And no, we’re not talking about the droid from Star Wars. A C3PAO is a CMMC Third Party Assessment Organization. If your business is on a CMMC journey, like us, it’s important that you know more about this acronym.

What is a C3PAO?

C3PAOs are responsible for evaluating a company’s compliance with the CMMC model, which includes 17 domains covering various cybersecurity practices and processes. Their role is to provide an unbiased formal assessment, helping organizations identify gaps in their security posture and achieve the necessary certification levels.

How Do C3PAOs Help Organizations Achieve Compliance?

C3PAOs can play an important part in guiding organizations toward CMMC compliance. Here are two reasons why we ourselves used a C3PAO for our CMMC Level 2 Assessment prep:

  • Identifying Gaps: Through their assessments, C3PAOs identify areas where the organization falls short of the required CMMC level. This gap analysis is critical for businesses to understand what needs improvement.
  • Guidance and Recommendations: Beyond identifying gaps, C3PAOs offer actionable recommendations to help organizations address deficiencies. Their expertise ensures that remediation efforts are aligned with CMMC requirements.

Are Organizations Required to Work with a C3PAO?

The short answer is yes. Organizations seeking CMMC certification must undergo an assessment conducted by a C3PAO. The CMMC Accreditation Body mandates that only accredited C3PAOs can perform these assessments. This requirement ensures that all evaluations are consistent, credible, and aligned with the framework.

Not only is a C3PAO required to perform a business’s assessment, but a C3PAO can also assist a company with mock assessments beforehand. There is just one thing to consider: the C3PAO that assists you before an assessment cannot be the same C3PAO that does your assessment.

The Assessment Process: What to Expect

Understanding the assessment process can help you prepare better and streamline the path to compliance. Here’s a breakdown of what happens during a C3PAO assessment:

Scope Definition

The assessment begins with defining the scope. This involves identifying the systems, processes, and data that will be evaluated. The scope definition is crucial as it sets the boundaries of the assessment. It includes determining which areas of the organization will be reviewed and what specific controls and policies will be tested.

Evidence Collection

The C3PAO collects evidence to support their assessment. This includes documentation, policies, procedures, and any other relevant information. Evidence collection is a thorough process where the C3PAO reviews various documents such as security policies, risk assessments, incident response plans, and audit logs. 

Interviews and Testing

Interviews are conducted with staff responsible for implementing and maintaining security controls, providing insights into their understanding and execution of security measures. Testing may involve vulnerability scans, penetration tests, and other techniques to verify the effectiveness of the implemented controls.

Handling Findings and Remediation Efforts

Dealing with assessment findings is a critical aspect of the compliance process. Here’s how to handle them effectively:

  • Review Findings: Carefully review the assessment findings provided by the CMMC C3PAO. Understand the areas that need improvement and prioritize them based on their impact.
  • Develop a Remediation Plan: Create a detailed remediation plan to address the identified gaps. This plan should outline specific actions, timelines, and responsible personnel.
  • Implement Changes: Execute the remediation plan diligently. Ensure that all necessary changes are implemented and that they align with compliance requirements.

Simplify Your CMMC Compliance Journey with Axiom

Achieving compliance is a significant milestone for any organization looking to work with the DoD. Axiom can help simplify this process, providing expert guidance, valuable recommendations, and a clear path to certification.

Ready to take the next step? Contact Axiom today to ensure your business is on track for successful compliance.