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Security-Aware Acquisition

Created December 2017

No matter how secure you think your systems might be, if your suppliers are not secure, your systems are at risk. For systems to be secure, your suppliers must use sound practices throughout their development and management lifecycles. CERT techniques help you evaluate and manage cyber risk in today’s complex software supply chains.

The Challenge of Cyber Risks in the Supply Chain

In today’s highly competitive and technology-driven environments, outsourcing software and development is more than a trend—it’s the way business is done. Using supply chains provides cost savings and flexibility to system integrators, but their use comes with a cost—added risk. As risks increase, confidence in your software-reliant systems decreases.

Your organization probably works with a prime contractor, who then works with subcontractors, who also have subcontractors, and so on. Such a long, complex supply chain makes it difficult to manage software, requirements, systems, contracts, and their related risks.

Many organizations rely on formal legal contracts to ensure their suppliers mitigate risk. This ineffective approach fails to provide the mechanisms, flexibility, and repeatability needed to manage cybersecurity risks across the entire supply chain. Also, you may have limited power to confirm whether your delivered systems are secure. You may rely on an intermediary—a prime contractor or integrator—to do that for you.

Today’s evolving cybersecurity landscape requires that you implement a risk-based approach when managing the supply chain. The approaches to risk management and acquisition we've developed help you efficiently navigate software acquisition, development, and integration to a secure conclusion.

The Solution: Cybersecurity Practices for Acquisition and Your Supply Chain

Building on our cyber-risk management expertise and leveraging the data we’ve gathered over the last 10 years, our experts understand the challenges you face daily and are researching ways to help you manage software supply chain risk.

Software Assurance Framework (SAF)

The SAF, a working prototype, is a collection of cybersecurity practices that you can apply across the acquisition lifecycle and supply chain. You can use the SAF to assess your security-aware acquisition practices and chart a course for improvement, reducing the cybersecurity risk of your deployed software-reliant systems.

Field experiences of technical staff at the SEI indicate that few organizations implement effective cybersecurity practices early in the acquisition lifecycle. The SAF helps you remedy that shortcoming. It provides acquiring organizations with a basis for describing, assessing, and measuring their cybersecurity practices.

The SAF is a living framework that will mature in the years ahead. So far, it has been useful in three pilots in acquisition organizations.


SQUARE for Acquisition, also known as A-SQUARE, is a method used for eliciting and prioritizing security requirements as part of the acquisition process. A-SQUARE helps you document and visualize requirements analysis results and rationale. It helps you prioritize, categorize, and display security requirements and provides the steps for performing tradeoff analyses. Ultimately, you will understand the relative priorities of different types of requirements.

This method’s seven steps include agreeing on definitions, identifying assets and goals, identifying preliminary security requirements, reviewing COTS information, finalizing security requirements, performing tradeoff analyses, and making a final product selection.

Benefit from our extensive work in this field. Let us help you determine which approach best meets your organization’s needs.

Software and Tools

CERT SQUARE for Acquisition (A-SQUARE)

August 2011

SQUARE-A is designed for stakeholders, requirements engineers, and contractors/vendors to use in acquisitions and provides documentation support for a variety of use...


Looking Ahead: The Acquisition Security Framework

A prototype approach we've developed, the Acquisition Security Framework (ASF), enables you to measure and improve your organization’s ability to manage cyber risks throughout the software supply chain.

Our new approach helps you cut through the bureaucracy of government supply chain management. It also helps you evaluate risks and gaps in how you acquire, engineer, and deploy secure software-reliant systems.

Keeping these challenges in mind and leveraging our knowledge of the critical regulations that affect acquisition and the supply-chain landscape, we are developing the ASF to help those who acquire complex software-intensive systems. We need smart collaborators to help us shape this innovative approach. Get in on the ground floor and contact us to help engineer a successful approach that improves acquisition and makes your job easier.

Learn More

Key Steps to Integrate Secure by Design into Acquisition and Development

May 04, 2023 Podcast
Carol Woody, Robert Schiela

Robert Schiela and Carol Woody talk with Suzanne Miller about the importance of integrating the practices and mindset of secure by design into the acquisition and development of software-reliant systems....

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Addressing Supply Chain Risk and Resilience for Software-Reliant Systems

February 20, 2023 Webcast
Carol Woody, Charles M. Wallen

In this webcast, Carol Woody and Charles Wallen discuss the Acquisition Security Framework (ASF) and how the ASF provides a roadmap to help organizations build security and resilience into a...


Asking the Right Questions to Coordinate Security in the Supply Chain

February 09, 2023 Podcast
Carol Woody

Carol Woody talks with Suzanne Miller about the SEI’s newly released Acquisition Security Framework, which helps programs coordinate the management of engineering and supply-chain risks across system...

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Acquisition Security Framework (ASF): Managing Systems Cybersecurity Risk

November 11, 2022 Technical Note
Christopher J. Alberts, Michael S. Bandor, Charles M. Wallen, Carol Woody

This report provides an overview of the Acquisition Security Framework (ASF), a description of the practices developed thus far, and a plan for completing the ASF body of...


An Acquisition Security Framework for Supply Chain Risk Management

October 17, 2022 Blog Post
Carol Woody

This post introduces the Acquisition Security Framework (ASF), which helps organizations identify the critical touchpoints needed for effective supply chain risk...


Acquisition Security Framework (ASF): An Acquisition and Supplier Perspective on Managing Software-Intensive Systems’ Cybersecurity Risk

October 04, 2022 White Paper
Christopher J. Alberts, Michael S. Bandor, Charles M. Wallen, Carol Woody

The Acquisition Security Framework (ASF) contains practices that support programs acquiring/building a secure, resilient software-reliant system to manage...


Incorporating Supply Chain Risk and DevSecOps into a Cybersecurity Strategy

March 24, 2022 Podcast
Carol Woody

Carol Woody, a principal researcher in the SEI's CERT Division, talks with Suzanne Miller about supply-chain issues and the planning needed to integrate software from the supply chain into operational environments....

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A Cybersecurity Engineering Strategy for DevSecOp­­­s that Integrates with the Software Supply Chain

January 31, 2022 Blog Post
Carol Woody

Reused code contains defects unknown to the new user, which, in turn, propagate vulnerabilities into new systems. Organizations must develop a cybersecurity engineering strategy that addresses the integration of DevSecOps with the software supply...


Security Engineering Risk Analysis (SERA) Threat Archetypes

December 16, 2020 White Paper
Christopher J. Alberts, Carol Woody

This report examines the concept of threat archetypes and how analysts can use them during scenario...


The CERT Software Assurance Framework

August 31, 2017 Podcast
Carol Woody, Christopher J. Alberts

In this podcast, Carol Woody and Christopher Alberts introduce the prototype Software Assurance Framework, a collection of cybersecurity practices that programs can apply across the acquisition lifecycle and supply...

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