NIST To Help Accelerate Federal Government’s Adoption Of Secure Cloud Computing

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been designated by Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra to accelerate the federal government’s secure adoption of cloud computing by leading efforts to develop standards and guidelines in close consultation and collaboration with standards bodies, the private sector and other stakeholders. Computer science researchers at NIST are working on two complementary efforts to speed the government’s quick and secure adoption of cloud computing.

Cloud computing is an emerging model for obtaining on-demand access to shared computing resources often through the use of remotely located, widely distributed data networks. Kundra sees this new vehicle for shared computing services as a means to lower the cost of government operations, drive innovation and fundamentally change the way government delivers technology services across the board.

NIST has been involved in cloud computing since its inception and has developed a widely accepted definition of cloud computing. The lab is currently focused on two major cloud computing efforts.

One is leading a collaborative technical initiative known as the Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart Adoption of Cloud Computing (SAJACC) that is intended to validate and communicate interim cloud computing specifications, before they become formal standards.

The major cloud computing requirements that will be addressed by these interface specifications are security, portability (the ability to move data) and interoperability (the ability of different systems to work together seamlessly).

NIST researchers are working with other agencies and standards development organizations to identify existing specifications and requirements use cases -- ways users interact with cloud systems such as sending data to a cloud service provider’s environment, and later retrieving it and removing it from that provider. The NIST approach will help to identify gaps in cloud computing standards and focus on those gaps. SAJACC researchers plan to create a portal to collect and share the use case, specification, and test results information.

Another major challenge with cloud computing is to safeguard government data in clouds, especially citizens’ private information. Agencies using cloud computing will still use NIST-developed Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) guidelines.

NIST is serving as the technical advisor for the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which will allow agencies to collaboratively develop baseline FISMA security criteria and authorization to operate deliverables upfront for use of cloud computing vendor products and services.

This certification and accreditation and authorization process is designed to cut duplication of effort. Once a baseline is approved, each agency could augment the baseline according to its individual data and mission system security authorization needs. More information on FedRAMP is available at http://cio.gov/pages.cfm/page/Federal-Risk-and-Authorization-Management-Program-FedRAMP.

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