4 Ways to Prepare your Containers for the STIG Process

The Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG) is a Department of Defense (DoD) technical guidance standard that captures the cybersecurity requirements for a specific product, such as a cloud application going into production to support the warfighter. System integrators (SIs), government contractors, and independent software vendors know the STIG process as a well-governed process that all of their technology products must pass. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) released the Container Platform Security Requirements Guide (SRG) in December 2020 to direct how software containers go through the STIG process. 

STIGs are notorious for their complexity and the hurdle that STIG compliance poses for technology project success in the DoD. Here are some tips to help your team prepare for your first STIG or to fine-tune your existing internal STIG processes.

4 Ways to Prepare for the STIG Process for Containers

Here are four ways to prepare your teams for containers entering the STIG process:

1. Provide your Team with Container and STIG Cross-Training

DevSecOps and containers, in particular, are still gaining ground in DoD programs. You may very well find your team in a situation where your cybersecurity/STIG experts may not have much container experience. Likewise, your programmers and solution architects may not have much STIG experience. Such a situation calls for some manner of formal or informal cross-training for your team on at least the basics of containers and STIGs. 

Look for ways to provide your cybersecurity specialists involved in the STIG process with training about containers if necessary. There are several commercial and free training options available. Check with your corporate training department to see what resources they might have available such as seats for online training vendors like A Cloud Guru and Cloud Academy.

There’s a lot of out-of-date and conflicting information about the STIG process on the web today. System integrators and government contractors need to build STIG expertise across their DoD project teams to cut through such noise.

Including STIG expertise as an essential part of your cybersecurity team is the first step. While contract requirements dictate this proficiency, it only helps if your organization can build a “bench” of STIG experts. 

Here are three tips for building up your STIG talent base:

  • Make STIG experience a “plus” or “bonus” in your cybersecurity job requirements for roles, even if they may not be directly billable to projects with STIG work (at least in the beginning)
  • Develop internal training around STIG practices led by your internal experts and make it part of employee onboarding and DoD project kickoffs
  • Create a “reach back” channel from your project teams  to get STIG expertise from other parts of your company, such as corporate and other project teams with STIG expertise, to get support for any issues and challenges with the STIG process

Depending on the size of your company, clearance requirements of the project, and other situational factors, the temptation might be there to bring in outside contractors to shore up your STIG expertise internally. For example, the Container Platform Security Resource Guide (SRG) is still new. It makes sense to bring in an outside contractor with some experience managing containers through the STIG process. If you go this route, prioritize the knowledge transfer from the contractor to your internal team. Otherwise, their container and STIG knowledge walk out the door at the end of the contract term.

2. Validate your STIG Source Materials

When researching the latest STIG requirements, you need to validate the source materials. There are many vendors and educational sites that publish STIG content. Some of that content is outdated and incomplete. It’s always best to go straight to the source. DISA provides authoritative and up-to-date STIG content online that you should consider as your single source of truth on the STIG process for containers.

3. Make the STIG Viewer part of your Approved Desktop

Working on DoD and other public sector projects requires secure environments for developers, solution architects, cybersecurity specialists, and other team members. The STIG Viewer should become a part of your DoD project team’s secure desktop environment. Save the extra step of your DoD security teams putting in a service desk ticket to request the STIG Viewer installation.

4. Look for Tools that Automate time-intensive Steps in the STIG process

The STIG process is time-intensive, primarily documenting policy controls. Look for tools that’ll help you automate compliance checks before you proceed into an audit of your STIG controls. The right tool can save you from audit surprises and rework that’ll slow down your application going live.

Parting Thought

The STIG process for containers is still very new to DoD programs. Being proactive and preparing your teams upfront in tandem with ongoing collaboration are the keys to navigating the STIG process for containers.

Learn more about putting your containers through the STIG process in our new white paper entitled Navigating STIG Compliance for Containers!

Introduction to the DoD Software Factory

In the rapidly evolving landscape of national defense and cybersecurity, the concept of a Department of Defense (DoD) software factory has emerged as a cornerstone of innovation and security. These software factories represent an integration of the principles and practices found within the DevSecOps movement, tailored to meet the unique security requirements of the DoD and Defense Industrial Base (DIB). 

By fostering an environment that emphasizes continuous monitoring, automation, and cyber resilience, DoD Software Factories are at the forefront of the United States Government’s push towards modernizing its software and cybersecurity capabilities. This initiative not only aims to enhance the velocity of software development but also ensures that these advancements are achieved without compromising on security, even against the backdrop of an increasingly sophisticated threat landscape.

Building and running a DoD software factory is so central to the future of software development that “Establish a Software Factory” is the one of the explicitly named plays from the DoD DevSecOps Playbook. On top of that, the compliance capstone of the authorization to operate (ATO) or its DevSecOps infused cousin the continuous ATO (cATO) effectively require a software factory in order to meet the requirements of the standard. In this blog post, we’ll break down the concept of a DoD software factory and a high-level overview of the components that make up one.

What is a DoD software factory?

A Department of Defense (DoD) Software Factory is a software development pipeline that embodies the principles and tools of the larger DevSecOps movement with a few choice modifications that conform to the extremely high threat profile of the DoD and DIB. It is part of the larger software and cybersecurity modernization trend that has been a central focus for the United States Government in the last two decades.

The goal of a DoD Software Factory is aimed at creating an ecosystem that enables continuous delivery of secure software that meet the needs of end-users while ensuring cyber resilience (a DoD catchphrase that emphasizes the transition from point-in-time security compliance to continuous security compliance). In other words, the goal is to leverage automation of software security tasks in order to fulfill the promise of the DevSecOps movement to increase the velocity of software development.

What is an example of a DoD software factory?

Platform One is the canonical example of a DoD software factory. Run by the US Air Force, it offers both a comprehensive portfolio of software development tools and services. It has come to prominence due to its hosted services like Repo One for source code hosting and collaborative development, Big Bang for a end-to-end DevSecOps CI/CD platform and the Iron Bank for centralized container storage (i.e., container registry). These services have led the way to demonstrating that the principles of DevSecOps can be integrated into mission critical systems while still preserving the highest levels of security to protect the most classified information.

If you’re interested to learn more about how Platform One has unlocked the productivity bonus of DevSecOps while still maintaining DoD levels of security, watch our webinar with Camdon Cady, Chief of Operations and Chief Technology Officer of Platform One.

Who does it apply to?

Federal Service Integrators (FSI)

Any organization that works with the DoD as a federal service integrator will want to be intimately familiar with DoD software factories as they will either have to build on top of existing software factories or, if the mission/program wants to have full control over their software factory, be able to build their own for the agency.

Department of Defense (DoD) Program

Any Department of Defense (DoD) program will need to be well-versed on DoD software factories as all of their software and systems will be required to run on a software factory as well as both reach and maintain a cATO.

What are the components of a DoD Software Factory?

A DoD software factory is composed of both high-level principles and specific technologies that meet these principles. Below are a list of some of the most significant principles of a DoD software factory:

Principles of DevSecOps embedded into a DoD software factory

  1. Breakdown Organizational Silos
    • This principle is borrowed directly from the DevSecOps movement, specifically the DoD aims to integrate software development, test, deployment, security and operations into a single culture with the organization.
  2. Open Source and Reusable Code
    • Composable software building blocks is another principle of the DevSecOps that increases productivity and reduces security implementation errors from developers writing secure software packages that they are not experts in.
  3. Immutable Infrastructure as Code (IaC)
    • This principle focuses on treating the infrastructure that software runs on as ephemeral and managed via configuration rather than manual systems operations. Enabled by cloud computing (i.e., hardware virtualization) this principle increases the security of the underlying infrastructure through templated secure-by-design defaults and reliability of software as all infrastructure has to be designed to fail at any moment.
  4. Microservices architecture (via containers)
    • Microservices are a design pattern that creates smaller software services that can be built and scale independently of each other. This principle allows for less complex software that only performs a limited set of behavior.
  5. Shift Left
    • Shift left is the DevSecOps principle that re-frames when and how security testing is done in the software development lifecycle. The goal is to begin security testing while software is being written and tested rather than after the software is “complete”. This prevents insecure practices from cascading into significant issues right as software is ready to be deployed.
  6. Continuous improvement through key capabilities
    • The principle of continuous improvement is a primary characteristic of the DevSecOps ethos but the specific key capabilities that are defined in the DoD DevSecOps playbook are what make this unique to the DoD.
  7. Define a DevSecOps Pipeline
    • A DevSecOps pipeline is the system that utilizes all of the preceding principles in order to create the continuously improving security outcomes that is the goal of the DoD software factory program.
  8. Cyber Resilience
    • Cyber resiliency is the goal of a DoD software factory, is it defined as, “the ability to anticipate, withstand, recover from, and adapt to adverse conditions, stresses, attacks, or compromises on the systems that include cyber resources.”

Common tools and systems of a DoD software factory

  1. Code Repository (e.g., Repo One)
    • Where software source code is stored, managed and collaborated on.
  2. CI/CD Build Pipeline (e.g., Big Bang)
    • The system that automates the creation of software build artifacts, tests the software and packages the software for deployment.
  3. Artifact Repository (e.g., Iron Bank)
    • The storage system for software components used in development and the finished software artifacts that are produced from the build process.
  4. Runtime Orchestration and Platform (e.g., Big Bang)
    • The deployment system that hosts the software artifacts pulled from the registry and keeps the software running so that users can access it.

How do I meet the security requirements for a DoD Software Factory? (Best Practices)

Use a pre-existing software factory

The benefit of using a pre-existing DoD software factory is the same as using a public cloud provider; someone else manages the infrastructure and systems. What you lose is the ability to highly customize your infrastructure to your specific needs. What you gain is the simplicity of only having to write software and allow others with specialized skill sets to deal with the work of building and maintaining the software infrastructure. When you are a car manufacturer, you don’t also want to be a civil engineering firm that designs roads.

To view existing DoD software factories, visit the Software Factory Ecosystem Coalition website.

Roll your own by following DoD best practices 

If you need the flexibility and customization of managing your own software factory then we’d recommend following the DoD Enterprise DevSecOps Reference Design as the base framework. There are a few software supply chain security recommendations that we would make in order to ensure that things go smoothly during the authorization to operate (ATO) process:

  1. Continuous vulnerability scanning across all stages of CI/CD pipeline
    • Use a cloud-native vulnerability scanner that can be directly integrated into your CI/CD pipeline and called automatically during each phase of the SDLC
  2. Automated policy checks to enforce requirements and achieve ATO
    • Use a cloud-native policy engine in tandem with your vulnerability scanner in order to automate the reporting and blocking of software that is a security threat and a compliance risk
  3. Remediation feedback
    • Use a cloud-native policy engine that can provide automated remediation feedback to developers in order to maintain a high velocity of software development
  4. Compliance (Trust but Verify)
    • Use a reporting system that can be directly integrated with your CI/CD pipeline to create and collect the compliance artifacts that can prove compliance with DoD frameworks (e.g., CMMC and cATO)
  5. Air-gapped system
    • Utilize a cloud-native software supply chain security platform that can be deployed into an air-gapped environment in order to maintain the most strict security for classified missions

Is a software factory required in order to achieve cATO?

Technically, no. Effectively, yes. A cATO requires that your software is deployed on an Approved DoD Enterprise DevSecOps Reference Design not a software factory specifically. If you build your own DevSecOps platform that meets the criteria for the reference design then you have effectively rolled your own software factory.

How Anchore Can Help

The easiest and most effective method for achieving the security guarantees that a software factory is required to meet for its software supply chain are by using: 

  1. An SBOM generation tool that integrates directly into your software development pipeline
  2. A container vulnerability scanner that integrates directly into your software development pipeline
  3. A policy engine that integrates directly into your software development pipeline
  4. A centralized database to store all of your software supply chain security logs
  5. A query engine that can continuously monitor your software supply chain and automate the creation of compliance artifacts

These are the primary components of both Anchore Enterprise and Anchore Federal cloud native, SBOM-powered software composition analysis (SCA) platforms that provide an end-to-end software supply chain security to holistically protect your DevSecOps pipeline and automate compliance. This approach has been validated by the DoD, in fact the DoD’s Container Hardening Process Guide specifically named Anchore Federal as a recommended container hardening solution.

Learn more about how Anchore brings DevSecOps to DoD software factories.

Conclusion and Next Steps

DoD software factories can come off as intimidating at first but hopefully we have broken them down into a more digestible form. At their core they reflect the best of the DevSecOps movement with specific adaptations that are relevant to the extreme threat environment that the DoD has to operate in, as well as, the intersecting trend of the modernization of federal security compliance standards.

For those that want to understand how a policy engine can reliably deliver DevSecOps developer productivity, continuous security and automated compliance, read our overview of how policy engine’s are the perfect compliment for software supply chain security: The Power of Policy-as-Code for the Public Sector.

Automated Policy Enforcement for CMMC with Anchore Enterprise

The Cyber Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is an important program to harden the cybersecurity posture of the defense industrial base. Its purpose is to validate that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect controlled unclassified information (CUI). Many of the organizations that are required to comply with CMMC are Anchore customers. They have the responsibility to protect the sensitive, but not classified data, of US military and government agencies as they support the various missions of the United States. 

CMMC 2.0 Levels

  • Level 1 Foundation: Safeguard federal contract information (FCI); not critical to national security.
  • Level 2 Advanced:  This maps directly to NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-171. Its primary goal is to ensure that government contractors are properly protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI).
  • Level 3 Expert: This maps directly to NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-172. Its primary goal is to go beyond the base-level security requirements defined in NIST 800-171. NIST 800-172 provides security requirements that specifically defend against advanced persistent threats (APTs).

This is of critical importance as these organizations leverage common place DevOps tooling to build their software. Additionally, these large organizations may be working with smaller subcontractors or suppliers who are building software in tandem or partnership. 

For example, a mega-defense contractor is working alongside a small mom-and-pop shop to develop software for a classified government system. Lots of questions we should have here:

  1. How can my company as a mega-defense contractor validate what software built by my partner is not using blacklisted software packages?
  2. How can my company validate software supplied to me is free of malware?
  3. How can I validate that the software supplied to me is in compliance with licensing standards and vulnerability compliance thresholds of my security team?
  4. How do I validate that the software I’m supplying is compliant not only against NIST 800-171 and CMMC, but against the compliance standards of my government end user (Such as NIST 800-53 or NIST 800-161)?

Validating Security between DevSecOps Pipelines and Software Supply Chain

At any major or small contractor alike, everyone has taken steps to build internal DevSecOps (DSO) pipelines. However, the defense industrial base (DIB) commonly involves daily relationships in which smaller defense contractors supply software to a larger defense contractor for a program or DSO pipeline that consumes and implements that software. With Anchore Enterprise, we can now validate if that software supplied is compliant with CMMC controls as specified in NIST 800-171.

Looking to learn more about how to achieve CMMC Level 2 or NIST 800-171 compliance? One of the most popular technology shortcuts is to utilize a DoD software factory. Anchore has been helping organizations and agencies put the Sec in DevSecOps by securing traditional software factories, transforming them into DoD software factories.

Which Controls does Anchore Enterprise Automate?

3.1.7 – Restrict Non-Privileged Users and Log Privileged Actions

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: AC-6 (10)

Description: Prevent non-privileged users from executing privileged functions and capture the execution of such functions in audit logs. 

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can scan the container manifests to determine if the user is being given root privileges and implement an automated policy to prevent build containers from entering a runtime environment. This prevents a scenario where any privileged functions can be utilized in a runtime environment.

3.4.1 – Maintain Baseline Configurations & Inventories

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-2(1), CM-8(1), CM-6

Description: Establish and maintain baseline configurations and inventories of organizational systems (including hardware, software, firmware, and documentation) throughout the respective system development life cycles.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise provides a centralized inventory of all containers and their associated manifests at each stage of the development pipeline. All manifests, images and containers are automatically added to the central tracking inventory so that a complete list of all artifacts of the build pipeline can be tracked at any moment in time.

3.4.2 – Enforce Security Configurations

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-2 (1) & CM-8(1) & CM-6

Description: Establish and enforce security configuration settings for information technology products employed in organizational systems.

Implementation: Implementation: Anchore Enterprise scans all container manifest files for security configurations and publishes found vulnerabilities to a centralized database that can be used for monitoring, ad-hoc reporting, alerting and/or automated policy enforcement.

3.4.3 – Monitor and Log System Changes with Approval Process

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-3

Description: Track, review, approve or disapprove, and log changes to organizational systems.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise provides a centralized dashboard that tracks all changes to applications which makes scheduled reviews simple. It also provides an automated controller that can apply policy-based decision making to either automatically approve or reject changes to applications based on security rules.

3.4.4 – Run Security Analysis on All System Changes

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-4

Description: Analyze the security impact of changes prior to implementation.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can scan changes to applications for security vulnerabilities during the build pipeline to determine the security impact of the changes.

3.4.6 – Apply Principle of Least Functionality

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-7

Description: Employ the principle of least functionality by configuring organizational systems to provide only essential capabilities.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can scan all applications to ensure that they are uniformly applying the principle of least functionality to individual applications. If an application does not meet this standard then Anchore Enterprise can be configured to prevent an application from being deployed to a production environment.

3.4.7 – Limit Use of Nonessential Programs, Ports, and Services

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-7(1), CM-7(2)

Description: Restrict, disable, or prevent the use of nonessential programs, functions, ports, protocols, and services.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can be configured as a gating agent that will scan for specific security violations and prevent these applications from being deployed until the violations are remediated.

3.4.8 – Implement Blacklisting and Whitelisting Software Policies

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-7(4), CM-7(5)

Description: Apply deny-by-exception (blacklisting) policy to prevent the use of unauthorized software or deny-all, permit-by-exception (whitelisting) policy to allow the execution of authorized software.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can be configured as a gating agent that will apply a security policy to all scanned software. The policies can be configured in a black- or white-listing manner.

3.4.9 – Control and Monitor User-Installed Software

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CM-11

Description: Control and monitor user-installed software.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise scans all software in the development pipeline and records all user-installed software. The scans can be monitored in the provided dashboard. User-installed software can be controlled (allowed or denied) via the gating agent.

3.5.10 – Store and Transmit Only Cryptographically-Protected Passwords

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: IA-5(1)

Description: Store and transmit only cryptographically-protected of passwords.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can scan for plain-text secrets in build artifacts and prevent exposed secrets from being promoted to the next environment until the violation is remediated. This prevents unauthorized storage or transmission of unencrypted passwords or secrets. See screenshot below to see this protection in action.

3.11.2 – Scan for Vulnerabilities

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: RA-5, RA-5(5)

Description: Scan for vulnerabilities in organizational systems and applications periodically and when new vulnerabilities affecting those systems and applications are identified.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise is designed to scan all systems and applications for vulnerabilities continuously and alert when any changes introduce new vulnerabilities. See screenshot below to see this protection in action.

3.11.3 – Remediate Vulnerabilities Respective to Risk Assessments

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: RA-5, RA-5(5)

Description: Remediate vulnerabilities in accordance with risk assessments.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can be tuned to allow or deny changes based on a risk scoring system.

3.12.2 – Implement Plans to Address System Vulnerabilities

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: CA-5

Description: Develop and implement plans of action designed to correct deficiencies and reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities in organizational systems.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise automates the process of ensuring all software and systems are in compliance with the security policy of the organization. 

3.13.4 – Block Unauthorized Information Transfer via Shared Resources

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: SC-4

Description: Prevent unauthorized and unintended information transfer via shared system resources.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can be configured as a gating agent that will scan for unauthorized and unintended information transfer and prevent violations from being transferred between shared system resources until the violations are remediated.

3.13.8 – Use Cryptography to Safeguard CUI During Transmission

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: SC-8

Description: Transmission Confidentiality and Integrity: Implement cryptographic mechanisms to prevent unauthorized disclosure of CUI during transmission unless otherwise protected by alternative physical safeguards.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can be configured as a gating agent that will scan for CUI and prevent violations of organization defined policies regarding CUI from being disclosed between systems.

3.14.5 – Periodically Scan Systems and Real-time Scan External Files

Related NIST 800-53 Controls: SI-2

Description: Perform periodic scans of organizational systems and real-time scans of files from external sources as files are downloaded, opened, or executed.

Implementation: Anchore Enterprise can be configured to scan all external dependencies that are built into software and provide information about relevant security vulnerabilities in the software development pipeline. See screenshot below to see this protection in action.


In a world increasingly defined by software solutions, the cybersecurity posture of defense-related industries stands paramount. The CMMC, a framework with its varying levels of compliance, underscores the commitment of the defense industrial base to fortify its cyber defenses. 

As a multitude of organizations, ranging from the largest defense contractors to smaller mom-and-pop shops, work in tandem to support U.S. missions, the intricacies of maintaining cybersecurity standards grow. The questions posed exemplify the necessity to validate software integrity, especially in complex collaborations. 

Anchore Enterprise solves these problems by automating software supply chain security best practices. It not only automates a myriad of crucial controls, ranging from user privilege restrictions to vulnerability scanning, but it also empowers organizations to meet and exceed the benchmarks set by CMMC and NIST. 

In essence, as defense entities navigate the nuanced web of software development and partnerships, tools like Anchore Enterprise are indispensable in safeguarding the nation’s interests, ensuring the integrity of software supply chains, and championing the highest levels of cybersecurity.

If you’d like to learn more about the Anchore Enterprise platform or speak with a member of our team, feel free to book a time to speak with one of our specialists.

Navigating Continuous Authority To Operate (cATO): A Guide for Getting Started

Continuous Authority to Operate (cATO), sometimes known as Rapid ATO, is becoming necessary as the DoD and civilian agencies put more applications and data in the cloud. Speed and agility are becoming increasingly critical to the mission as the government and federal system integrators seek new features and functionalities to support the warfighter and other critical U.S. government priorities.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the concept of cATO in understandable terms, explain its benefits, explore the myths and realities of cATO and show how Anchore can help your organization meet this standard.

What is Continuous Authority To Operate (cATO)?

Continuous ATO is the merging of traditional authority to operate (ATO) risk management practices with flexible and responsive DevSecOps practices to improve software security posture.

Traditional Risk Management Framework (RMF) implementations focus on obtaining authorization to operate once every three years. The problem with this approach is that security threats aren’t static, they evolve. cATO is the evolution of this framework which requires the continual authorization of software components, such as containers, by building security into the entire development lifecycle using DevSecOps practices. All software development processes need to ensure that the application and its components meet security levels equal to or greater than what an ATO requires.

You authorize once and use the software component many times. With a cATO, you gain complete visibility into all assets, software security, and infrastructure as code.

By automating security, you are then able to obtain and maintain cATO. There’s no better statement about the current process for obtaining an ATO than this commentary from Mary Lazzeri with Federal Computer Week:

“The muddled, bureaucratic process to obtain an ATO and launch an IT system inside government is widely maligned — but beyond that, it has become a pervasive threat to system security. The longer government takes to launch a new-and-improved system, the longer an old and potentially insecure system remains in operation.”

The Three Pillars of cATO

To achieve cATO, an Authorizing Official (AO) must demonstrate three main competencies:

  1. Ongoing visibility: A robust continuous monitoring strategy for RMF controls must be in place, providing insight into key cybersecurity activities within the system boundary.
  2. Active cyber defense: Software engineers and developers must be able to respond to cyber threats in real-time or near real-time, going beyond simple scanning and patching to deploy appropriate countermeasures that thwart adversaries.
  3. Adoption of an approved DevSecOps reference design: This involves integrating development, security, and operations to close gaps, streamline processes, and ensure a secure software supply chain.

Looking to learn more about the DoD DevSecOps Reference Design? It’s commonly referred to as a DoD Software Factory. Anchore has been helping organizations and agencies put the Sec in DevSecOps by securing traditional software factories, transforming them into DoD software factories.

Continuous ATO vs. ATO

The primary difference between traditional ATOs and continuous ATOs is the frequency at which a system seeks to prove the validity of its security claims. ATOs require that a system can prove its security once every three years whereas cATO systems prove their security every moment that the system is running.

The Benefits of Continuous ATO

Continuous ATO is essentially the process of applying DevSecOps principles to the compliance framework of Authority to Operate. Automating the individual compliance processes speeds up development work by avoiding repetitive tasks to obtain permission. Next, we’ll explore additional (and sometimes unexpected) benefits of cATO.

Increase Velocity of System Deployment

CI/CD systems and the DevSecOps design pattern were created to increase the velocity at which new software can be deployed from development to production. On top of that, Continuous ATOs can be more easily scaled to accommodate changes in the system or the addition of new systems, thanks to the automation and flexibility offered by DevSecOps environments.

Reduce Time and Complexity to Achieve an ATO

With the cATO approach, you can build a system to automate the process of generating the artifacts to achieve ATO rather than manually producing them every three years. This automation in DevSecOps pipelines helps in speeding up the ATO process, as it can generate the artifacts needed for the AO to make a risk determination. This reduces the time spent on manual reviews and approvals. Much of the same information will be requested for each ATO, and there will be many overlapping security controls. Designing the DevSecOps pipeline to produce the unique authorization package for each ATO from the corpus of data and information available can lead to increased efficiency via automation and re-use.

No Need to Reinvent AND Maintain the Wheel

When you inherit the security properties of the DevSecOps reference design or utilize an approved managed platform, then the provider will shoulder the burden. Someone else has already done the hard work of creating a framework of tools that integrate together to achieve cATO, re-use their effort to achieve cATO for your system. 

Alternatively, you can utilize a platform provider, such as Platform One, Kessel Run, Black Pearl, or the Army Software Factory to outsource the infrastructure management.

Learn how Anchore helped Platform One achieve cATO and become the preeminent DoD software factory.

Myths & Realities

Myth or Reality?: DevSecOps can be at Odds with cATO

Myth! DevSecOps in the DoD and civilian government agencies are still the domain of early adopters. The strict security and compliance requirements — the ATO in particular — of the federal government make it a fertile ground for DevSecOps adoption. Government leaders such as Nicolas Chaillan, former chief software officer for the United States Air Force, are championing DevSecOps standards and best practices that the DoD, federal government agencies, and even the commercial sector can use to launch their own DevSecOps initiatives.

One goal of DevSecOps is to develop and deploy applications as quickly as possible. An ATO is a bureaucratic morass if you’re not proactive. When you build a DevSecOps toolchain that automates container vulnerability scanning and other areas critical to ATO compliance controls, can you put in the tools, reporting, and processes to test against ATO controls while still in your development environment.

DevSecOps, much like DevOps, suffers from a marketing problem as vendors seek to spin the definitions and use cases that best suit their products. The DoD and government agencies need more champions like Chaillan in government service who can speak to the benefits of DevSecOps in a language that government decision-makers can understand.

Myth or Reality?: Agencies need to adopt DevSecOps to prepare for the cATO 

Reality! One of the cATO requirements is to demonstrate that you are aligned with an Approved DevSecOps Reference Design. The “shift left” story that DevSecOps espouses in vendor marketing literature and sales decks isn’t necessarily one size fits all. Likewise, DoD and federal agency DevSecOps play at a different level. 

Using DevSecOps to prepare for a cATO requires upfront analysis and planning with your development and operations teams’ participation. Government program managers need to collaborate closely with their contractor teams to put the processes and tools in place upfront, including container vulnerability scanning and reporting. Break down your Continuous Integration/Continuous Development (CI/CD) toolchain with an eye on how you can prepare your software components for continuous authorization.

Myth or Reality?: You need to have SBOMs for everything in your environment

Myth! However…you need to be able to show your Authorizing Official (AO) that you have “the ability to conduct active cyber defense in order to respond to cyber threats in real time.” If a zero day (like log4j) comes along you need to demonstrate you are equipped to identify the impact on your environment and remediate the issue quickly. Showing your AO that you manage SBOMs and can quickly query them to respond to threats will have you in the clear for this requirement.

Myth or Reality?: cATO is about technology and process only

Myth! As more elements of the DoD and civilian federal agencies push toward the cATO to support their missions, and a DevSecOps culture takes hold, it’s reasonable to expect that such a culture will influence the cATO process. Central tenets of a DevSecOps culture include:

  • Collaboration
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC)
  • Automation
  • Monitoring

Each of these tenets contributes to the success of a cATO. Collaboration between the government program office, contractor’s project team leadership, third-party assessment organization (3PAO), and FedRAMP program office is at the foundation of a well-run authorization. IAC provides the tools to manage infrastructure such as virtual machines, load balancers, networks, and other infrastructure components using practices similar to how DevOps teams manage software code.

Myth or Reality?: Reusable Components Make a Difference in cATO

Reality! The growth of containers and other reusable components couldn’t come at a better time as the Department of Defense (DoD) and civilian government agencies push to the cloud driven by federal cloud initiatives and demands from their constituents.

Reusable components save time and budget when it comes to authorization because you can authorize once and use the authorized components across multiple projects. Look for more news about reusable components coming out of Platform One and other large-scale government DevSecOps and cloud projects that can help push this development model forward to become part of future government cloud procurements.

How Anchore Helps Organizations Implement the Continuous ATO Process

Anchore’s comprehensive suite of solutions is designed to help federal agencies and federal system integrators meet the three requirements of cATO.

Ongoing Visibility

Anchore Enterprise can be integrated into a build pipeline, image registry and runtime environment in order to provide a comprehensive view of the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC). On top of this, Anchore provides out-of-the-box policy packs mapped to NIST 800-53 controls for RMF, ensuring a robust continuous monitoring strategy. Real-time notifications alert users when images are out of compliance, helping agencies maintain ongoing visibility into their system’s security posture.

Active Cyber Defense

While Anchore Enterprise is integrated into the decentralized components of the SDLC, it provides a centralized database to track and monitor every component of software in all environments. This centralized datastore enables agencies to quickly triage zero-day vulnerabilities with a single database query. Remediation plans for impacted application teams can be drawn up in hours rather than days or weeks. By setting rules that flag anomalous behavior, such as image drift or blacklisted packages, Anchore supports an active cyber defense strategy for federal systems.

Adoption of an Approved DevSecOps Reference Design

Anchore aligns with the DoD DevSecOps Reference Design by offering solutions for:

  • Container hardening (Anchore DISA policy pack)
  • Container policy enforcement (Anchore Enterprise policies)
  • Container image selection (Iron Bank)
  • Artifact storage (Anchore image registry integration)
  • Release decision-making (Anchore Kubernetes Admission Controller)
  • Runtime policy monitoring (Anchore Kubernetes Automated Inventory)

Anchore is specifically mentioned in the DoD Container Hardening Process Guide, and the Iron Bank relies on Anchore technology to scan and enforce policy that ensures every image in Iron Bank is hardened and secure.

Final Thoughts

Continuous Authorization To Operate (cATO) is a vital framework for federal system integrators and agencies to maintain a strong security posture in the face of evolving cybersecurity threats. By ensuring ongoing visibility, active cyber defense, and the adoption of an approved DevSecOps reference design, software engineers and developers can effectively protect their systems in real-time. Anchore’s comprehensive suite of solutions is specifically designed to help meet the three requirements of cATO, offering a robust, secure, and agile approach to stay ahead of cybersecurity threats. 

By partnering with Anchore, federal system integrators and federal agencies can confidently navigate the complexities of cATO and ensure their systems remain secure and compliant in a rapidly changing cyber landscape. Want to better understand how Anchore’s platform can help? See how Anchore Federal can be used as an ‘easy button’ to insert security into any DevOps pipeline and transform a normal software factory into a DoD software factory that is ready for cATO.

The Power of Policy-as-Code for the Public Sector

As the public sector and businesses face unprecedented security challenges in light of software supply chain breaches and the move to remote, and now hybrid work, means the time for policy-as-code is now.

Here’s a look at the current and future states of policy-as-code and the potential it holds for security and compliance in the public sector:

What is Policy-as-Code?

Policy-as-code is the act of writing code to manage the policies you create to help with container security and other related security policies. Your IT staff can automate those policies to support policy compliance throughout your DevSecOps toolchain and production systems. Programmers express policy-as-code in a high-level language and store them in text files.

Your agency is most likely getting exposure to policy-as-code through cloud services providers (CSPs). Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers policy-as-code via the AWS Cloud Development Kit. Microsoft Azure supports policy-as-code through Azure Policy, a service that provides both built-in and user-defined policies across categories that map the various Azure services such as Compute, Storage, and Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS).

Benefits of Policy-as-Code

Here are some benefits your agency can realize from policy-as-code:

  • Information and logic about your security and compliance policies as code remove the risks of “oral history” when sysadmins may or may not pass down policy information to their successors during a contract transition.
  • When you render security and compliance policies as code in plain text files, you can use various DevSecOps and cloud management tools to automate the deployment of policies into your systems.
  • Guardrails for your automated systems because as your agency moves to the cloud, your number of automated systems only grows. A responsible growth strategy is to protect your automated systems from performing dangerous actions. Policy-as-code is a more suitable method to verify the activities of your automated systems.
  • A longer-term goal would be to manage your compliance and security policies in your version control system of choice with all the benefits of history, diffs, and pull requests for managing software code.
  • You can now test policies with automated tools in your DevSecOps toolchain.

Public Sector Policy Challenges

As your agency moves to the cloud, it faces new challenges with policy compliance while adjusting to novel ways of managing and securing IT infrastructure:

Keeping Pace with Government-Wide Compliance & Cloud Initiatives

FedRAMP compliance has become a domain specialty unto itself. While the United States federal government maintains control over the policies behind FedRAMP, and the next updates and changes, FedRAMP compliance has become its own industry with specialized consultants and toolsets that promise to get an agency’s cloud application through the FedRAMP approval process.

As government cloud initiatives such as Cloud Smart become more important, the more your agency can automate the management and testing of security policies, the better. Automation reduces human error because it does away with the manual and tedious management and testing of security policies.

Automating Cloud Migration and Management

Large cloud initiatives bring with them the automation of cloud migration and management. Cloud-native development projects that accompany cloud initiatives need to consider continuous compliance and security solutions to protect their software containers.

Maintaining Continuous Transparency and Accountability

Continuous transparency is fundamental to FedRAMP and other government compliance programs. Automation and reporting are two fundamental building blocks. The stakes for reporting are only going to increase as the mandates of the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity become reality for agencies.

Achieving continuous transparency and accountability requires that an enterprise have the right tools, processes, and frameworks in place to monitor, report, and manage employee behaviors throughout the application delivery life cycle.

Securing the Agency Software Supply Chain

Government agencies are multi-vendor environments with homogenous IT infrastructure, including cloud services, proprietary tools, and open source technologies. The recent release of the Container Platform SRG is going to drive more requirements for the automation of container security across Department of Defense (DoD) projects

Looking to learn more about how to utilizing a policy-based security posture to meet DoD compliance standards like cATO or CMMC? One of the most popular technology shortcuts is to utilize a DoD software factory. Anchore has been helping organizations and agencies put the Sec in DevSecOps by securing traditional software factories, transforming them into DoD software factories. Get caught up with the content below:

Policy-as-Code: Current and Future States

The future of policy-as-code in government could go in two directions. The same technology principles of policy-as-code that apply to technology and security policies can also render any government policy-as-code. An example of that is the work that 18F is prototyping for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food stamp program eligibility.

Policy-as-code can also serve as another automation tool for FedRAMP and Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG) testing as more agencies move their systems to the cloud. Look for the backend tools that can make this happen gradually to improve over the next few years.

Managing Cultural and Procurement Barriers

Compliance and security are integral elements of federal agency working life, whether it’s the DoD supporting warfighters worldwide or civilian government agencies managing constituent data to serve the American public better.

The concept of policy-as-code brings to mind being able to modify policy bundles on the fly and pushing changes into your DevSecOps toolchain via automation. While theoretically possible with policy-as-code in a DevSecOps toolchain, the reality is much different. Industry standards and CISO directives govern policy management at a much slower and measured cadence than the current technology stack enables.

API integration also enables you to integrate your policy-as-code solution into third-party tools such as Splunk and other operational support systems that your organization may already use as your standards.


It’s best to avoid manual intervention for managing and testing compliance policies. Automation should be a top requirement for any policy-as-code solution, especially if your agency is pursuing FedRAMP or NIST certification for its cloud applications.

Enterprise Reporting

Internal and external compliance auditors bring with them varying degrees of reporting requirements. It’s essential to have a policy-as-code solution that can support a full range of reporting requirements that your auditors and other stakeholders may present to your team.

Enterprise reporting requirements range from customizable GUI reporting dashboards to APIs that enable your developers to integrate policy-as-code tools into your DevSecOps team’s toolchain.

Vendor Backing and Support

As your programs venture into policy compliance, failing a compliance audit can be a costly mistake. You want to choose a policy-as-code solution for your enterprise compliance requirements with a vendor behind it for technical support, service level agreements (SLAs), software updates, and security patches.

You also want vendor backing and support also for technical support. Policy-as-code isn’t a technology to support using your own internal IT staff (at least in the beginning).

With policy-as-code being a newer technology option, a fee-based solution backed by a vendor also gets you access to their product management. As a customer, you want a vendor that will let you access their product roadmap and see the future.

Interested to see how the preeminent DoD Software Factory Platform used a policy-based approach to software supply chain security in order to achieve a cATO and allow any DoD programs that built on their platform to do the same? Read our case study or watch our on-demand webinar with Major Camdon Cady.

Enforcing the DoD Container Image and Deployment Guide with Anchore Federal

The latest version of the DoD Container Image and Deployment Guide details technical and security requirements for container image creation and deployment within a DoD production environment. Sections 2 and 3 of the guide include security practices that teams must follow to limit the footprint of security flaws during the container image build process. These sections also discuss best security practices and correlate them to the corresponding security control family with Risk Management Framework (RMF) commonly used by cybersecurity teams across DoD.

Anchore Federal is a container scanning solution used to validate the DoD compliance and security standards, such as continuous authorization to operate (cATO), across images, as explained in the DoD Container Hardening Process Guide. Anchore’s policy first approach places policy where it belongs– at the forefront of the development lifecycle to assess compliance and security issues in a shift left approach. Scanning policies within Anchore are fully customizable based on specific mission needs, providing more in-depth insight into compliance irregularities that may exist within a container image. This level of granularity is achieved through specific security gates and triggers that generate automated alerts. This allows teams to validate that the best practices discussed in Section 2 of the Container Image Deployment Guide enable best practices to be enforced as your developers build.  

Anchore Federal uses a specific DoD Scanning Policy that enforces a wide array of gates and triggers that provide insight into the DoD Container Image and Deployment Guide’s security practices. For example, you can configure the Dockerfile gate and its corresponding triggers to monitor for security issues such as privileged access. You can also configure the Dockerfile gate to expose unauthorized ports and validate images built from approved base images and check for the unauthorized disclosure of secrets/sensitive files, amongst others.

Anchor Federal’s DoD scanning policy is already enabled to validate the detailed list of best practices in Section 2 of the Container Image and Deployment Guide. 

Looking to learn more about how to achieve container hardening at DoD levels of security? One of the most popular technology shortcuts is to utilize a DoD software factory. Anchore has been helping organizations and agencies put the Sec in DevSecOps by securing traditional software factories, transforming them into DoD software factories.

Next Steps

Anchore Federal is a battle-tested solution that has been deployed to secure DoD’s most critical workloads. Anchore Federal exists to provide cleared professional services and software to DoD mission partners and the US Intelligence Community in building their DevSecOps environments. Learn more about how Anchore Federal supports DoD missions.

A Policy Based Approach to Container Security & Compliance

At Anchore, we take a preventative, policy-based compliance approach, specific to organizational needs. Our philosophy of scanning and evaluating Docker images against user-defined policies as early as possible in the development lifecycle, greatly reduce vulnerable, non-compliant images from making their way into trusted container registries and production environments.

But what do we mean by ‘policy-based compliance’? And what are some of the best practices organizations can adopt to help achieve their own compliance needs? In this post, we will first define compliance and then cover a few steps development teams can take to help to bolster their container security.

An Example of Compliance

Before we define ‘policy-based compliance’, it helps to gain a solid understanding of what compliance means in the world of software development. Generally speaking, compliance is a set of standards for recommended security controls laid out by a particular agency or industry that an application must adhere to. An example of such an agency is the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST. NIST is a non-regulatory government agency that develops technology, metrics, and standards to drive innovation and economic competitiveness at U.S. based organizations in the science and technology industry. Companies that are providing products and services to the federal government oftentimes are required to meet the security mandates set by NIST. An example of one of these documents is NIST SP 800-218, the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) which specifics the security controls necessary to ensure a software development environment is secure and produces secure code.

What do we mean by ‘Policy-based’?

Now that we have a definition and example, we can begin to discuss the aspect role play in achieving compliance. In short, policy-based compliance means adhering to a set compliance requirements via customizable rules defined by a user. In some cases, security software tools will contain a policy engine that allows for development teams to create rules that correspond to a particular security concern addressed in a compliance publication.

Looking to learn more about how to utilizing a policy-based security posture to meet DoD compliance standards like cATO or CMMC? One of the most popular technology shortcuts is to utilize a DoD software factory. Anchore has been helping organizations and agencies put the Sec in DevSecOps by securing traditional software factories, transforming them into DoD software factories. Get caught up with the content below:

How can Organizations Achieve Compliance in Containerized Environments?

Here at Anchore, our focus is helping organizations secure their container environments by scanning and analyzing container images. Oftentimes, our customers come to us to help them achieve certain compliance requirements they have, and we can often point them to our policy engine. Anchore policies are user-defined checks that are evaluated against an analyzed image. A best practice for implementing these checks is through a step in CI/CD. By adding an Anchore image scanning step in a CI tool like Jenkins or Gitlab, development teams can create an added layer of governance to their build pipeline.

Complete Approach to Image Scanning

Vulnerability scanning

Adding image scanning against a list of CVEs to a build pipeline allows developers to be proactive about security as they will get a near-immediate feedback loop on potentially vulnerable images. Anchore image scanning will identify any known vulnerabilities in the container images, enforcing a shift-left paradigm in the development lifecycle. Once vulnerabilities have been identified, reports can be generated listing information about the CVEs and vulnerable packages within the images. In addition, Anchore can be configured to send webhooks to specified endpoints if new CVEs have published that impact an image that has been previously scanned. At Anchore, we’ve seen integrations with Slack or JIRA to alert teams or file tickets automatically when vulnerabilities are discovered.

Adding governance

Once an image has been analyzed and its content has been discovered, categorized, and processed, the resulting data can be evaluated against a user-defined set of rules to give a final pass or fail recommendation for the image. It is typically at this stage that security and DevOps teams want to add a layer of control to the images being scanned in order to make decisions on which images should be promoted into production environments.

Anchore policy bundles (structured as JSON documents) are the unit of policy definition and evaluation. A user may create multiple policy bundles, however, for evaluation, only one can be marked as ‘active’. The policy is expressed as a policy bundle, which is made up of a set of rules to perform an evaluation of an image. These rules can define a check against an image for things such as:

  • Security vulnerabilities
  • Package whitelists and blacklists
  • Configuration file contents
  • Presence of credentials in an image
  • Image manifest changes
  • Exposed ports

Anchore policies return a pass or fail decision result.

Putting it Together with Compliance

Given the variance of compliance needs across different enterprises, having a flexible and robust policy engine becomes a necessity for organizations needing to adhere to one or many sets of standards. In addition, managing and securing container images in CI/CD environments can be challenging without the proper workflow. However, with Anchore, development and security teams can harden their container security posture by adding an image scanning step to their CI, reporting back on CVEs, and fine-tuning policies meet compliance requirements. With compliance checks in place, only container images that meet the standards laid out a particular agency or industry will be allowed to make their way into production-ready environments.


Taking a policy-based compliance approach is a multi-team effort. Developers, testers, and security engineers should be in constant collaboration on policy creation, CI workflow, and notification/alert. With all of these aspects in-check, compliance can simply become part of application testing and overall quality and product development. Most importantly, it allows organizations to create and ship products with a much higher level of confidence knowing that the appropriate methods and tooling are in place to meet industry-specific compliance requirements.

Interested to see how the preeminent DoD Software Factory Platform used a policy-based approach to software supply chain security in order to achieve a cATO and allow any DoD programs that built on their platform to do the same? Read our case study or watch our on-demand webinar with Major Camdon Cady.