Many businesses do not have all the cybersecurity know-how and resources in-house to create their own security team, procedures, and systems to safeguard, look after, and protect their businesses from ransomware, malware, and other cybersecurity threats. That is why compliance frameworks, such as the NIST Special Publication 800-53A Revision 5 Assessing Security and Privacy Controls in Information Systems and Organizations, or simply NIST 800-53 compliance, exist. These frameworks help direct and put in place the proper security policies.
The NIST 800-53 compliance regulatory structure was originally presented by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), under the authority of the US federal government, in 2005 with the assistance of a working group made up of representatives from the defense, intelligence, and civil communities as well as cybersecurity experts. The 5th revision of the framework was released in late 2020, and it introduced significant changes compared to the 4th revision of the framework. A PDF copy of the 733-page NIST Special Publication 800-53A Revision 5 Assessing Security and Privacy Controls in Information Systems and Organizations is here.
The NIST 800-53 compliance framework has nearly 1,000 controls total, arranged into 20 separate control “families.” There are multiple controls in each family (for a total of 5,300+ possible line items, including sub-control improvements – reference link) that can be personalized and specific to their areas — to allow for the formulation of a robust security process. These include access control, personnel training, incident response, maintenance, system recovery, media handling, physical access, and others.
If you are navigating your way through all the controls of the NIST 800-53 compliance structure for the first time, implementing an ongoing monitoring system, or going through a re-certification audit after the introduction of revision 5, chances are that you are overwhelmed by the amount of information coming your way and probably need help. That is why, we at Akitra, decided to curate a series that answers the most frequently-asked questions about the NIST 800-53 security process. Our chief aim with this blog is to provide you with vital information that you can use to better understand this complicated compliance framework.
Let’s get started.
What is NIST 800-53?
NIST Special Publication 800-53A Revision 5 Assessing Security and Privacy Controls in Information Systems and Organizationsis a comprehensive collection of security guidelines that can be used to defend information systems against a variety of cyber attacks. It was initially developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to help fortify US federal information systems against known cyber threats and lay out security and privacy measures that are meant to ensure the continuing operation of information systems as well as the privacy of users. Federal information systems all across the country are expected to have the same level of security in line with the standardized controls guidance. When appropriately applied, the NIST 800-53 controls improve the reliability of information systems and protect processed user data. NIST 800-53 has since expanded into civilian organizations.
Find out more about who should comply with NIST 800-53, what information this framework protects and its benefits, etc. by reading one of our previous posts right here.
5 Most Frequently-Asked Questions about NIST 800-53
- What is the purpose of NIST 800-53?
The NIST 800-53 framework is created to give any company a foundation of guiding elements, strategies, systems, and controls that may support their objectives and priorities in cybersecurity.
It promotes communication and enables companies to use a common language by creating a standardized framework and terminology.
Last, but not least, it is intended to be used as new technologies, systems, settings, and organizational changes develop, modifying cybersecurity needs, as it does not particularly propose or support certain products, businesses, or vendors.
- What is the difference between NIST 800-53 and other frameworks?
The majority of compliance frameworks belong to the NIST 800 series, despite the fact that NIST has over 1,300 standard reference documents. The multitude of reference documents outline guidance and recommendations for various situations and circumstances that users may encounter whilst maintaining the core principles and themes outlined in NIST 800-53 .
An example of a framework for federal agencies working with non-federal departments or businesses is NIST 800-171 Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations. See the framework right here.
The compliance standards set out by NIST are also distinct from those set forth by standards related to certain industries, such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA), or Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). NIST does, however, offer a variety of guidelines and standards information to assist businesses in becoming compliant.
- What is CUI?
CUI, or what is better known as Controlled Unclassified Information, is information that, despite not being classified, nonetheless needs to be protected. The US government defines CUI as “information that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls subject to and consistent with applicable law, regulations, and government-wide policies, but is not classified under Executive Order 13526 or the Atomic Energy Act, as amended.” Anything from a government contract to designs for an aircraft carrier could come under this. NIST controls are often used to provide better security over CUI.
- What are the NIST SP 800-53 minimum controls?
Every NIST SP 800-53 control has a base control that is the bare minimum, as well as a control improvement.
The bare minimum controls are the fundamental privacy and security measures that must be put in place to assist safeguard the system. Achieving compliance with the particular NIST SP 800-53 control requires integrating minimal control.
Additionally, each NIST SP 800-53 control has an “improved” part. The improved controls add functionality or better protection over the standard controls.
Organizations or systems with higher risks employ enhanced controls. However, the base control must be put in place by the concerned organizations before a change in control is added.
- What’s new in NIST 800-53 Revision 5?
Since the release of the fourth iteration of NIST SP 800-53 in 2013, several non-governmental groups have found it to be unduly prescriptive and challenging to utilize. Revision 5 of the framework, which was updated in September 2020, made a few notable improvements. First, the nomenclature was altered; the terms “federal” and “information,” which were specialized, were eliminated, allowing other organizations and system types to use the framework.
Second, the updated framework gives privacy more importance, maybe as a result of the recent upsurge in privacy protection regulations. With the integration of privacy and security controls in NIST SP 800-53 revision 5, all businesses now have access to a single, comprehensive set of controls.
Revision 5 added a new degree of operational flexibility. The focus is still on fulfilling the requirement, but there is far less strict monitoring of a particular tool or technology. A great illustration of this new adaptability is passwords. Revision 5 only requires having a complicated and, most importantly, efficient password. It makes no specific demands on password length or complexity.
NIST 800-53 Compliance with Akitra!
Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that the organizations with whom they do business are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk. Compliance certification fills that need.
Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our service helps customers become certified for NIST 800-53, along with other frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA, GDPR, and PCI DSS. Our compliance and security experts will also provide you with the customized guidance you need to confidently navigate the end-to-end compliance process.
The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and money — including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.
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