This blog continues Covington’s review of important deadlines and milestones in implementing the Executive Order on Improving the Nations’ Cybersecurity (E.O. 14028, or the “Cyber EO”) issued by President Biden on May 12, 2021.  Previous blogs have discussed developments under the Cyber EO in June 2021 and July 2021.  This blog focuses on developments affecting the EO that occurred during August 2021.

The Cyber EO requires federal agencies to meet several important deadlines in August 2021.  These deadlines are in the areas of enhancing critical software supply chain security, improving the federal government’s investigative and remediation capabilities, and modernizing federal agency approaches to cybersecurity.  In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) took several significant actions related to supply chain security in August 2021, not all of which were driven by deadlines in the Cyber EO.  This blog examines the actions taken by federal agencies to meet the EO’s August deadlines as well as the NIST actions referred to above.


Continue Reading August 2021 Developments Under President Biden’s Cybersecurity Executive Order

On May 12, 2021, the Biden Administration issued an Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity (the “EO”).  The EO sets out a list of deliverables due from a number of governmental entities in June 2021 and successive months.  Our overall summary of the EO and its deliverables can be found here, and our discussion of the EO deliverables that were due in June 2021 can be found here.  This blog addresses the EO deliverables in July 2021.
Continue Reading July 2021 Developments Under the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity

On May 12, 2021 the Biden Administration issued an “Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity” (EO).  Among other things, the EO sets out a list of deliverables from a variety of government entities.  A number of these deliverables were due in June, including a definition of “critical software,” the minimum requirements for a software bill of materials, and certain internal actions imposed on various federal agencies.
Continue Reading June 2021 Developments Under the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity

On May 12, the Biden Administration issued an “Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity.”  The Order seeks to strengthen the federal government’s ability to respond to and prevent cybersecurity threats, including by modernizing federal networks, enhancing the federal government’s software supply chain security, implementing enhanced cybersecurity practices and procedures in the federal government, and creating government-wide plans for incident response.  The Order covers a wide array of issues and processes, setting numerous deadlines for recommendations and actions by federal agencies, and focusing on enhancing the protection of federal networks in partnership with the service providers on which federal agencies rely.  Private sector entities, including federal contractors and service providers, will have opportunities to provide input to some of these actions.

In particular, and among other things, the Order:

  • seeks to remove obstacles to sharing threat information between the private sector and federal agencies;
  • mandates that software purchased by the federal government meet new cybersecurity standards;
  • discusses securing cloud-based systems, including information technology (IT) systems that process data, and operational technology (OT) systems that run vital machinery and infrastructure;
  • seeks to impose new cyber incident[i] reporting requirements on certain IT and OT providers and software product and service vendors and establishes a Cyber Safety Review Board to review and assess such cyber incidents and other cyber incidents, and;
  • addresses the creation of pilot programs related to consumer labeling in connection with the cybersecurity capabilities of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The Order contains eight substantive sections, which are listed here, and discussed in more detail below:

  • Section 2 – Removing Barriers to Sharing Threat Information
  • Section 3 – Modernizing Federal Government Cybersecurity
  • Section 4 – Enhancing Software Supply Chain Security
  • Section 5 – Establishing a Cyber Safety Review Board
  • Section 6 – Standardizing the Federal Government’s Playbook for Responding to Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities and Incidents
  • Section 7 – Improving Detection of Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities and Incidents on Federal Government Networks
  • Section 8 – Improving the Federal Government’s Investigative and Remediation Capabilities
  • Section 9 – National Security Systems

The summaries below discuss highlights from these sections, and the full text of the Order can be found here.


Continue Reading President Biden Signs Executive Order Aimed at Improving Government Cybersecurity

As the recent SolarWinds Orion attack makes clear, cybersecurity will be a focus in the coming years for both governmental and non-governmental entities alike.  In the federal contracting community, it has long been predicted that the government’s increased cybersecurity requirements will eventually lead to a corresponding increase in False Claims Act (FCA) litigation involving cybersecurity compliance.  This prediction may soon be proven true, as a December 2020 speech from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Granston specifically identified “cybersecurity related fraud” as an “area where we could see enhanced False Claims Act activity.”  This post discusses recent efforts to use the FCA to enforce cybersecurity compliance — and, based on those efforts, what government contractors may expect to see in the future.
Continue Reading Cybersecurity and Government Contracting: False Claims Act Considerations

On September 29, 2020, the Department of Defense (DoD) released an interim rule that industry hoped would provide clear guidance with regard to DoD’s implementation of its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) framework.  The vast majority of the rule focuses on DoD’s increased requirements for confirming that contractors are currently in compliance with all 110 security controls in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-171 (NIST 800-171).  The interim rule also includes a clause for adding CMMC as a requirement in a DoD contract, but the clause fails to address many of the questions that industry has with regard to implementation of the CMMC program.  The rule becomes effective November 30, 2020.  We have written previously on NIST 800-171 and the CMMC here and here respectively.

DoD has been focused on improving the cyber resiliency and security of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) sector for over a decade.  The Council of Economic Advisors estimates that malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016.  The interim rule is one of multiple efforts by DoD focused on the broader supply chain security and resiliency of the DIB and builds on existing FAR and DFARS clause cybersecurity requirements.  Increasing security concerns coupled with recent high-profile data breaches have led DoD to move beyond self-certification to auditable verification systems when it comes to protecting sensitive Government information.


Continue Reading Department of Defense’s Interim Rule Imposes New Assessment Requirements But is Short on Detail on Implementation of CMMC

On August 13, 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new revisions to its Guidance for Grants and Agreements set forth under 2 CFR (commonly referred to as the Uniform Guidance).  The Uniform Guidance governs the terms of federal funding issued by agencies, including grants, cooperative agreements, federal loans, and non-cash assistance awards. 

The National Institute for Standards and Technology released the draft of NIST Special Publication 800-172 (“NIST SP 800-172”) on July 6, 2020.  This draft special publication succeeds the prior draft NIST SP 800-171B that NIST published in June 2019, and operates as a supplement to the NIST SP 800-171 controls that federal contractors generally must comply with in order to transmit, process, and store Controlled Unclassified Information (“CUI”).

Like the draft of NIST SP 800-171B released last year that it replaces, the publication recognizes that the basic and derived security controls in NIST SP 800-171 are “not designed to address APTs [Advanced Persistent Threats].”  As the publication notes,  “the APT may find ways to breach and/or compromise boundary defenses and deploy malicious code within a defender’s system.”  Thus, the additional safeguards in NIST SP 800-172 are meant to “outmaneuver, confuse, deceive, mislead, and impede the adversary—that is, take away the adversary’s tactical advantage and protect and preserve the organization’s critical programs and high value assets.”

Comments on the draft are due on August 21, 2020.


Continue Reading National Institute for Standards and Technology Releases Draft of NIST SP 800-172

(This article was originally published in Law360 and has been modified for this blog.)

Companies in a range of industries that contract with the U.S. Government—including aerospace, defense, healthcare, technology, and energy—are actively working to assess whether or not their information technology systems comply with significant new restrictions that will take effect on August 13, 2020.  These new restrictions prohibit the use of certain Chinese telecommunications equipment and services, and a failure to comply can have dramatic consequences for these companies.  The new restrictions also will have an immediate impact on mergers and acquisitions involving a company that does—or hopes to do—business with the Federal government.  In this article, we highlight some key considerations for M&A practitioners relating to these restrictions.

Background

On July 14, 2020, the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (“FAR Council”) published an interim rule to implement Section 889(a)(1)(B) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (“FY19 NDAA”).[1]  When the new rule takes effect on August 13, it will prohibit the Department of Defense and all other executive branch agencies from contracting—or extending or renewing a contract—with an “entity” that “uses” “covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential part of any system.”  The restrictions cover broad categories of equipment and services produced and provided by certain Chinese companies—namely Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hangzhou Hikvision, Dahua, and their affiliates.[2]

The new rule will be applicable to all contracts with the U.S. Government, including those for commercial item services and commercially available-off-the-shelf products.[3]  Companies with a single one of these contracts will soon have an ongoing obligation to report any new discovery of its internal “use” of certain covered telecommunications equipment and services to the Government within one business day with a report of how the use will be mitigated ten business days later.[4]  Further, although companies can seek to obtain a waiver on a contract-by-contract basis from agencies, these waivers must be granted by the head of the agency, and may only extend until August 13, 2022 at the latest.[5]

The new rule is the second part of a two-stage implementation of Section 889’s restrictions on covered telecommunications equipment and services in Government contracting.  It builds on an earlier rule that implemented Section 889(a)(1)(A) of the FY19 NDAA on August 13, 2019 by prohibiting an executive branch agency from acquiring certain covered telecommunications equipment or services that is a substantial or essential part of any system.[6]

The new rule is expansive in scope, and its effects will be felt far beyond the traditional defense industrial base.  Thus, mergers and acquisitions practitioners are well advised to become familiar with the rule and consider how it might impact any future transaction where an acquisition target does at least some business with the Government or has aspirations to do so in the future.


Continue Reading M&A and Section 889: Due Diligence and Integration Considerations

In recent years, both Congress and the Executive Branch have made it a key priority to mitigate risks across the industrial and innovation supply chains that provide hardware, software, and services to the U.S. government (“USG”).  Five of these initiatives are likely to result in new regulations in 2020, each of which could have a fundamental impact on companies’ ability to sell Information, Communications, Technology and Services (“ICTS”) to the USG.  As these requirements begin to take hold, federal contractors should be mindful of potential impacts and the actions that can be taken now to prepare for increased USG scrutiny of their supply chain security.

Continue Reading Contractor Supply Chain Readiness – An Update on Expected Regulatory Changes