Last updated on May 17th, 2023 at 1:36pm
IT teams inside government agencies must deal with the same user provisioning challenges as their commercial counterparts. The significant difference in government cloud user provisioning is that agencies have granular access requirements based on employee or contractor security classifications and clearances.
Combining many user roles with compliance standards and stringent user access management quickly becomes time-consuming, unsustainable…chaotic.
Key Considerations When Planning User Provisioning in Government
Public sector agencies are typically multi-cloud environments while adhering to strict regulatory and compliance standards such as the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program (CDM) and Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). Depending on the agency's mission, it may also have to follow the Payment Card Industry Data Standard (PCI-DSS), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards.
Here are some key considerations for cloud user provisioning in government agencies and entities working with them.
Federal agencies moving to the cloud must do so while following strict security guidelines, so your considerations about security should include the following:
- Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
- Role-based Access Control (RBAC)
- Identity Verification
Your agency must also ensure that your cloud service provider (CSP) has adequate security in place, including encryption of data in transit and at rest. The CSP should also comply with NIST SP 800-53 and related security standards.
Another key security consideration is Zero Trust – a government-wide cybersecurity initiative – driven by a January 2022 Executive Order M-22-09 entitled Moving the U.S. Government Toward Zero Trust Cybersecurity Principles, which will change how all agencies adopt cloud identity practices in the future. Zero trust security is a cybersecurity practice that eliminates implicit trust and continuously validates every stage of digital interaction.
Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is a technical foundation of cloud user provisioning and security. It enables secure and seamless authentication and authorization for cloud-based applications and services. SAML allows for the exchange of identity and access information between the identity provider (IdP) and the service provider (SP), allowing users to access multiple applications and services with a single set of credentials.
All federal agencies must comply with government regulations such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) and the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA). These compliance programs require agencies to assess the security risks of their user provisioning solution, select a cloud provider that complies with government regulations, and regularly monitor the cloud provider's compliance.
Additionally, your agency needs a robust identity and access management (IAM) framework and IAM policy to manage and monitor user access to cloud resources.
A federal agency must establish clear policies and procedures for user provisioning, including user access and identity lifecycle management. These policies must be consistent with government regulations and ensure that your agency service desk grants appropriate access to cloud resources.
Integration with Existing Systems
A federal agency must choose a cloud user provisioning solution that integrates seamlessly with other backend systems, such as IAM, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), and HR systems. Integration between these systems ensures the proper and secure management of user access to cloud resources under your agency's control.
Federal agencies scale up new programs regularly to meet operational and constituent needs. For example, a federal agency involved in disaster relief may scale up its cloud users in response to a natural disaster. A cloud user provisioning process that can scale cloud users up and down efficiently and securely is a must-have requirement.
Training and Awareness
Your agency must ensure that its employees and contractors receive training on properly using cloud resources and the importance of complying with federal policies and regulations. End user security awareness training minimizes the risks of insider threats and helps ensure your agency maintains a strong security posture.
Continuous Monitoring and Assessment
Every federal agency must continuously monitor and assess its cloud user provisioning solution to ensure it remains effective and compliant with federal policies and regulations. Monitoring tasks include:
- Regularly reviewing access logs
- Conducting audits
- Implementing necessary updates
Government User Provisioning Best Practices
While there will be federal agencies that have their own cloud user provisioning practices in place, here are some standard best practices that serve as a foundation:
- Establish RBAC to provide a framework for assigning permissions to cloud users in your agency based on their job responsibilities while reducing the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data.
- Implement MFA to reinforce cloud user authentication by requiring two or more factors to authenticate cloud access for your agency's users. A password and a security token are standard authentication methods.
- Automate cloud user provisioning to reduce human errors and ensure consistency in your agency's processes for creating, modifying, and revoking your employees' and contractors' cloud user accounts.
- Regularly review your agency's cloud user accounts -- a FedRAMP requirement -- as part of your agency's process to identify and remove any unnecessary or inactive accounts, reducing the risk of unauthorized access to your cloud services.
- Monitor your cloud user activity to detect and prevent suspicious or unauthorized activity, such as unusual login attempts or access attempts from unauthorized devices into your agency's cloud services.
Automating User Provisioning
Automating user provisioning for your agency makes operational sense because it directly impacts the productivity of your cloud team while improving security. Automating cloud user provisioning with a cloud management platform ensures consistency, accuracy, and compliance with your organization's security policies and regulations. Even better, automation reduces the risk of errors and speeds up the processes behind managing user accounts in your cloud environment.
Also, automation enables you to ensure proper access for your cloud users by integrating your existing Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools and policies. Another benefit is that when automation controls user activity, it enables your cloud and security teams to identify and remediate policy and compliance drifts that can knock you into non-compliance.
Getting Started with Public Sector User Provisioning
Once you have a user provisioning strategy, it's time to implement it. A cloud user provisioning pilot is a natural first step, especially if your organization is implementing a CMP for the first time. Kion offers a robust cloud management platform with automation and orchestration tools that provide you with the automation, reporting, and other features to scale up your cloud user provisioning activities from pilot to production.
Here's an overview of a cloud user provisioning pilot:
- Select a small group of user participants representing different roles and departments across your organization because you want to test a diverse set of use cases.
- Define success criteria for your pilot program. Your success criteria might include the number of successful user creations in a given time period. The time it takes to provision a new user is a critical success criterion. Another success criterion is the number of errors between your pilot users and the pilot deployment team.
- Configure the pilot environment separate from your production environment as a test instance or a different cloud environment.
- Configure the pilot environment to meet your organization's cloud user provisioning requirements. Work in this step includes setting up user roles and permissions. You also want to define user provisioning workflows and integrations with backend systems just as you would in a production environment.
- Train your pilot users on using your new cloud user provisioning solution. The training should include everyday user and IT tasks such as requesting user access, approving user requests, and managing user accounts.
- Monitor and evaluate your cloud user provisioning pilot from user onboarding through completing your pilot criteria.
- Evaluate your success criteria and identify any areas of improvement. Set improvement priorities and enact a plan for continuous improvement over your cloud user provisioning solution.
Upon completing your pilot and putting a launch plan in place, it's time to roll out your new cloud user provisioning solution to your broader organization. Consider doing an incremental rollout, which is more manageable for your IT team and gives them opportunities to catch and remediate issues before they impact your entire user community.