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Workplace Privacy, Data Management & Security Report

Federal Agencies Tighten Data Security Screws on Federal Contractors

Federal contractors are subject to numerous requirements under federal law and, as we have previously highlighted here, need to keep pace with changes in law and regulation. 

Under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) each federal agency is required to develop, document, and implement an agency-wide program to provide information security for the information and information systems that support the operations and assets of the agency, including those provided or managed by another agency, contractor, or other source. Accordingly, FISMA provides authority for the imposition of requirements on those companies which qualify as federal contractors. 

By way of example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs impose specific requirements on their contractors.   

Adding new data protection requirements for federal contractors who use or handle U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) information, the DOD earlier this year issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking regarding amendments, 75 F.R. 9563, to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). 

The proposed amendments require “adequate security,” defined as “protection measures … commensurate with the risks of loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to or modification of information,” and have three main subparts; basic safeguarding, enhanced safeguarding, and cyber intrusion reporting. 

Basic safeguards, required for any unclassified DOD information, include:

  • Designating  the level of access and dissemination of informationProtecting DOD information on public computer or Web sites
  • Transmitting electronic information using technology and processes that provide the best level of security and privacy
  • Transmitting voice and fax information on with reasonable assurances that access is limited
  • Protect information by at least one physical or electronic barrier
  • Sanitize media in accordance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) before external release or disposal
  • Provide protection against computer intrusions and the unauthorized release of data. 

In addition to the basic safeguards outlined above, contractors are required to implement enhanced safeguards to certain types of data. The enhanced safeguards include:

  • Encryption/Storage controls
  • Network intrusion protection
  • Implement information security controls

Additionally, a reporting requirement has now been proposed, requiring contractors to report to the DOD within 72 hours of any cyber intrusion event that affects DOD information resident on or transiting the contractor’s unclassified information systems.

The new proposed DOD amendments, along with the various other federal contractor requirements, including those imposed by CMS and the Department of Veterans Affairs, highlight the necessity for companies that qualify as federal contractors to be up to date on their legal obligations or risk loss of their federal contractor status.