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How Federal Agencies are Using Technology Modernization Funds to Implement Zero Trust Architecture

The Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 authorized the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF). US federal agencies apply for loans with “approved projects receiving incremental funding and technical expertise to ensure project success.”  The TMF board previously awarded eleven grants with the additional $1 billion as part of the American Rescue Plan.   

On September 30, 2021, the TMF board announced $311 million in new awards to federal agencies to invest in Zero Trust networking, digital identity, standardize secure data and information sharing, and improved interagency collaboration. 

Even in a Zero Trust environment, effective cyber protection, resilience, and operational assurance across a given government agency require key networks and data to be supported by enterprise-level third-party backup and disaster recovery capabilities. Development of these third-party solutions must similarly be around a Zero Trust model. 

What is Zero Trust? 

The September awards went to six public and one classified agency. Implementing Zero Trust is the focus of their efforts. Zero Trust architecture is a method of designing computer networks and data centers in which granular, rule-based policies strictly control the access to network resources. In addition, zero trust architecture treats every incoming connection as a potential threat until proven otherwise.   

How are Federal agencies using TMF funding? 

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is using the $9.9 million award to implement solutions across the five main Zero Trust pillars: 

  1. Identity
  2. Devices and Endpoint
  3. Network and Environment
  4. Application Workload
  5. Data 

This project enables OPM to fully comply with the mandates established in the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. Implementing Zero Trust will provide OPM with additional identity management options for enhanced collaboration with agency partners. Cybersecurity has been a priority for the agency since 2015 when the public was made aware of a breach of the OPM-run background investigations program for security clearances. 

The Department of Education received $20 million and will apply it to a two-year plan to implement a Zero Trust architecture. The Department will also establish a catalog of services with Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) technologies. By improving and modernizing cybersecurity technologies, the Department will provide more secure and less burdensome user experiences both for employees and the public. 

The General Services Administration (GSA) will use their $29.8 million award to improve user experience through seamless global connection to GSA-managed environments and applications while maintaining Zero Trust Architecture principles. 

The GSA project will develop in three “blocks”: 

  1. Users and devices: replace directory designs to meet the newer demands of telework and a multi-domain, hybrid cloud architecture approach with virtualization adhering to enhanced security principles. 
  2. Networks: focus on micro-segmentation by leveraging a secure access service edge, or SASE, solution and upgrading their public buildings’ security network. 
  3. Security operations: adopt increased machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) driven algorithms to help connect diverse data sources and highlight threats. All while providing security oversight for cyber supply chain risk management and enhancing core security operations centers to include governmentwide public-facing digital services. 

The single most significant award went to Login.gov – General Services Administration. At $187 million, the GSA uses the money to improve and expand the government’s single sign-on (SSO) shared service. 

The program allows users to create a single online account used to access any integrated government service. Currently, 27 agencies across more than 200 citizen services are using the program. In addition, the project will allow the GSA to further scale the Login.gov shared service with more advanced cybersecurity capabilities, expand identity verification coverage, and expand integrations with agency public-facing digital services. 

The award will go toward three specific improvement goals: 

  1. Increasing cybersecurity identification and protection for current and future users. 
  2. Add equitable identity verification and in-person options for vulnerable populations. 
  3. Grow the Login.gov environment by reducing the barrier to entry for agencies and allowing for a higher percentage of citizen participation. 

Initially, MAX.gov was created as an online space for officials across the government to obtain information on OMB policies, coordinate interagency work, and share experiences while working on significant programs. The program was shifted from OMB to GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, with plans to completely overhaul the backend and decommission the original MAX.gov by 2023. 

The award is for $14.5 million, but the project will start with $10 million. The end goal of creating a “modernized, secure cloud-based solution for cross-agency collaboration, authentication, and other shared services capabilities.” 

Homeland Security Department (HSD) received a $50 million award for their Southwest Border Technology Integration Program. Deployment of technologies in the past to improve the situation, their efforts are mostly disconnected. 

The program will provide standardized and secure data sharing across the federal enterprise to improve border flow and capacity management and increase the timeliness of decision makers. 

We can help in your journey to Zero Trust  

Whether your agency is a recipient of a TMF award or utilizing an internal budget to implement Zero Trust principles, Acronis SCS has the solution. At Acronis SCS, we understand the government’s unique security and usability needs. As such, we have designed a tailored, tested, and trusted backup software purpose-built for sensitive environments like those within the DoD and civilian agencies. Our backup and recovery software Acronis SCS Cyber Backup 12.5 Hardened Edition ensures data and systems are protected no matter your mix of legacy and modern systems, proprietary and non-proprietary applications, or dissimilar hardware requirements.    

With zero integration or outbound connections to online services, certified high-grade encryption and hardware-based random number generation for maximum entropy, built-in anti-ransomware protection, and extensive testing via the FIPS 140-2, Common Criteria, and DoDIN APL certification processes, this game-changing solution radically reduces your network’s attack surface. 

Our own experience can shed light on your Zero Trust journey. At Acronis SCS, we not only built a Zero Trust environment, we’ve also made the Acronis SCS Cyber Backup 12.5 Hardened Edition Zero Trust, too.  

Let us be your guide as you start the transformation to Zero Trust. 

Contact us to learn more today!