FedRAMP vs. FISMA – What’s the Difference? | Cloudticity

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Cloudticity, L.L.C.

FISMA and FedRAMP are two of the most important security compliance programs for cloud computing and cloud deployments. However, many organizations fail to understand the differences between them. In short, FedRAMP is a government-wide program offering federal agencies a standardized way to assess, authorize, and manage security for cloud services. FISMA is an information security framework that requires all government agencies to protect their computer systems and data from unauthorized access or destruction.

Cloud service providers interested in FedRAMP must complete a specific authorization process. FedRAMP also sets a high bar for compliance. FedRAMP requires organizations to adhere to strict security requirements. These requirements include having comprehensive identity management solutions and consistent cybersecurity policies.

FISMA, on the other hand, applies more generally to federal information systems regardless of whether they are in the cloud or not. This framework requires all government agencies to secure their network devices (including computers) and data from unauthorized access or destruction. FISMA also requires organizations to have a thorough security risk assessment process, incident response plans, and secure network configurations in place.

A deeper understanding of the backgrounds, similarities, and differences between FedRAMP and FISMA is critical when choosing which is right for your organization.

What is FedRAMP?

FedRAMP is a standardized approach to security that impacts all government-wide organizations. It includes assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring of cloud products and services.

History of FedRAMP

FedRAMP dates back to 2011 as a joint effort between the U.S. Federal government and the private sector to address the need for a unified approach to cloud security. FedRAMP is designed to provide an optimal security framework for cloud service providers (CSPs), cloud systems integrators, third-party assessors, and agency program offices. FedRAMP's overarching goal is to achieve consistent implementation of security standards across federal departments and agencies.

The FedRAMP program builds on existing FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) requirements by providing CSPs with a unified way of meeting federal information security requirements through an assessment and authorization process. FedRAMP also provides CSPs with an accelerated path for obtaining authorization from multiple programs across the federal government. The FedRAMP process is designed to enable agencies to quickly evaluate CSPs against FISMA requirements prior to authorizing their services for use within the government network environment.

FedRAMP certification requires that a CSP adhere to security controls at three different performance levels—moderate, high, and hybrid. Each level has its own distinct set of requirements that must be met before certification can be achieved. These requirements cover topics such as key management, encryption methods, data protection strategies, identity management, system availability and reliability, audit logging procedures, incident response protocols, personnel background checks, physical access controls, and more. FedRAMP also requires CSPs to document their processes in detail. CSPs must submit documentation demonstrating compliance with FedRAMP’s continuous monitoring rules in order to maintain certification status over time.

The FedRAMP program has grown significantly over its 10 years of existence in terms of both reach and impact. It now covers hundreds of cloud service providers worldwide. Additionally, FedRAMP is the gold standard for Federal government cloud security compliance. FedRAMP’s success is most often attributed to its streamlined approach towards managing risk and ensuring secure adoption of cloud computing technologies across all Federal departments and agencies.

Understanding FISMA

What is FISMA?

FISMA is an information security framework created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to protect federal information and operations. FISMA requires organizations to think holistically about their IT security programs. This framework requires the development, documentation, and implementation of an information security program that meets the standards set forth by NIST.

History of FISMA

FISMA was created in 2002 as part of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). FISMA was enacted by Congress to address the need for an established framework that federal organizations could use to protect the government’s information and operations.

The goal of FISMA is to ensure that all federal information systems are properly secured. To accomplish this goal, FISMA requires organizations to assess their risk exposure, identify potential threats and vulnerabilities, establish control objectives and security measures to mitigate those risks, monitor their systems for compliance with FISMA regulations, and report any security incidents in a timely manner. Organizations must also ensure that their security plans are updated regularly as new threats arise or technology evolves.

Following its enactment in 2002, FISMA has undergone several revisions aimed at strengthening the existing regulations. For example, in 2007 NIST released an updated version of its Risk Management Framework which included additional guidance on implementing risk-based approaches as well as providing specific recommendations on how organizations can respond quickly to changing threats.

Today, FISMA continues to be recognized by federal departments and agencies as one of the most important standards for protecting data privacy and preventing cyber attacks against federal networks. Its success has been attributed largely due its ability to help organizations achieve consistent implementation of security standards across multiple programs while also providing flexibility and agility when responding to quickly evolving threat scenarios.

Differences between FedRAMP and FISMA

FedRAMP is a more comprehensive approach to security compliance than FISMA. FedRAMP requires organizations to comply with FedRAMP’s strict requirements in order to be authorized for use in the federal government. FISMA is a framework for risk and compliance management. FedRAMP enables organizations to maintain ongoing security compliance. Conversely, FISMA is more focused on the initial authorization. In greater detail, consider the following differences between FedRAMP and FISMA.

Governing body

FedRAMP is managed by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FISMA is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Approach versus framework

FedRAMP provides a standardized approach for government agencies when it comes to cloud security. FISMA is an information security framework created to protect federal information and operations.


FedRAMP requires organizations to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment prior to initial authorization. FISMA does not require organizations to conduct a similar risk assessment prior to approval.


FedRAMP requires organizations to obtain an authorized third party or FedRAMP JAB certification in order for their applications or services to be used in the federal government environment. FISMA does not require any third-party certification for applications or services used in the federal government environment.


FedRAMP requires organizations to continuously monitor their applications and services for security compliance on an ongoing basis. FISMA does not require organizations to continuously monitor their applications or services for security compliance.

Ongoing requirements

FedRAMP requires organizations to comply with FedRAMP’s strict requirements at all times in order to be authorized for use in the federal government. As mentioned before, FISMA is more focused on initial authorization and has fewer ongoing requirements.

Backward compatibility

FedRAMP can also be used to meet the requirements of FISMA. FISMA cannot be used to meet FedRAMP’s requirements.


FedRAMP also requires organizations to develop, document, and implement an information security program that meets the standards set forth by NIST in order to be authorized. This is not a requirement for FISMA.


FedRAMP was written to address the cybersecurity of cloud services. FISMA was released in 2002, before widespread adoption of cloud services, and so is written to address IT infrastructure security, in general.

Is FedRAMP or FISMA Better?

Ultimately, FedRAMP is the better choice for organizations looking to achieve security compliance in the federal government environment. This is because FedRAMP offers a comprehensive approach and ongoing requirements. FISMA provides a good starting point for security compliance but does not provide the same level of assurance as FedRAMP. 

Both FedRAMP and FISMA are essential components of cloud security for public sector organizations and their partners. Knowing which compliance frameworks meet your needs, and effectively managing these frameworks, should always be a top priority for organizations operating in this sector. Nevertheless, managing multiple regulations in a cloud environment can require significant resource and time investment, especially without the right solutions. 

If you want to learn how you can simplify the management of FedRAMP and FISMA, checkout the white paper

Finding Your Way Through the Minefield of Public Sector Compliance – Three ways to simplify the management of multiple regulations.”

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