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Authorization is the process by which a senior management official, the authorizing official, reviews security and privacy information describing the current security and privacy posture of information systems or common controls that are inherited by systems. The authorizing official uses this information to determine if the mission/business risk of operating a system or providing common controls is acceptable—and if it is, explicitly accepts the risk. Security and privacy information is presented to the authorizing official in an authorization package, which may consist of a report from an automated security/privacy management and reporting tool.125 System and common control authorization occurs as part of the RMF Authorize step. A system authorization or a common control authorization can be an initial authorization, an ongoing authorization, or a reauthorization as defined below:

  • Initial authorization is defined as the initial (start-up) risk determination and risk acceptance decision based on a complete, zero-based review of the system or of common controls. The zero-based review of the system includes an assessment of all implemented system-level controls (including the system-level portion of the hybrid controls) and a review of the security status of inherited common controls as specified in security and privacy plans.126 The zero-based review of common controls (other than common controls that are system- based) includes an assessment of applicable controls (e.g., policies, operating procedures, implementation information) that contribute to the provision of a common control or set of common controls.
  • Ongoing authorization is defined as the subsequent (follow-on) risk determinations and risk acceptance decisions taken at agreed-upon and documented frequencies in accordance with the organization’s mission/business requirements and organizational risk tolerance. Ongoing authorization is a time-driven or event-driven authorization process. The authorizing official is provided with the necessary information regarding the near real-time security and privacy posture of the system to determine whether the mission/business risk of continued system operation or the provision of common controls is acceptable. Ongoing authorization is fundamentally related to the ongoing understanding and ongoing acceptance of security and privacy risk and is dependent on a robust continuous monitoring program.
  • Reauthorization is defined as the static, single point-in-time risk determination and risk acceptance decision that occurs after initial authorization. In general, reauthorization actions may be time-driven or event-driven. However, under ongoing authorization, reauthorization is in most instances, an event-driven action initiated by the authorizing official or directed by the senior accountable official for risk management or risk executive (function) in response to an event that results in security and privacy risk above the level of risk previously accepted by the authorizing official. Reauthorization consists of a review of the system or the common controls similar to the review carried out during the initial authorization. The reauthorization differs from the initial authorization because the authorizing official can choose to initiate a complete zero-based review of the system or of the common controls or to initiate a targeted review based on the type of event that triggered the reauthorization. Reauthorization is a separate activity from the ongoing authorization process. However, security and privacy information generated from the continuous monitoring program may be leveraged to support reauthorization. The reauthorization actions may necessitate a review of and changes to the organization’s information security and privacy continuous monitoring strategies which may in turn affect ongoing authorization.

125 [SP 800-137] provides information on automated security management and reporting tools. Future publications will address privacy management and reporting tools.

126 The zero-based review of a system does not require a zero-based review of the common controls that are available for inheritance by that system. The common controls are authorized under a separate authorization process with a separate authorizing official accepting the risk associated with the provision of those controls. The review of the security and privacy plans containing common controls is necessary to understand the current state of the controls being inherited by organizational systems and factoring this information into risk-based decisions associated with the system.