CMMC vs. ITAR: Do Defense Contractors Need to Comply With One or Both?

CMMC vs. ITAR: Do Defense Contractors Need to Comply With One or Both?

In defense contracting, compliance with regulations is a critical part of doing business. The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) 2.0 and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) are vital regulatory frameworks impacting the industry. These regulations are designed to protect sensitive information and national security, but they need to be clarified for defense contractors trying to understand which framework applies to their operations. This blog post provides an overview of CMMC 2.0 and ITAR, comparing their fundamental differences and guidance on which defense contractors must comply with one or both.

The CMMC certification process is arduous but our CMMC 2.0 compliance roadmap can help.

CMMC 2.0: An Overview

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC, is a unified cybersecurity standard developed by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure the security of sensitive information within the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). CMMC compliance is required for all defense contractors who work with the DoD and handle controlled unclassified information (CUI). This information can include technical data, research and engineering data, or any other sensitive but unclassified data related to defense operations.

In November 2021, the DoD introduced CMMC 2.0, an updated version of the original model, to streamline the certification process and reduce the burden on small businesses. CMMC 2.0 is built on three levels, each with a specific set of procedures and practices required to achieve compliance:

CMMC 2.0 Level 1: Foundational Cybersecurity

This level focuses on basic cybersecurity hygiene, encompassing the practices outlined in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171, with a few additional requirements. This level is the minimum standard for defense contractors handling federal contract information (FCI).

CMMC 2.0 Level 2: Advanced Cybersecurity

Defense contractors handling CUI must comply with Level 2, which incorporates additional security practices beyond those outlined in NIST SP 800-171. This level aims to protect sensitive information from advanced cyber threats.

CMMC 2.0 Level 3: Expert Cybersecurity

This level is reserved for critical programs and technologies requiring the highest cybersecurity protection. Level 3 incorporates more stringent security requirements, including continuous monitoring and advanced threat detection capabilities.

ITAR: An Overview

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, is a set of regulations that control the export, import, and brokering of defense articles, defense services, and related technical data. ITAR is enforced by the United States Department of State Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) and aims to prevent the unauthorized transfer of sensitive defense technologies to foreign entities.

Defense contractors who manufacture, export, or provide services related to items on the United States Munitions List (USML) must register with the DDTC and comply with ITAR. The USML covers various defense-related items, including weapons systems, military electronics, and protective equipment.

CMMC 2.0 vs. ITAR

While CMMC 2.0 and ITAR are crucial for defense contractors, they have different purposes and requirements. The following section provides a comparison of the two regulatory frameworks.

CMMC 2.0 vs. ITAR: Scope

CMMC 2.0 focuses on cybersecurity and aims explicitly at defense contractors working with the DoD who handle FCI or CUI. ITAR, on the other hand, is broader in scope, covering the export, import, and brokering of defense articles, defense services, and related technical data.

CMMC 2.0 vs. ITAR: Applicability

CMMC 2.0 applies to all defense contractors working with the DoD, regardless of the size or nature of their operations. ITAR applies to defense contractors who manufacture, export, or provide services related to items on the USML.

CMMC 2.0 vs. ITAR: Enforcement

CMMC 2.0 is enforced by the DoD and requires defense contractors to undergo a third-party assessment to verify compliance. The certification must be maintained throughout the contract period. The Department of State’s DDTC enforces ITAR, and violations can result in severe civil and criminal penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and debarment from future contracts.

CMMC 2.0 vs. ITAR: Requirements

CMMC 2.0 outlines a set of cybersecurity practices and processes across three levels, with specific requirements depending on the contractor’s level of involvement with FCI or CUI. ITAR compliance involves registering with the DDTC, implementing an export control compliance program, and securing appropriate licenses for exporting, importing, or brokering defense articles, defense services, and related technical data.


CMMC vs. ITAR – Key Takeaways
  1. Compliance is Critical for Defense Contractors:
    Compliance with CMMC 2.0 and ITAR determines government contract eligibility so understanding their requirements is crucial.
  2. Overview of CMMC 2.0:
    CMMC 2.0 is a three-tiered, DoD-developed cybersecurity standard aimed at enhancing cybersecurity practices for defense contractors handling CUI.
  3. Overview of ITAR:
    ITAR, enforced by the State Department, regulates the export, import, and brokering of defense articles and technical data to prevent unauthorized transfers.
  4. Differences Between CMMC 2.0 and ITAR:
    CMMC and ITAR differ in scope, applicability, and requirements. CMMC focuses on cybersecurity, while ITAR covers export control.
  5. Navigating Dual Compliance:
    Defense contractors may need to comply with both CMMC 2.0 and ITAR, depending on their operations. Dual compliance requires an integrated compliance strategy.

Choosing Between CMMC 2.0 and ITAR

The need for compliance with CMMC 2.0 and ITAR depends on the specific operations and services a defense contractor provides. Some defense contractors may need to comply with one or both regulations, depending on the nature of their business.

CMMC 2.0 Compliance

All defense contractors working with the DoD and handling FCI or CUI must comply with CMMC 2.0. The specific level of compliance depends on the type of information they run:

CMMC 2.0 Level 1: For Contractors Handling FCI

Foundational Cybersecurity, the first level of CMMC 2.0, focuses on establishing basic cybersecurity hygiene to protect defense contractors handling FCI. FCI refers to information provided by or generated for the government under a contract, which is not intended for public release.

Complying with Level 1, defense contractors demonstrate that they have established a solid foundation for managing cybersecurity risks and protecting FCI from unauthorized access and disclosure. At this level, defense contractors must adhere to the cybersecurity practices outlined in NIST SP 800-171 and a few additional requirements. These practices include securing access to information systems, implementing secure password policies, and maintaining up-to-date antivirus software.

CMMC 2.0 Level 2: For Contractors Handling CUI

Advanced Cybersecurity, the second level of CMMC 2.0, is designed for defense contractors who deal with CUI. CUI is a category of sensitive information that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls, as it can potentially cause harm to national security if accessed by unauthorized individuals.

In addition to the requirements of Level 1, defense contractors at this level must implement more advanced cybersecurity practices to protect CUI from sophisticated cyber threats. These practices surpass NIST SP 800-171 and may include multi-factor authentication, double encryption techniques, and intrusion detection systems. By complying with Level 2, defense contractors demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding CUI and mitigating the risk of cyber incidents that could have significant consequences for national security.

CMMC 2.0 Level 3: For Contractors Involved in Critical Programs and Technologies

Expert Cybersecurity, the third and highest level of CMMC 2.0, is reserved for defense contractors working on critical programs and technologies that demand the utmost cybersecurity protection. These programs and technologies may involve sensitive information or capabilities that, if compromised, could cause severe damage to national security.

Defense contractors must implement a comprehensive and robust cybersecurity program incorporating stringent security requirements and advanced capabilities at this level. These requirements may include continuous monitoring, advanced threat detection and response, and proactive measures to identify and mitigate emerging cyber threats. By complying with Level 3, defense contractors demonstrate their ability to protect the Defense Industrial Base’s most sensitive and critical assets, ensuring that the nation’s most advanced technologies and capabilities remain secure and uncompromised.

ITAR Compliance

Defense contractors who manufacture, export, or provide services related to items on the USML must comply with ITAR. This includes companies involved in developing, producing, or maintaining defense articles and those who provide training, technical assistance, or consulting services related to defense items.

Navigating Dual Compliance With CMMC 2.0 and ITAR

Understanding and managing dual compliance is crucial for contractors to maintain their eligibility for DoD contracts and avoid potential penalties associated with noncompliance. In some instances, defense contractors may need to navigate the complexities of complying with CMMC 2.0 and ITAR. Such scenarios typically arise when contractors engage in activities under the purview of both regulations.The following situations often warrant dual compliance with CMMC 2.0 and ITAR:

Handling FCI or CUI for DoD Contracts

Defense contractors working with the DoD and managing FCI or CUI must adhere to the appropriate CMMC 2.0 level for their information-handling requirements, whether Foundational, Advanced, or Expert Cybersecurity.

Involvement With USML Items

Contractors who manufacture, export, or provide services related to items on the USML must comply with ITAR regulations. This includes obtaining necessary licenses and implementing an effective export control compliance program.

For instance, consider a defense contractor that develops and manufactures an advanced radar system listed on the USML. In addition to handling CUI as part of their DoD contract, the contractor also exports the radar system to foreign allies. In this case, the contractor must comply with CMMC 2.0 and ITAR regulations.

To effectively manage dual compliance, defense contractors should implement an integrated compliance strategy that addresses the specific requirements of both CMMC 2.0 and ITAR. This strategy may involve:

  • A comprehensive cybersecurity program that aligns with the CMMC 2.0 framework while incorporating export control requirements
  • Development and maintenance of an export control compliance program that integrates seamlessly with the contractor’s existing cybersecurity infrastructure
  • Regular assessments, audits, and training to ensure compliance with CMMC 2.0 and ITAR requirements

By adopting a cohesive approach to compliance, defense contractors can effectively navigate the complexities of adhering to CMMC 2.0 and ITAR regulations, safeguarding sensitive information, and maintaining their ability to work with the DoD and other government entities.

CMMC 2.0 vs. ITAR Compliance: Use Cases

The following use cases illustrate the need for compliance with CMMC 2.0 or ITAR.

Use Case 1: Cybersecurity Services

A defense contractor provides cybersecurity services to the DoD, including handling CUI. In this case, the contractor needs to comply with CMMC 2.0 Level 2: Advanced Cybersecurity. Since the contractor does not manufacture, export, or provide services related to items on the USML, ITAR compliance is not required.

Use Case 2: Manufacturing Defense Electronics

A defense contractor manufactures defense electronics listed on the USML and exports these items to foreign allies. The contractor needs to comply with ITAR due to the export of USML items. If the contractor also handles CUI as part of a DoD contract, they must abide by CMMC 2.0 Level 2: Advanced Cybersecurity.

Use Case 3: Research and Development Services

A defense contractor provides research and development services to the DoD in advanced materials for military applications. This contractor handles both FCI and CUI as part of their work. In this case, the contractor needs to comply with CMMC 2.0 Level 2: Advanced Cybersecurity. If the research involves items listed on the USML and the contractor exports, imports, or provides services related to these items, ITAR compliance would also be required.


Use Case 4: Military Training and Support Services

A defense contractor provides military training and support services, including working with defense articles listed on the USML. The contractor needs to handle FCI or CUI as part of their work. In this case, the contractor must comply with ITAR due to their involvement with USML items. CMMC 2.0 compliance is not required, as they do not handle FCI or CUI.

Streamline Your CMMC 2.0 Level 2 Compliance Journey With Kiteworks

Navigating the CMMC 2.0 framework can be a complex process, especially for DoD contractors and subcontractors that need to achieve Level 2 compliance. Partnering with CMMC experts is a wise decision to ensure a smooth compliance journey.

Specialized consulting practices, such as Optiv, can assist you in aligning your existing controls and technology with the Level 2 practice requirements. These experts can guide you through the remediation of Plans of Action & Milestones (POA&Ms) and collaborate with certified CMMC Third Party Assessor Organizations (C3PAOs) for assessment and accreditation.

In addition to expert guidance, selecting the right sensitive content communications platform can significantly accelerate your CMMC 2.0 Level 2 compliance process. Rather than using multiple tools for sending, sharing, receiving, and storing sensitive information like CUI and FCI, a unified solution reduces complexity, inefficiencies, and risk.

More than 3,800 organizations have chosen the Kiteworks platform, a FedRAMP Authorized for Moderate Level Impact solution (for six consecutive years). Among other factors, Kiteworks’ FedRAMP compliance differentiates it from other solutions DoD suppliers leverage for file and email data communications. Due to its FedRAMP compliance and hardened virtual appliance, Kiteworks supports nearly 90% of the 110 practice controls in CMMC 2.0 Level 2—more than any other comparable solution on the market.

Learn how you can stay ahead of the competition and expedite your journey to CMMC 2.0 Level 2 compliance by scheduling a custom demo of Kiteworks today.

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