Proactive Preparedness: Getting Your Agency Ready for a FISMA Audit

To protect government assets and information from unauthorized use, access, manipulation, disclosure, or destruction, the U.S. government came up with FISMA. It is a U.S. legislation that the government enacted in the Electronic Government Act of 2002. Organizations must show that they adhere to the NIST SP 800 series. It indicates compliance with the FISMA. 


Regarding FISMA audit, different organizations usually tailor their security control baseline to the point that it closely aligns with their business requirements, mission, and operation environments. When these organizations have complied with the required standards, they get more government contracts and obtain an ATO, among other benefits. 

FISMA audits aim to certify that federal information data and systems have the required protection from vulnerabilities and security threats. So, how do you ensure your agency is ready for the audit? Read on to get valuable insights on how to go about this process.

Understand FISMA Requirements

FISMA stands for the Federal Information Security Modernization Act. You need to understand FISMA before anything else in your preparation for the audit. It is a federal law with a set framework for information security. You need to read the legislation and familiarize yourself with it. This step ensures you understand the objectives, purpose, and requirements of FISMA law. 

Consult NIST guidelines from the NIST Special publication 800-53. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will offer you the standards and guidance you need to implement FISMA requirements. 

You will also need to understand your organization’s role within the framework (FISMA). Differentiate whether the organization is a system operator or a system owner. A system owner takes care of the security of a particular system, while the system operator takes charge of the day-to-day system operation. 

Designate Responsibility

You need to designate a chief information security officer (CISO) to ensure your organization meets the requirements for FISMA compliance. This is a senior official who oversees and manages your agency’s information security program. Your CISO must have a background in risk management, cybersecurity, and compliance. 

After appointing a CISO, you need to establish an Information security office. This should be a dedicated team handling information security in your agency. Individuals in the team must have expertise in risk management, compliance, and cybersecurity. You should then make CISO the leader of the team.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is one of the most crucial processes in proactive preparation ahead of the FISMA audit. It is the process that enables you to identify threats, vulnerabilities, and risks that the information systems in your organization might face. Through risk assessment, your team can effectively prioritize and implement security controls. 

Here, you need to have a team of stakeholders ( IT personnel, ISO team members, and other important parties). You will need to identify information assets so you can work on them. 

Security Policies and Procedures

Come up with a team you will entrust with the responsibility of developing, reviewing, and maintaining security policies and procedures. This is where you develop a structured policy framework similar to the one in NIST Special Publication 800-53. The framework should offer a comprehensive package of security controls. The policies created in your agency are supposed to align with those controls and various NIST guidelines.

Security Training and Awareness

After creating policies and procedures, you need to ensure that all employees know the roles they need to play to protect sensitive government information. They should also have the necessary knowledge of the best security practices. This process requires you to assess training needs, create a training plan, and develop appropriate content for training.

Security Controls Implementation

These are the measures and safeguards you put in place to protect information. You should use the NIST Special Publication 800-53 as it has a comprehensive catalog of these controls. Here, you choose what works for your agency. You will also customize the controls you have chosen to align with particular needs and the risk profile of the agency. 

Get teams and assign them specific duties and responsibilities on how every individual will complement each control. It is also important to create a plan that guides your teams on the implementation process. The plan should include important steps, implementation timelines, and resources to be used for a successful implementation. Remember to keep a comprehensive record of every security control. 

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