NIST compliance is an essential step for anyone working with federal data. Compliance can help prevent breaches while shielding your business from fines, lawsuits, or losing future contracts.

NIST 800-171 compliance involves protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI) within networks of government contractors and subcontractors. While CUI data may not be classified, it remains highly sensitive and must be safeguarded from potential malicious actors.

What is NIST Compliance?

NIST compliance can help an organization's critical infrastructure stay secure while also providing the framework to meet specific regulations such as HIPAA or FISMA. This framework includes guiding principles, strategies, systems, and controls that agnostically support any organization's unique needs and priorities. It also facilitates discussions around security using one language.

NIST standards cover various forms of information that must be protected, ranging from patents and proprietary business data, Personal Identifiable Information (PII), protected energy infrastructure information, and more. Compliance with NIST standards can often be required by companies working within the federal supply chain, but it can also provide beneficial insights for other industries looking to strengthen cybersecurity.

NIST compliance can make business with the federal government easier by minimizing cybersecurity incidents that might compromise sensitive information. Furthermore, it can also help organizations qualify for contract opportunities from them. However, it may present an additional initial hurdle for small and midsize businesses.

Who Are the NIST Guidelines For?

NIST cybersecurity guidelines offer an effective means of protecting business data against cyberattacks by outlining best practices for information security. Adherence to these standards ensures businesses meet legal obligations, protect customer data and comply with industry regulations while increasing client credibility, leading to potentially more repeat business.

Businesses operating with federal contracts or working for them must comply with NIST standards, particularly federal agencies, and contractors who handle controlled unclassified information (CUI) in their IT networks.

NIST 800-171 compliance is particularly crucial for contractors that handle CUI—this standard specifies which practices and controls contractors must implement to protect CUI from potentially malicious actors and ensure future business with the federal government. Those that fail to meet NIST compliance standards may be excluded from future work.

Is Complete NIST Compliance Required?

Complete NIST compliance may not be mandatory for businesses, but it should always be considered best practice. Compliance ensures that data and systems are protected against cyber attacks so organizations can avoid costly consequences of data breaches such as financial losses, consumer trust issues, and lost business opportunities.

Compliance with NIST is required of companies who want to do business with the federal government; failing to do so may result in lost work contracts from them. Being NIST compliant can make an organization more cost-efficient when recruiting clients by showing a dedication to quality security practices.

NIST compliance can also serve as a starting point toward attaining SOC 2 certification, which is necessary for businesses that work with government entities. By investing in NIST compliance efforts, your company can demonstrate it has a secure infrastructure suitable for government contracts.

Although the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is voluntary, some organizations, such as federal agencies, state and local governments, and financial institutions, must use it. Furthermore, this standard is a key component of the Federal Information Security Management Act and other similar laws and regulations.

NIST compliance can give businesses competing for government contracts an edge. Customers need the assurance that their information will be secure; demonstrating NIST compliance will likely convince more clients than competitors that yours is the company for them.

Is NIST a Federal Regulation?

Yes. NIST, housed within the Department of Commerce, is an independent federal body tasked with developing technology and standards for use within science industries—specifically security controls. NIST has several sub-categories, like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework or NIST 800-171 and 800-53 guidelines for unclassified information.

Though NIST compliance isn't a mandate for businesses outside the national supply chain, many organizations and private businesses utilize its guidelines as an excellent benchmark for cybersecurity and data protection.

How Does NIST’s Risk Management Framework Operate?

The NIST RMF brings security and privacy considerations into information system design from day one, helping companies develop proactive approaches to mitigating threats by creating tools to manage risks before an attack hits. This often involves setting up parallel workstations or installing redundant firewalls as intentional redundancies against attackers gaining entry to data.

NIST compliance is particularly important for manufacturers and service providers that do business with the government or bid on defense contracts. Being NIST compliant can offer companies a safer working environment while potentially opening up lucrative government contract opportunities that might otherwise remain out of reach—for example, being NIST compliant may increase your odds of selection by other contractors as subcontractors for defense projects.

What Are the Five Principles of NIST?

The NIST framework encompasses five principles, often called framework functions. These principles include:

Identify: Provide organizations with the necessary information to understand their cybersecurity posture. Suggest ways to strengthen it in the near future.

Protect: Preventing vulnerabilities from ever occurring is often the most effective defense.

Detect: Monitoring systems and networks to detect intrusions immediately is also essential to mitigating damage caused by cyberattacks.

Respond: Outline the proper steps when responding to a security event.

Recover: Mitigate its effect by shortening outages, decreasing disruption, and returning to normal operations as soon as possible.

Many managed security service providers (MSSPs) use the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework as a guide when implementing their clients' cybersecurity measures. Applying NIST principles makes it easier to reduce the time and costs associated with improving a business's security measures.

Why Are the NIST Guidelines Set in Place?

Organizations dealing with data should adhere to NIST compliance standards. Their guidelines help clarify security processes, offering clear requirements and standards applicable across industries and government bodies alike. Without an established security framework, businesses may become confused about what requirements should and shouldn't be met for government risk and compliance, leading to blind spots and gaps in security that may result in costly outcomes.

NIST offers best-practice cybersecurity guidelines to protect sensitive information within federal agencies and contractors, covering personnel security, risk analysis, and systems development lifecycle processes. NIST also researches emerging threats and vulnerabilities to make compliance easier.

How Can RiskRecon Help Me?

If you need to become NIST compliant, RiskRecon by Mastercard can help you by providing a compliance risk assessment. Start by requesting a free 30-day trial and learn how to become NIST compliant today.