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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 cases.


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

Assessing DoD System Acquisition Supply Chain Risk Management

Assessing DoD System Acquisition Supply Chain Risk Management

May 01, 2017 Article
Christopher J. AlbertsJohn HallerCharles M. Wallen

In this Crosstalk article, the authors discuss the growing challenge of cyber risks in the defense supply chain.

Software Assurance

Software Assurance

May 07, 2014 Book Chapter
Nancy R. MeadDan Shoemaker (University of Detroit Mercy)Carol Woody

In this book chapter, the authors discuss modern principles of software assurance and identify a number of relevant process models, frameworks, and best practices.

Improving Software Assurance

Improving Software Assurance

July 05, 2013 White Paper
Carol WoodyRobert J. Ellison

In this paper, the authors discuss what practitioners should know about software assurance, where to look, what to look for, and how to demonstrate improvement.

A Systemic Approach for Assessing Software Supply-Chain Risk

A Systemic Approach for Assessing Software Supply-Chain Risk

May 14, 2013 White Paper
Audrey J. DorofeeCarol WoodyChristopher J. Alberts

In this paper, the authors highlight the approach being implemented by SEI researchers for assessing and managing software supply-chain risks and provides a summary of the status of this work.