An Authorization to Operate (ATO) is an essential procedure a software application must undergo to ensure that it meets agency security standards. This process entails identifying the type of data the system will manage and the level of risk associated with attacks or breaches that it may encounter. Based on the results, security controls are chosen, implemented, and evaluated to determine their effectiveness in protecting the system. Only by then can the system be granted an ATO and continuously be monitored for compliance.
A Slow-Moving Process
The problem with the ATO process is its slow-moving pace. It can take anywhere between 6 - 18 months to complete the ATO process. Consequently, this time frame inhibits change, depreciates applications, and restricts the pace of modernization.
Further industry research shows that the current ATO process is highly tedious as it covers 17 control families and over 400 controls for a high baseline control system. These result in longer timelines, delays in implementing innovations that add business value, and increased system risk.
Alpha Omega Integration (AOI)’s experience suggests that a multi-disciplinary pragmatic approach is necessary to reduce the completion time of a system going through ATO or recertification. Taking this finding into account, AOI built A2OTM to streamline the ATO process – identifying and assessing the necessary security controls given the system’s security profile, determining exceptions in security posture, and monitoring controls.
A2OTM utilizes a continuous automation approach to ATO by automating data collection from manual controls, executing the controls, identifying gaps, and increasing observability and transparency through technical and operational dashboards. A2OTM can help:
- Accelerate ATO processing by automating data collection and reducing the time it takes to collect security accreditation artifacts, enabling you to get an ATO in weeks instead of months
- Achieve continuous compliance by:
- Reusing automatically-collected data to generate documents required for audits and assessment
- Automating data analysis and subsequently creating alerts based on the analysis
- Promoting simplicity and transparency with a coherent mechanism for traceability by incorporating A2OTM into your existing process without having to replace your current tool stack or behavior
- Significantly reduce system risk by replacing manual data collection with intelligent automation
- Reduce manpower costs associated with manual ATO processing by increasing efficiency and observability through technical and operational dashboards, decreasing reliance on manual data collection
The A2OTM Approach
A2OTM is guided by the NIST Risk Management Framework’s flexible, holistic, and repeatable 7-step process to help manage security and privacy risks and support the implementation of risk management programs following the guidelines set by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA).
Among the seven steps in the RMF, A2OTM zeros in on steps 2, 3, and 6 – selecting controls, implementing controls, and monitoring controls – as these steps take up the most time, require a high level of coordination, and can potentially affect the effectiveness of the ATO process. With this, A2OTM focuses on these three key steps through a 4-part process:
- Discovery - data mining of the tasks and processes implemented by ISOs involved in the ATO process to provide a baseline for how the ATO process is achieved, the typical steps involved, and the variations around each step
- Analysis - understanding the standardization opportunities in ATO process and data, identifying steps for automation, and forecasting benefits
- Build, Manage, and Run - automation of ATO activities through bots to determine exceptions in security posture
- Monitor - monitoring the ATO process at a technical and operational level to establish business performance and optimization
Acquiring and maintaining an ATO is essential in ensuring the security posture of enterprise systems. However, this process can become time-consuming – limiting transformation to occur within your system. A2OTM automates the ATO process to modernize, optimize, and innovate your system in a timely and efficient manner.
Learn more about AOI’s intelligent automation by scheduling a discussion with us through this link