IS Decisions logo

IS Decisions Blog

CMMC compliance: MFA to strengthen security in the U.S. defense sector

Explore CMMC compliance for the U.S. defense sector, the role of MFA in CMMC compliance, as well as the challenges of implementing MFA for CMCC compliance.

Published December 13, 2023
CMMC Compliance: MFA Requirement for the U.S. Defense Sector

CMMC, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, is a set of standardized rules and best practices developed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). CMMC 1.0 laid the foundation for defense contractors and organizations to meet specific security requirements. Now, CMMC 2.0 raises the cybersecurity bar even higher with even stronger access security and multi-factor authentication (MFA) implementation.

Organizations are already acting to ensure compliance with CMMC 2.0, which will likely go into effect October 1, 2025.

For federal IT pros, now is a good time to start evaluating CMMC 2.0 readiness. Do you have MFA? If you do, is it in place where CMMC auditors want to see it? In this article, we’ll walk you through CMMC compliance and help you understand the new, broader requirements around MFA.

Understanding CMMC compliance

CMMC compliance refers to the adherence and implementation of the CMMC, a comprehensive framework designed to enhance the cybersecurity posture of organizations operating within the defense industrial base.

The Department of Defense (DoD) developed this framework to safeguard sensitive data and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) throughout the supply chain, reducing the risk of cyber threats and ensuring the protection of national security interests.

Basically, CMMC is rooted in NIST SP 800-171, which provides a set of security controls for safeguarding CUI in non-federal systems and organizations. CMMC takes this foundation and extends it to create a more robust cybersecurity framework.

CMMC 1.0 measured cybersecurity maturity with five levels. But CMMC 2.0 compliance simplifies, trimming from five to just three distinct levels, each associated with specific requirements:

  1. Level 1: The foundational stage, Level 1 includes 17 controls. It’s for organizations exclusively dealing with Federal Contract Information (FCI). At this level, organizations conduct self-assessments to ensure they meet the specified criteria. After the CMMC 2.0 rollout, organizations will need to conduct annual self-assessments.

  2. Level 2: Intended for organizations that handle not only FCI but also CUI, Level 2 includes a comprehensive set of 110 practices, requiring third-party assessments to verify Level 2 certification.

  3. Level 3: With over 110 practices, Level 3 is for organizations that handle classified or top-secret information. They must complete formal government assessments to confirm compliance with Level 3 cybersecurity measures.

The role of MFA in CMMC compliance

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) plays a big role in CMMC compliance, particularly to ensure secure access to sensitive and classified data.

MFA adds an extra layer of security beyond traditional username and password authentication. This requirement adds an extra security layer to verify the identity of the person trying to access privileged and non-privileged accounts.

Of course, CMMC takes seriously any unauthorized access to sensitive or classified data. Since MFA typically requires something the user knows (a password or a PIN) plus another factor (something the user has, like a push notification or a token), it reduces the risk of unauthorized access even if a password is compromised.

CMMC Assessment Guide (Level 2) states (page 113):

“Use multifactor authentication for local and network access to privileged accounts and for network access to non-privileged accounts.”

So, as part of CMMC compliance, organizations must first identify privileged accounts. These accounts typically have elevated permissions and access to sensitive information. MFA is mandated for these accounts to provide an additional layer of security, ensuring that even if a privileged account is compromised, the attacker would still need a second authentication factor.

Additionally, the requirement to apply MFA across all users, both privileged and non-privileged, and across various session types, servers, and applications, ensures comprehensive coverage. This reduces potential security gaps and ensures that all access points to sensitive data are protected.

The challenges of implementing MFA for CMMC

There are several common pitfalls that we see organizations usually face while implementing MFA for CMMC compliance. Below we discuss six of those challenges.

Selective application of MFA

The first common mistake is failing to apply MFA consistently across all required access points. Some assessment objects (AOs) may require MFA for privileged local logon, while others may require it for network access. So, defense organizations must ensure that MFA is implemented wherever it’s mandated by the CMMC requirements.

Understanding the scope

The CMMC requirements apply to the entire environment, including all systems and accounts that manage access to CUI. This means that organizations need to comprehensively identify all accounts and access points that require MFA, which can be a complex task in large and diverse IT environments.

Specific device and application support

Some devices and applications may not easily support MFA. For example, certain firewall administrator consoles or legacy systems might lack built-in MFA capabilities. In such cases, organizations need to find creative solutions, such as using privileged access workstations (PAWs) or jump boxes that prompt for MFA before connecting to these administrative consoles.

Consistent enforcement

Another thing we notice is that enforcing MFA consistently can still be difficult, especially in environments with a mix of legacy and modern systems. Organizations must ensure that MFA is applied uniformly across the board and that no exceptions or gaps exist.

User training and adoption

Implementing MFA often requires the active involvement of users. Ensuring that users are aware of MFA requirements, understand how to use them, and are willing to adopt MFA practices can be a challenge. Resistance from users can hinder successful implementation.

Assessor interpretation

Lastly, different assessors may interpret the CMMC requirements differently. Some may have a broader interpretation of which accounts require MFA. So, it’s important for organizations to align their MFA implementation with the most comprehensive interpretation to avoid compliance gaps.

Choosing the right MFA solution

Choosing the right MFA solution, especially in on-premise and hybrid Active Directory (AD) environments, presents unique challenges. Below we discuss three key considerations for defense organizations when selecting an MFA solution.

1. Enabling MFA for every AD account

To bolster security, it’s necessary to prove MFA for every AD account. Embracing the “least privilege” approach, where users only have access to resources essential for their tasks, necessitates comprehensive MFA coverage. By adopting such an approach, defense organizations can minimize the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.

2. Demonstrating MFA across AD identity access

In defense environments, demonstrating MFA across AD identity access is non-negotiable. However, this can be a challenging endeavor, particularly when managing multiple directories in a hybrid environment. Defense organizations need to seek MFA solutions that seamlessly integrate and authenticate identities across different AD directories, ensuring a unified security posture.

3. Real-time monitoring for immediate threat identification

An effective MFA solution should provide comprehensive and detailed logging of all user activities. UserLock’s centralized audit, for example, facilitates comprehensive reporting on the login activity of AD users. This includes details such as the connected user, system source, duration of the session, and more. These logs must be readily accessible to IT administrators at defense organizations and agencies in real-time.

4. Bridging the gap in hybrid environments

Managing a hybrid environment involves bridging the gap between on-premise and cloud-based applications. Defense organizations must invest in an MFA solution developed for on-premise AD that also offers the flexibility to secure access to SaaS applications such as Office 365. This approach minimizes administrative overhead while reducing the cost and time commitment of managing multiple MFA solutions.

5. Compliance and certifications

Lastly, compliance with recognized security standards ensures that the MFA solution follows industry best practices. This adherence serves as a technical benchmark for security measures, guaranteeing that the MFA solution is designed to protect against known vulnerabilities and threats.

Achieve CMMC compliance with UserLock

CMMC compliance is the essential prerequisite for securing sensitive data and government contracts, and without a robust solution, the path forward remains uncertain. UserLock is designed to fit right into your on-premises and hybrid AD environments that help you simplify security management.

Plus, UserLock brings granular MFA to the forefront, ensuring secure access for AD identities across all session types. Whether it’s remote or on-site users, network or cloud resources, privileged or non-privileged users, UserLock provides the robust defense you need to meet CMMC compliance.

Try UserLock for free

3400+ organizations like yours choose UserLock to secure access for Active Directory identities and meet compliance requirements.

Download a free trial