Cloud Computing

Amazon gets FedRAMP certification

Teresa Carlson

The government is still trying to figure out the best ways to use cloud computing, says Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services. (FCW photo)

Amazon Web Services has achieved compliance with the Federal Risk Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), becoming just the third cloud provider to achieve the certification through the rigorous cloud security program on May 20.

AWS' freshly minted FedRAMP certification, secured in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, is a big deal for the cloud behemoth because it endorses the company as a secure cloud service provider meeting FedRAMP requirements at the moderate impact level. CGI Federal and Autonomic Resources are the other two FedRAMP-certified providers.

Federal agencies looking to jump to the cloud can now leverage HHS' authorization to evaluate AWS as a cloud service provider for new or existing workloads, potentially saving lots of taxpayer dollars through the elimination of redundant security authorizations.

The FedRAMP certification means Amazon can help agencies scale new cloud solutions quickly and securely while saving them lots of money, AWS Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector Teresa Carlson told FCW in a May 20 interview.

"Cloud computing is a process the government is trying to understand and figure out the best way to utilize," Carlson said. "FedRAMP is another program that can help them feel more secure, and we are evaluated and certified through processes that ultimately increase the security of cloud services."

AWS already counts more than 300 federal, state and local agencies as customers, and Carlson said she hoped the certification would grow that number further. "Eighty percent of the federal programs are FISMA low to moderate," Carlson said, referring to the Federal Information Security Management Act standards. "FedRAMP covers that, so those can move to the cloud."

HHS currently uses AWS' cloud platform to store more than 200 terabytes worth of data produced by the 1,000 Genomes Project, which now includes DNA sequenced from more than 1,700 individuals researches can access for in disease research.

Kevin Charest, HHS' Chief Information Security Officer, said his agency worked closely with the FedRAMP program office and AWS to achieve compliance. The Veris Group was the FedRAMP third-party assessment organization (3PAO) for this certification.

"HHS is pleased to be one of the first federal agencies to go through the FedRAMP process, and to issue an Agency FedRAMP [Authority to Operate]," Charest said. "Our collaborative approach allowed all of HHS Operating Division to leverage that ATO and thereby reduce duplicative efforts, inconsistencies, and cost inefficiencies associated with current security authorization processes."

Matthew Goodrich, the General Services Administration's FedRAMP program manager, said the agency's authorization of AWS' cloud services ensures the security of government data and "paves the way for other agencies in using secure cloud services," but the partnership did not happen quickly.

Achieving FedRAMP certification was a six-month process for AWS, and critics have complained about the backlog of more than 80 cloud service providers awaiting provisional authorization -- as well as the more than 50 companies hoping to become 3PAOs. (The Veris Group is one of 19 approved to date.)

Carlson, however, had no complaints about the (now-completed) process. "I think the government has a really good process in place, and it should be a high bar," she said. "We could never underestimate security and risk evaluations."

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Wed, May 29, 2013

Amazon did not go through the ACTUAL FedRAMP certification process. They went through an Agency ATO process using the FedRAMP controls as a guideline. And it speaks volumes of both the Tech Press and federal leadership's preference for firms perceived as new-age/glamorous that neither you nor them has taken the time to correct this misconception. (Rather than shamelessly spread it.)

Tue, May 21, 2013

It drives me nuts when experienced professionals wrongly refer to NIST Risk Management Framework as "FISMA." FISMA as a law did not establish control requirements, impact levels, etc. Comments like these from industry sales execs like Theresa Carlson demonstrate that she and her company don't really understand the government market that they sell to. I guess that's to be expected when Amazon and other cloud service providers hire third-party companies who actually understand the government to move them through the FedRAMP process and do their work for them.

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