With cybersecurity becoming a serious issue for the government, new measures are being implemented to avoid breaches. By 2026, if you want to do business with DoD, you'll need to comply with CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification). However, reaching that level of maturity is far from an easy fix.
"Cybersecurity risks threaten the defense industry and the national security of the U.S. government. About $600 billion, or 1% of the global gross domestic product, is lost through cyber theft each year." — Ellen M. Lord, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
While 2026 is still five years away, the Defense Department already requires some companies bidding on defense contracts to certify that they meet basic cybersecurity standards. That's why contractors need to start working on their cybersecurity maturity models as soon as possible.
Let's take a closer look at CMMC and cybersecurity maturity models for GovCons.
What Is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model?
The cybersecurity maturity model is a framework for measuring the efficiency and maturity of a current cybersecurity program within the company.
With cybercrime being a major threat, cybersecurity is on the agenda of every organization However, to be truly effective, security measures need to evolve continuously.
Cybersecurity is an ever-evolving problem in which companies and criminals race against each other to discover security loopholes. If the company gets there first and closes the loophole before criminals find it, the data remains safe.
By complying with the cybersecurity maturity model, your organization can continuously assess its cybersecurity measures and make sure they are in line with the latest developments.
What Is Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification?
CMMC is a new cybersecurity maturity standard designed specifically for DoD contractors. Its goal is to make sure a contractor implements robust cybersecurity controls in order to protect sensitive information while working with the government.
The certification will be necessary for both contractors and subcontractors. Depending on the type of contract, the company will either need to achieve a high or low level of certification.
The levels of CMMC are:
Level 1 (Performed — Basic Cyber Hygiene)
To achieve the first level of CMMC, the organization should follow the basic rules of cyber hygiene. This level focuses on the protection of Federal Contract Information (FCI).
It involves practices that comply with the basic safeguarding requirements listed in 48 CFR 52.204-21 (Basic Safeguarding of Covered Contractor Information Systems).
Level 2 (Documented - Intermediate Cyber Hygiene)
The second level is a transition stage from level 1 to level 3. It focuses on protecting CUI (Controlled Unclassified Information). To achieve this level of certification, the organization needs to establish and document practices to guide the CMMC effort implementation.
Level 3 (Managed — Good Cyber Hygiene)
Just like level 2, level 3 focuses on protecting CUI. It requires the company to establish and maintain a plan that demonstrates the management of cybersecurity activities for practice implementation.
Important: Contractors with a DFARS clause in their contract will need to achieve AT LEAST Level 3 requirements.
Level 4 (Reviewed — Proactive Cyber Hygiene)
Organizations that achieve level 4 need to focus on proactive activities to prevent, detect, and respond to cybersecurity threats. These practices allow the company to address advanced persistent threats (APT)s and adapt to their constantly changing tactics.
Level 5 (Optimized — Advanced Cyber Hygiene)
Level 5 focuses on protecting CUI from APTs. The implemented cybersecurity practices are highly sophisticated. The company must develop, optimize, communicate, and share improvement information throughout the organization.
All levels except the first one encompass practices listed in NIST SP 800-171. If your organization already implemented NIST SP 800-171 controls then it will have an easy time passing CMMC audits up to level 3.
Obtaining the CMMC Certification
To certify organizations, DoD created the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Accreditation Body (CMMC – AB). To become certified, you'll need to work with an accredited third-party assessment organization.
The level at which you'll need to be certified to get a contract will be mentioned in the request for proposal. You will have time to get the appropriate certification before the contract is awarded.
To make sure your organization is compliant, you need to determine if it's handling CUI. Once you identify which information you are handling as part of the contract, you have to find the gaps between where your organization is and where it needs to be.
After that, the organization needs to develop a plan to achieve the level of CMMC necessary to secure the desired contract.
It's imperative to start adopting a solid cybersecurity maturity model today. Once CMMC becomes mandatory, you will only need to make minor changes to maintain compliance and be ready for a certification audit.
Why CMMC Matters for GovCons
Besides becoming a mandatory certification by 2026, CMMC matters for government contractors since it provides a clear framework for their cybersecurity efforts.
The consequences of exposing sensitive data while working with the government are extremely serious. Without the right approach to cybersecurity, your organization's reputation is at stake.
Other important benefits include:
- Adopting top cybersecurity practices across the necessary maturity levels.
- Being prepared for cyber incidents.
- Learning how to prevent cybersecurity issues.
- Maximizing cybersecurity resilience.
- Increasing the chances of winning a DoD contract.
- Reducing risks of financial losses due to cyberattacks.
Besides keeping government data safe, CMMC certification can help you protect your organization from cybersecurity breaches.
Bonus: If you win the contract, the cost of preparing CMMC certification is an allowable cost.
Preparing for Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification
If you are a GovCon that plans to compete for DoD contracts, you need to pay special attention to CMMC. With the right planning, it's possible to remain compliant with DoD's requirements and prepare for CMMC audits timely.
The benefits of adopting a solid cybersecurity maturity model aren't limited to landing big government contracts. The model helps your company prevent serious cybersecurity threats and financial losses that tend to come with them.
At GovConPay, we simplify payroll, recruiting, and HR for government contractors, allowing you to focus more of your time on cybersecurity measures. For more information, please contact us at any convenient time.