2.0) is still in the rulemaking process, companies that acquire certification early will have significant advantages over competitors who would instead drag their feet on compliance. Only companies that prove their readiness and resilience can bid for and win the juiciest contracts.
To gain the advantage, your company must develop a broad understanding of the CMMC framework and build a cost-efficient strategy to accelerate its compliance journey.
Based primarily on the security requirements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), CMMC is designed to protect two types of data:
- Federal Contract Information (FCI). Information used under a contract to develop a product or deliver a service where such information is not intended for public release.
- Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Information is not classified but still needs to be protected due to government legislation or policy. Includes data on critical infrastructures, financial records, and international agreements.
As part of the program, third-party auditing firms will be certified and authorized by the CMMC Accreditation Body to conduct independent audits for organizations that handle critical national security information (mostly CUI). These accredited auditors are called CMMC Third-Party Assessment Organizations (C3PAO). C3PAOs will be listed in the relevant marketplace.
Meanwhile, there are three certification levels for contractors under CMMC 2.0, based on the type of information they handle and the type of DoD contracts they want to acquire:
- Level 1 (Foundational) — This certification level suits organizations that handle only FCI. An annual self-assessment is adequate to demonstrate compliance with this certification level.
- Level 2 (Advanced) — Organizations that do not process critical national security information but seek to acquire this certification level can do so through a self-assessment. On the other hand, organizations that handle vital national security information (mostly CUI) and seek non-priority DoD projects must work with a C3PAO to gain certification. They also must get re-certified every three years.
- Level 3 (Expert) — This certification level sets the most rigorous requirements and involves a government-led assessment every three years. This tier suits organizations that handle critical national security information and seek contracts for high-priority DoD projects.
The CMMC framework encapsulates 14 control domains crucial to the protection of sensitive information:
- Access Control
- Audit and Accountability
- Awareness and Training
- Configuration Management
- Identification and Authentication
- Incident Response
- Media Protection
- Personnel Security
- Physical Protection
- Risk Management
- Security Assessment
- Systems and Communications Protection
- System and Information Integrity
These domains further specify the controls that describe processes and practices your company needs to implement to safeguard and strengthen your information systems. Authorized assessors will also use these controls as standards against which to evaluate your company’s compliance.
A Level 1 certification requires compliance with only a subset of these control domains. On the other hand, Level 2 and Level 3 certifications mandate compliance with all fields.
Benefits and Challenges of CMMC Compliance
Since its launch in 2019, CMMC has been described as very complex and costly. Compliance does require significant effort, resources, and organizational buy-in. Fortunately, CMMC 2.0 aims to simplify all aspects of the framework, with its rules expected to be finalized in 2023.
While challenging, compliance with CMMC will become a contractual obligation across the defense supply chain. Early certification will give you a precious head start in the DoD’s notoriously competitive bidding landscape.
Moreover, CMMC compliance yields many other significant benefits on top of your company’s eligibility to compete for profitable contracts in the defense ecosystem:
- Enhanced cybersecurity posture: The compliance process helps organizations strengthen their IT defenses, reduce risks, and prevent evolving threats.
- Competitive advantage: Certification builds trust and drives brand recognition as a reliable defense contractor, improving your chances of winning more contracts over time.
- Improved supply chain security: Compliance helps improve overall safety within the defense industrial base (DIB).
- Mitigation of human vulnerabilities: Compliance requires regular security awareness training, which helps fortify the first line of defense: your people.
- Avoidance of significant financial and reputational damage: The controls required by CMMC include defenses against devastating data breaches that can cost millions of dollars to recover from (or even result in the closure of your business).
Whether your company is a small startup or an enterprise-scale contractor, you must obtain CMMC certification to conduct business in the lucrative defense economy. Except for high-priority DoD projects that require a government-led assessment, most certifications will be conducted by accredited C3PAOs.
Identifying your business goals and preferred contract types is an excellent way to start your compliance journey. That determines the level of certification you need to participate in the defense supply chain. The next step is to conduct a scoping analysis and a readiness assessment to detect compliance gaps and identify risk areas where you process CUI.
Here are some actionable tips you can perform before a formal CMMC audit:
- Practice diligent documentation. Maintaining well-documented practices, policies, and procedures makes demonstrating compliance with third-party auditors easier.
- Conduct regular IT security awareness training. Given the rising tide of cybercrime, this process has become a standard requirement in virtually all industries. This strategic investment will never go to waste because it mitigates significant risks and helps foster a robust cyber security culture across your organization.
- Practice basic digital hygiene. Implement strong access controls, powerful data encryption, and prompt patching/updating of software and other IT assets.
- Secure the supply chain. Set reasonable security standards for your vendors to address weak links and reduce the risk of compromise throughout the chain.
- Engage external expertise. Consider partnering with experienced consultants or CMMC compliance specialists to leverage their knowledge and experience.
Expected Costs and Timelines
Certification can take months to process fully, requiring close coordination between internal and external assessors to verify compliance with all domains, controls, and practices set by CMMC.
Meanwhile, the cost of achieving compliance varies depending on your organization’s size, line of business, current security posture, and complexity. Overall costs typically include service fees for accredited assessors, remediation expenses, staff training, compliance maintenance, and administrative expenses during third-party assessments and formal audits.
The certification timeline depends on your current compliance posture and desired certification level. Smaller, less mature organizations may require extended attestation periods, while larger enterprises may already have many controls needed.
If your company operates as a defense contractor or subcontractor, now is the best time to start your CMMC compliance journey.
How We Do It
We provide the combined power of innovative technology and human expertise that enable clients to hurdle every stage of the compliance journey cost-effectively. Our holistic approach automates many tedious tasks and regulatory workflows while cutting costs and streamlining the audit process.
Our team provides customized and thorough evaluations of your information systems, culminating in crisp, actionable reports that help deliver the business outcomes you desire. TrustNet’s in-house experts also serve as thought leaders in GRC and cybersecurity, with decades of combined industry experience. Their insights have orchestrated breakthroughs and new business milestones for clients.
When you partner with TrustNet, expect the following high-quality deliverables:
- A laser-precise CMMC compliance roadmap tailored to your unique needs. This roadmap simplifies and accelerates the regulatory process, clearly outlining each step and milestone that leads to full compliance.
- Thorough readiness assessments that effectively detect and identify security risks, system vulnerabilities, and compliance gaps.
- Expert remediation guidance that prioritizes vulnerabilities and assures full compliance with CMMC standards.
- Monitoring technologies and human-assisted maintenance support that proactively address risks, ensure sustained compliance, and foster continuous improvement across your organization.
- Trust-building reports and compliance certifications enhance your brand and uncover more business opportunities.
Accelerate your CMMC Compliance
While CMMC is a comparatively new standard, it is based on existing security frameworks that have guided the federal supply chain economy for years. We have been there from the start, with the expertise of our CMMC professionals evolving in pace with rapid changes in the regulatory environment. In partnering with TrustNet, you’re always guaranteed to be in good hands.
Talk with a CMMC Expert for a free consultation.