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Potential Inputs: System design documentation; network diagrams; system stakeholder information; asset information; network and/or enterprise architecture diagrams; organizational structure (charts, information).
Expected Outputs: Documented authorization boundary. Primary Responsibility: Authorizing Official.
Supporting Roles: Chief Information Officer; System Owner; Mission or Business Owner; Senior Agency Information Security Officer; Senior Agency Official for Privacy; Enterprise Architect.
System Development Life Cycle Phase: New – Initiation (concept/requirements definition). Existing – Operations/Maintenance.
Discussion: Authorization boundaries establish the scope of protection for information systems (i.e., what the organization agrees to protect under its management control or within the scope of its responsibilities). Authorization boundaries are determined by authorizing officials with input from the system owner based on mission, management, or budgetary responsibility (see Appendix F). A clear delineation of authorization boundaries is important for accountability and for security categorization, especially in situations where lower-impact systems are connected to higher-impact systems, or when external providers are responsible for the operation or maintenance of a system. Each system includes a set of elements (i.e., information resources)65 organized to achieve one or more purposes and to support the organization’s missions and business processes. Each system element is implemented in a way that allows the organization to satisfy specified security and privacy requirements. System elements include human elements, technology/machine elements, and physical/environmental elements.

The term system is used to define the set of system elements, system element interconnections, and the environment that is the focus of the RMF implementation (see Figure 5). The system is included in a single authorization boundary to ensure accountability. For systems processing PII, the privacy and security programs collaborate to develop a common understanding of authorization boundaries. To conduct effective risk assessments and select appropriate controls, privacy and security programs provide a clear and consistent understanding of what constitutes the authorization boundary. Understanding the authorization boundary and what will occur beyond it may influence controls selected and how they are implemented. For example, if a function of the system includes sharing PII externally, robust encryption controls may be selected for PII transmitted from the system.

Similarly, for systems either partially or wholly managed, maintained, or operated by external providers, an agreement clearly describing authorization boundaries ensures accountability. Privacy and security programs collaborate with providers to develop a common understanding of authorization boundaries. Formal agreements with external providers (e.g. contracts) may be used to delineate what constitutes authorization boundaries. Understanding such boundaries facilitates the selection of appropriate controls to manage supply chain risk.

References: [SP 800-18]; [SP 800-39] (System Level); [SP 800-47]; [SP 800-64]; [SP 800-160 v1] (System Requirements Definition Process); [NIST CSF] (Core [Identify Function]).

65 System elements are implemented via hardware, software, or firmware; physical structures or devices; or people, processes, and procedures. The term system component is used to indicate system elements that are implemented specifically via hardware, software, and firmware.