Starting, operating and growing a startup company in the modern world is, in many ways, more accessible than ever, but many new entrepreneurs can find navigating the stringent rules, guidelines and regulations of the business world to be a daunting and potentially anxiety-inducing experience.
For driven business owners, these hurdles shouldn’t present too much of a challenge, and in fact most current guidance plays an integral part in protecting both organizations and consumers from harm. As technology continues to become more essential to modern operations, in particular the collection, storage and use of identifiable personal data, compliances act to protect people’s privacy.
In today’s digital age, data security and privacy have become insurmountably significant concerns for both individuals and businesses alike. With the rate of cyber-attacks and data breaches on the (alarmingly steep) rise, the requirement for comprehensive data security measures is becoming more vital by the day. FIPS compliance is one such measure that companies, especially startups, should consider implementing to ensure the protection of sensitive data.
All startups utilizing security cameras, access control, visitor management solutions or any other technology capable of collecting personal data must adhere to strict privacy regulations, but not all recognized standards are applicable to all industries. Does your startup require FIPS-compliant technology? Read on to learn the ins and outs of this comprehensive data security standard.
What is FIPS?
FIPS stands for Federal Information Processing Standards, and essentially acts as a data security and computer system standard designed to align with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002. These standards outline how government agencies and public sector enterprises are expected to operate when handling sensitive data in order to safeguard all identifiable information.
In operation, FIPS is used to vet any companies, contractors and individuals who intend to work closely with government agencies to ensure that they comply with a strict set of standards before they are able to access any software or hardware systems containing identifiable or sensitive information.
Who needs to be FIPS compliant?
All federal government agencies that collect, store, share or transfer sensitive data must be FIPS compliant, this also includes any contractors and service providers that work closely with government agencies such as security system installers, IT teams, cloud-technology providers and consultants.
Any startup that intends to offer encryption services, computer solutions, security hardware, software or any other related systems to federal government agencies must not only ensure that the company itself is FIPS compliant, but also that all devices and software programs are registered as FIPS certified.
FIPS certification is not only applicable to startups that have their sights set on working with federal government agencies, but also to any business venture that is involved in the handling of sensitive data of any kind. Startups that offer products or services that involve the collection, storage, or transfer of identifiable personal data must comply with FIPS regulations to ensure the security and privacy of their customers’ information; this includes businesses in sectors such as finance, education, healthcare, and many more.
FIPS certification vs compliance
Both FIPS compliance and certification involve a rigorous process when it comes to the assessment and testing of all relevant IT systems, hardware, and software solutions, to ensure that they stack up to the gold-standard of government-approved security regulations. The FIPS certification process has been carefully designed to ensure that every last device and system of a business meets the most stringent of security standards, and that they are well-protected from cyber-attacks and other vulnerabilities.
When assessing an independent contractor or service provider in line with FIPS requirements, startups must be aware of the difference between FIPS certification and compliance. FIPS compliance requirements can be achieved when only part of an organization’s IT or surveillance systems have passed relevant test procedures, but compliance alone won’t qualify startups for government work.
FIPS certification is a much more in-depth process, requiring all devices and software solutions to be rigorously tested by a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) approved lab to determine whether they meet the most stringent of government approved security standards.
To achieve FIPS certification, systems must first meet FIPS compliance standards which can be done internally by checking for potential vulnerabilities and assessing relevant systems against publicly accessible FIPS guidelines. If a startup’s systems, products or services are able to achieve FIPS certification, the organization will be permitted to seek work with federal government agencies.
Moreover, given that FIPS certification has become a globally recognized standard for ensuring the security of cryptographic modules and data protection, achieving FIPS certification can go along way towards enhancing a startup’s reputation and credibility in the eyes of potential clients or partners.
Levels of FIPS certification
FIPS requirements do not exist as one catch-all certification, with several distinct security levels outlined by numbered standard codes. Recognized government FIPS regulations include 140, 180, 186, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, and 202, but the codes most relevant to startups are 140 and 197.
FIPS 140 standards outline how companies are expected to implement cryptographic modules and encrypted information, this includes data captured and stored by security systems, video surveillance devices and the operational configurations of cloud-based software solutions and related IT services.
FIPS 140 certification ensures that these systems are appropriately protected from being hacked or altered by cyber criminals and that all stored data is encrypted to such a standard that breaches or cyber-attacks will not result in any sensitive or identifiable information becoming compromised.
FIPS 197 represents the Advanced Encryption Standard cryptographic algorithm operated by the National Security Agency (NSA). This certification is used to closely examine existing encryption processes present in relevant devices and seeks to approve the algorithm to protect electronic data.
Startup founders wishing to offer services to government agencies or intending to work closely with such entities will be expected to meet these certifications before being considered for any contracts.
Additional FIPS Levels to Consider
The levels of FIPS certification are a crucial aspect of data security that startups must familiarize themselves with if they intend to offer any services or solutions direct to federal government agencies. FIPS certification is divided into several distinct security levels, each with its own set of guidelines and requirements that must be unequivocally met to ensure the protection of sensitive data. Here’s a closer look at some of the other FIPS levels that startups should have on their radar:
FIPS 180: Secure Hash Standard (SHS)
The FIPS 180 standard is a secure hash standard outlining the requirements for cryptographic hash functions that can be utilized for data integrity verification and message authentications. Cryptographic hash functions are used to transform input data into a fixed-length output that is unique to that input, making it nearly impossible for attackers to reverse engineer the original data.
FIPS 186: Digital Signature Standard (DSS)
The FIPS 186 standard specifies the requirements for digital signatures, which are used to ensure the authenticity and integrity of digital documents, and are quickly becoming an integral component of document management). Digital signatures use public-key cryptography to authenticate a signer’s identity and protect against any document tampering and other unauthorized changes.
FIPS 199: Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems
The FIPS 199 standard outlines the procedure for categorizing information (and information systems) based on their potential impact on an organization’s mission, goals, and objectives. This process helps businesses to clearly identify and prioritize the information and systems that most critically require protection.
FIPS 201: Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors
The FIPS 201 standard provides the framework for establishing a standardized, government-wide credential for personal identity verification of federal employees and contractors. The PIV credential is used to authenticate individuals and control access to government facilities and information systems.
FIPS 202: SHA-3 Standard: Permutation-Based Hash and Extendable-Output Functions
The FIPS 202 standard specifies a set of permutation-based hash and extendable-output functions, all of which are cryptographic primitives used to generate fixed-length outputs from variable-length inputs. The functions specified within FIPS 202 are designed to be fundamentally resistant to a variety of attack-types, such as collision attacks and length-extension attacks.
FIPS compliances and certifications exist as government recognized data security standards intended to ensure that any company working with federal government agencies is appropriately vetted and trained to handle sensitive data and identifiable personal information in a safe and secure manner.
Startups that provide, work with or operate security systems, data storage solutions or cloud-based information services must comply with and achieve FIPS certification before becoming qualified to work with any federal government agency, but FIPS regulations are not limited to government work.
FIPS certifications are recognized globally as one of the most effective methods of securing cryptographic modules and ensuring that collected, stored and shared data is protected from potential threats, so any startup working with identifiable data should consider pursuing FIPS certifications.