The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) guides organizations in building and strengthening their cybersecurity posture into manageable chunks. Apart from specifying controls that every Department of Defense (DoD) contractor and subcontractor must implement, the CMMC model also requires key cyber initiatives to ensure that data is protected on all fronts from unauthorized access. One of these essential initiatives is encryption.
What is encryption?
Encryption protects data by scrambling it, rendering the information indecipherable to hackers and other ill-intentioned actors who might attempt to steal private data. Encryption is critical for organizations handling sensitive records or documents such as controlled unclassified information (CUI). If a DoD contractor uses an unencrypted network, anyone else who happens to use the same wireless connection could monitor the company's online activities.
But not all types of encryption are created equal. There are many different ways to encrypt data, and the choice of encryption technology depends on what kind of information is being encrypted and who needs access to it.
Why is encryption crucial to CMMC compliance?
Encryption plays a vital role in the CMMC certification process because it ensures the authenticity and confidentiality of information sent across networks. It also helps protect critical organizational data against unauthorized read access and modification. Most importantly, encryption is essential in strengthening the defense-in-depth strategy across all layers to lower risk and reduce vulnerabilities in an IT infrastructure.
Any aspiring DoD contractor or subcontractor must have strong encryption mechanisms in place, as most CMMC assessments center around encryption. If a company wants to be CMMC-compliant, it must prioritize implementing and maintaining an effective encryption policy.
In particular, any entity handling CUI is mandated by the CMMC to:
- Secure wireless network traffic using authentication and encryption (AC.3.012)
- Encrypt all mobile computing platforms and devices (AC.3.022)
- Store and transmit only cryptographically protected passwords (IA.2.081)
- Protect remote access sessions by using cryptographic mechanisms (AC.3.014)
- Safeguard CUI stored on digital media during transport through cryptographic mechanisms to ensure confidentiality (MP.3.125)
- Establish and manage cryptographic keys for network device management (SC.2.179)
Related article: The Importance of Endpoint Encryption for DoD CMMC Requirements
CMMC encryption compliance considerations
Encryption is a nonnegotiable cybersecurity solution that contractors and subcontractors must implement to achieve CMMC compliance. However, ordinary encryption is not enough. When implementing encryption mechanisms, organizations must also take the following things into account:
On its own, encryption cannot fully protect CUI and other data from being exploited. This is why multifactor authentication is also a key CMMC compliance requirement: it necessitates organizations to supplement password-based security principles with additional factors that strengthen the security of organizations handling CUI.
CMMC certification ensures that organizations have a defense-in-depth strategy, which focuses on the integration of many layers of cybersecurity countermeasures at multiple points across their IT infrastructure. These layers work together to protect against external and internal threats and minimize damage when breaches do occur.
This CMMC-compliant approach to cybersecurity includes preventive measures, detection strategies, and response protocols. Encryption is an integral part of this layered defense technique because it provides end-to-end protection.
Secure configuration management capabilities
CMMC certification requires contractors to have secure configuration management capabilities that comply with DoD Instruction 8500. Organizations that handle CUI must be able to conduct audits and scans, maintain software patch levels, implement vulnerability mitigation tactics, create policies for security updates, and enforce CMMC-specified configurations. The CMMC certification process has no tolerance for organizations that do not meet these requirements, as this leaves the DoD open to vulnerabilities, exploits, and data compromise.
While CMMC doesn’t specify which kind of encryption solutions contractors should set, it does provide overarching guidance so that organizations can meet DoD requirements. For instance, it mandates that contractors must encrypt CUI in transit and at rest to get at least a CMMC 2.0 Level 2 certification. This means you’ll need a solution that can provide end-to-end encryption and is validated by the Federal Information Processing Standards.
What does a CMMC certification say about an organization’s encryption mechanisms?
CMMC certification awards contractors and subcontractors with an official certificate of compliance, acknowledging these organizations’ commitment to cybersecurity. Having a CCMC certification means that your company is secure, dependable, scalable, flexible, and interoperable, making it deserving of a DoD contract.
As CMMC compliance becomes more streamlined, it’s more and more vital for DoD contractors to partner with an IT specialist that can deploy strong encryption solutions. For any cybersecurity-related questions or information, talk to a Charles IT expert today!