USTRANSCOM prepares for third-party cyber compliance assessments

U.S. Transportation Command is preparing a proof of principle for a cyber compliance program in preparation for broad adoption of CMMC.

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U.S. Transportation Command is preparing a test program for cyber compliance to hold commercial partners accountable for supply chain risks in preparation for broad adoption of the Defense Department’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program, FCW has learned. 

“This effort is intended to meet an interim need in advance of the full implementation of CMMC,” Laura Fogerty, spokesperson for U.S. Transportation Command, confirmed to FCW. 

Requirements for the pilot effort, which is in the planning phase, are still being developed and market research was recently completed, Fogerty said. No additional details were available. 

Gen. Stephen Lyons, USTRANSCOM’s commander, alluded to the program during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 13.

“We’re developing a proof of principle for a third-party verification -- basically this will be a new adventure for the department to be able to confirm or deny cyber compliance,” the general testified.

Currently, defense contractors submit “self-assessments on their own cyber scorecard,” Lyons said. DOD provides insights, addressing issues like multi-factor authentication and best practices to companies’ executives. 

TRANSCOM also uses “consistent cyber hygiene language in all of our contractual relationships,” Lyons said. 

But while industry partners are on board, it’s important to understand that a new verifiable cybersecurity compliance process isn’t bulletproof. 

“I don’t want to mislead anybody to think that we have some magic ability to protect commercial partners from an advanced persistent threat,” Lyons said. “I would say though that it’s bigger than cyber, so resiliency is bigger than the network piece. It's also the physical redundancy that we have to ensure that we have many readiness providers and I am confident in our approach in that.”

The comments follow news that the Defense Department had delayed a congressional review of components’ compliance with its unified cybersecurity standard, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program, which will require all defense contractors to be verified by a third party. The review was due in March and is now expected to be delivered by the end of June. 

Lyon’s remarks also come amid some pushback against the program. Vendors have complained about the new requirements and the cost of compliance, and Air Force CIO Lauren Knausenberger said last week during an America’s Future Series webinar that she had “mixed feelings” about the CMMC program being too rigid.

“I think if we lock it down so that we are not going to do business with certain people because they don’t meet [CMMC], I think that limits our options,” she said. 

During the April 13 Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) raised concerns about how much information TRANSCOM transmitted over unclassified networks, suggesting the command look into adopting a percentage or measurable threshold on the amount of data about personnel and materiel movements sent across unclassified networks. 

“I think it would be helpful if we had some sort of percentage and kind of a threshold at which we need to classify some information for force protection purposes, but not others for communicating pertinent details to uncleared personnel,” Blackburn said.

Lyons said “a great deal is moved over unclassified networks” but “that unto itself isn’t the risk as long as we take the proper procedures,” such as encryption. 

TRANSCOM was the first DOD organization to migrate its cyber capabilities command and control applications -- more than 20 systems so far -- to a commercial cloud. Lyons said that move has improved capability and security, but there’s more work to be done. 

“We have a very large and sometimes vulnerable attack surface,” Lyons testified.