Biden Administration Releases Draft Zero-Trust Guidance


The documents form a roadmap for agencies to deploy the cybersecurity architectures by the end of fiscal 2024.

The federal government is pushing hard for agencies to adopt zero-trust cybersecurity architectures, with new guidance released Tuesday from the administration’s policy arm—the Office of Management and Budget—and lead cybersecurity agency—the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The administration released several documents Tuesday for public comment, seeking feedback on the overarching federal policy from OMB and draft technical reference architecture and maturity model from CISA. The guidance follows a May executive order on bolstering cybersecurity across the federal government, which cited specific security methods and tools such as multifactor authentication, encryption and zero trust.

Zero-trust models continuously check on a user’s credentials as they move throughout a network, verifying not only that they are who they claim to be but also that the user has appropriate privileges to access secure apps and data. In a mature zero-trust architecture, these checks are performed routinely, including whenever a user attempts to access different segments of the network.

“Never trust, always verify,” Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said Tuesday in a statement, echoing the zero-trust architecture refrain. “With today’s zero trust announcement, we are clearly driving home the message to federal agencies that they should not automatically trust anything inside or outside of their perimeters.”

Agencies were already under mandate to develop plans to implement zero trust to meet the executive order. Now, with the new guidance and reference architectures, OMB is requiring agencies to fold new deliverables into those plans.

The memo from OMB gives agencies until the end of September 2024 to meet five “specific zero trust security goals,” all of which should be added to agency implementation plans:

  • Identity: Agency staff use an enterprisewide identity to access the applications they use in their work. Phishing-resistant MFA protects those personnel from sophisticated online attacks.
  • Devices: The federal government has a complete inventory of every device it operates and authorizes for government use and can detect and respond to incidents on those devices.
  • Networks: Agencies encrypt all DNS requests and HTTP traffic within their environment and begin segmenting networks around their applications. The federal government identifies a workable path to encrypting email in transit.
  • Applications: Agencies treat all applications as internet-connected, routinely subject their applications to rigorous testing and welcome external vulnerability reports.
  • Data: Agencies are on a clear, shared path to deploy protections that make use of thorough data categorization. Agencies are taking advantage of cloud security services to monitor access to their sensitive data and have implemented enterprise-wide logging and information sharing.

The guidance documents give additional details on what is expected for each of the five goals.

Agencies will also be given one month to name an implementation lead to engage with and report to OMB.

Also on Tuesday, CISA released publicly the Zero Trust Maturity Model, or ZTMM, which was developed in June and passed around federal agencies for consideration and feedback. The maturity model was not specifically required by the executive order, but officials developed the additional guidance to help agencies move to zero trust more quickly.

The maturity model aligns with the same five goals enumerated in the OMB memo, with additional context on the tools and procedures used by organizations with a well-developed zero-trust architecture. The model also includes a breakdown of how each focus area operates in a “traditional,” “advanced” and “optimal” zero trust environment.

Fully adopting zero trust security across a network will require agencies to configure systems in a coordinated fashion to enable the same security tools to work across a network.

To that end, “This modernization of the federal government’s cybersecurity will require agencies to transition stove-piped and siloed IT services and staff to coordinated and collaborative components of a zero trust strategy,” the maturity model states.

CISA Director Jen Easterly noted the maturity model is only one of the tools the agency has developed to help the government improve its cybersecurity posture.

“Additionally, CISA teamed up with the United States Digital Service and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program to co-author the Cloud Security Technical Reference Architecture, which will guide agencies’ secure cloud migration efforts,” she said. “Through our strong partnerships and ongoing collaborative efforts, CISA will develop new and innovative ways to secure constantly changing network perimeters to enable critical federal IT modernization.”

The documents released Tuesday by CISA include the agency’s current offerings and plans for future tools and services as the Quality Service Management Office, or QSMO, for cybersecurity.

The strategy and guidance documents provide a “common roadmap” for agencies to follow, though they are not meant to be a proscriptive guide.

“This recognizes that each agency is currently at a different state of maturity, and ensures flexibility and agility for implementing required actions over a defined time horizon,” the OMB guidance states.

The guidance documents are out for public comment through Oct. 1.

“The federal government’s approach to cybersecurity must rapidly evolve to keep pace with our adversaries and moving toward zero trust principles is the road we need to travel to get there,” Chris DeRusha, federal chief information security officer, said in a statement. “While we feel the urgency to begin implementing this plan, we know that input from the broader community of experts will help ensure it is the right plan. We welcome feedback on how we can refine this strategy to best advance federal cybersecurity.”