CMMC Audit vs. Assessment: What’s the Difference?

cybersecurity CMMC training audit assessment

It’s critical for any contractors working with the Department of Defense to have a bulletproof cybersecurity system, and that’s what the new rollout of the CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) is focused on helping DoD contractors achieve. 

After all, many contractors handle highly sensitive information, particularly those with access to Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). 

Why Is Preparing for CMMC Audits Critical for DoD Contractors?

DoD contractors have, until now, had to self-certify along the NIST SP 800-171 guidelines. However, it has become clear that this self-certification is not robust enough on its own to defend against attacks, as many contractors have been successfully targeted and their systems compromised by cyber attacks.

To combat potential breaches, the government is rolling out the new CMMC guidelines this year, by which contractors for the DoD will have to receive official certification from a third-party auditor, ensuring their cybersecurity is fully up to date and secure. Without an official audit, DoD contractors will not be able to work on any government contracts.

The rollout has already begun, and auditors are currently being trained. Following training, closer to the later half of 2020, the first set of DoD contractors will begin to go through the process of third-party auditing. Before this, it is very important for contractors to know the difference between the CMMC audit and a CMMC assessment so they can prepare properly.

What Is a CMMC Audit?

An audit refers to the official CMMC investigation and certification that all DoD contractors will have to undergo and receive in order to be eligible to work on government contracts. The CMMC audit must be completed by CMMC-AB certified auditor, who will have previously submitted for and been awarded accreditation in order to administer the test. 

As different contracts with the DoD have different risk profiles, the audit will administer certification at five different levels, with Level 1 being the lowest (necessary to carry out work without access to CUI) and Level 5 being the highest (contracts with high-stakes outcomes such as detailed schematics or even weapons-related tests and studies). 

It is unlikely that most contractors will need to achieve compliance above Level 3, but you should understand what requirements your organization faces and be fully prepared to secure your systems to a level commensurate with the work you will be contracted for.

What Is a CMMC Assessment?

Unlike the CMMC audit, a CMMC assessment is not an official test for the DoD, and it does not have to be completed by a CMMC-AB certified auditor. Instead, a CMMC assessment service is one completed by a consultant so you can see how your infrastructure aligns with the new CMMC guidelines.

Why is a CMMC Assessment Important?

It is highly recommended that any current or prospective Department of Defense contractor obtain a CMMC assessment as part of their preparation for the official CMMC audit. One benefit of this assessment by a trusted professional is that it will allow you to identify any weaknesses in your system and rectify them prior to undergoing the audit itself. 

A CMMC assessment will also help you to adjust the level of your security systems in line with the audit score you require. The CMMC audit is not to be taken lightly, as the DoD simply will not offer contracts to any companies who fail to achieve certification, so a CMMC assessment is a vital resource for any business preparing to achieve compliance with the new policy.

As your business prepares for an official CMMC audit later this year, it’s wise to begin with a CMMC assessment to ensure you are prepared to be fully compliant with the controls you need to continue working with the DoD.


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