An Overview of CMMC

What is CMMC?

CMMC stands for "Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification." It's a certification process developed by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure that defense contractors have adequate cybersecurity protections in place. This model is part of the DoD's efforts to protect sensitive federal information and deter cyber threats.

The CMMC model encompasses multiple levels of cybersecurity practices and processes, ranging from basic cyber hygiene at the lower levels to advanced processes for reducing risk from advanced persistent threats at the higher levels. Defense contractors must meet the requirements of a specific CMMC level to bid on certain contracts, making it essential for these organizations to align their cybersecurity measures with the levels specified by the DoD for different types of contracts.

How is the CMMC enforced?

The enforcement of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is integrated into the Department of Defense (DoD) contracting processes. Here’s how it generally works:

  1. Requirement in Contracts: The DoD includes CMMC requirements in its requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts. Contractors must meet the specified CMMC level to be eligible to bid on or participate in these contracts. The required CMMC level varies depending on the sensitivity of the information that will be handled or accessed.
  2. Third-Party Assessment: To achieve certification, defense contractors must undergo an assessment conducted by an accredited CMMC Third Party Assessment Organization (C3PAO). These organizations are trained and authorized to conduct assessments and issue CMMC certifications.
  3. Certification Levels: The CMMC model includes multiple levels of certification, each reflecting the maturity and reliability of a company's cybersecurity infrastructure. Contractors must meet the specific level required by the contract they are bidding on.
  4. Continuous Monitoring and Compliance: After achieving certification, contractors must maintain compliance with the required CMMC level. This includes regular updates and potentially re-assessment to ensure ongoing adherence to cybersecurity requirements.
  5. Integration with Acquisition Processes: The CMMC requirements are integrated into the DoD’s acquisition and procurement processes, meaning that compliance with CMMC is a prerequisite for contract award and execution.
  6. Penalties for Non-Compliance: Contractors who fail to meet the required CMMC level can be barred from participating in DoD contracts. Furthermore, failure to maintain compliance can result in penalties, including the potential loss of existing contracts.

By embedding these requirements directly into the contract acquisition process, the DoD ensures that cybersecurity is a foundational element of defense contracting, rather than an afterthought. This method helps secure the defense industrial base against cyber threats and safeguard sensitive information effectively.

What is CMMC vs. NIST?

CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) frameworks are both related to cybersecurity standards, but they serve different purposes and are used in different contexts. Here's a breakdown of their key differences:



  • Developed specifically for the defense industrial base (DIB).
  • Aims to protect controlled unclassified information (CUI) and federal contract information (FCI) that defense contractors handle or store.
  • Mandatory for all defense contractors that do business with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

NIST Standards:

  • Developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, often with a broader application beyond just the defense sector.
  • Includes various frameworks and guidelines, such as NIST SP 800-171, which is used to protect CUI in non-federal systems and organizations.
  • Often used as a guideline or requirement across various sectors and for different regulatory purposes.

Framework Structure


  • Includes a set of practices and processes across multiple maturity levels (Levels 1 through 5).
  • Contractors must be certified at a required level to qualify for certain DoD contracts, with the level depending on the sensitivity of the information involved.
  • Certification requires an assessment by an accredited third-party assessor.

NIST SP 800-171:

  • Provides a set of requirements for protecting CUI when processed, stored, and used in non-federal information systems.
  • Does not have a formal certification process through third parties; instead, organizations typically self-assess and document their compliance.
  • Includes 110 security requirements across 14 families of security requirements.



  • Specifically designed for contractors and subcontractors working with the DoD.
  • Compliance is checked through formal assessments.


  • NIST frameworks like SP 800-171 are used more broadly and can be applicable to any organization handling CUI, not just those working with the DoD.
  • Often adopted voluntarily by organizations seeking to improve their cybersecurity posture or to comply with various regulations that reference NIST standards (such as FISMA, HIPAA).



  • Enforcement is directly linked to contract eligibility and procurement processes in the DoD.

NIST SP 800-171:

  • Enforcement can vary depending on the specific regulatory or contractual requirements referencing the NIST standards. Compliance may be audited or reviewed as part of federal contract requirements or other regulations.

Overall, while both CMMC and NIST frameworks aim to enhance cybersecurity, CMMC is a more specific and mandatory certification for defense contractors, whereas NIST provides a broader set of guidelines and standards used across various industries and governmental requirements.

What are the 5 levels of CMMC?

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is structured into five levels, each building upon the security requirements of the previous level. These levels are designed to provide a clear standard for the implementation of cybersecurity practices at different levels of complexity and security. Here's a breakdown of each level:

Level 1: Basic Cyber Hygiene

  • Focus: Safeguard Federal Contract Information (FCI).
  • Requirements: Implement basic cybersecurity practices (e.g., using antivirus software, ensuring employees change passwords regularly).
  • Assessment: Basic cyber hygiene practices must be performed, though not necessarily documented.

Level 2: Intermediate Cyber Hygiene

  • Focus: Serve as a transition step in protecting Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).
  • Requirements: Document practices and policies to guide the implementation of their cybersecurity program.
  • Assessment: Implements intermediate cyber hygiene practices. At this level, an organization begins documenting its policies and practices.

Level 3: Good Cyber Hygiene

  • Focus: Protect CUI.
  • Requirements: Manage and measure cybersecurity practices. This level requires that an organization establish, maintain, and resource a plan demonstrating the management of activities for practice implementation.
  • Assessment: Good cyber hygiene practices are implemented, and there is a requirement for a plan to manage these practices.

Level 4: Proactive

  • Focus: Protect CUI and reduce the risk of Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).
  • Requirements: Proactively address and adapt to changing tactics, techniques, and procedures of APTs using advanced cybersecurity practices. Also, additional documentation, validation, and review processes are necessary.
  • Assessment: Processes are reviewed and measured for effectiveness, and there are enhanced practices to detect and respond to changing cyber threats.

Level 5: Advanced/Progressive

  • Focus: Protect CUI and reduce the risk of APTs.
  • Requirements: Standardize and optimize process implementation across the organization.
  • Assessment: Advanced cybersecurity practices are implemented, and there is a focus on optimizing processes to improve security further.

Each level builds upon the previous ones, requiring more stringent cybersecurity practices and procedures as the levels increase. This tiered model allows organizations within the defense industrial base to progressively enhance their cybersecurity posture in alignment with the sensitivity of the information they handle and the security risks they face.