Lawmakers Want Pentagon to Clarify Cloud Security Standards

Maksim Kabakou/

Bill would ease the way for vendors to sell services to the Defense Department.

Two House members are proposing legislation they say would ease the way for cloud computing vendors to sell services to the Defense Department. 

The Defense Cloud Security Act would require department officials to set clearer security requirements for cloud storage and other cloud services “and give vendors an opportunity to meet those standards,” said an aide to Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass. Tsongas and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., are expected to introduce the legislation April 28.

Although the Defense Department already buys cloud services from a number of private vendors, Tsongas and Kilmer say that more companies could be providing more cloud services if the military had clearer security requirements.

For vendors, the military represents a large and potentially lucrative market for cloud storage and applications. And for the Defense Department, the cloud represents a way to reduce the cost of owning and operating its own servers and software.

“Storing benign information on internal DOD servers is an increasingly large expense, particularly given the widespread availability of secure, fast, reliable, and affordable storage services utilized in the private sector,” said Tsongas aide Katie Enos. 

Cloud data storage by commercial sector vendors already enables other federal agencies to store data at a fraction of the cost of operating their own physical data centers, she said.

“The point of this legislation is to ensure that the Department of Defense establishes its security requirements for cloud storage in a timely fashion, and to give vendors the opportunity to meet those standards,” said Enos said. “Without established standards, vendors are not able to determine whether or not they can meet DOD’s requirements to provide cloud services.” 

Among cloud vendors, there’s a perception that the Defense Department has not moved quickly enough to establish security standards that will enable more use of the cloud, said Charlie Benway, director of the Advanced Cyber Security Center in Boston.

Besides prodding the Pentagon to set cloud security standards, the Defense Cloud Security Act would also require the department to study best practices in cloud computing in both the private and public sectors and determine which the military should adopt; and study commercial cloud computing technologies that the military might use to meet security requirements and save money.

“It’s important for the DOD to fully embrace innovative technologies the private sector can provide,” Kilmer said in a statement.

Despite the difficulties some cloud vendors have encountered, four so far have managed to satisfy DOD security requirements and win contracts. In March, for example, Amazon Web Services received the go-ahead to provide cloud services for unclassified information to the military services and civilian defense agencies.

To satisfy the military’s security requirements, Amazon had to meet standards set by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, known as FedRAMP, and then meet additional security requirements set by the Pentagon.

It’s those additional standards that remain unclear to many vendors, a congressional aide said. The Defense Cloud Security Act would require the Pentagon to clarify the requirements.

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/