Data security is paramount, especially where there are government agencies involved. Data can typically be classified as secret, top-secret, or classified, but doing so does little more than indicate how sensitive the material is and that certain requirements must be satisfied before the company can be trusted to handle such sensitive information.
Now, most compliance standards are geared toward protecting confidential information. Still, if you are a contractor managing sensitive information entrusted to you by the government, you should ensure that your systems and processes comply with the NIST 800-171 regulatory framework.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the NIST 800-171 in June 2015 to give a greater security adherence level for classified material involving the US government. The main objective of the NIST 800-171 requirements codification is to ensure that “Controlled Unclassified Information” (CUI) is protected by partners, subcontractors, and other outside parties. This includes personal data, intellectual property, equipment specifications, logistical plans, and additional classified federal defense information. This blog will answer five of the most frequently asked questions about NIST 800-171.
Five Most Frequently-Asked Questions About NIST 800-171 Compliance
- How does my company become NIST 800-171 compliant?
It is important for non-federal organizations that process, store or transmit controlled unclassified information from a federal agency to comply with NIST 800-171. There are numerous actions you can take to do this. You must implement the necessary security controls specified in the requirements, test those controls, provide proof that they are working, explain how you plan to implement any controls that aren’t already in place, and finish, at the very least, a compliance self-assessment to be NIST 800-171 compliant. Moreover, you must follow the DoD’s assessment methodology and, when necessary, evaluate with a DoD official.
Additionally, starting in 2020, some contractors and subcontractors will need to be CMMC-certified at a minimum at level 1 to bid on or renew contracts; however, each new RFP or RFI will specify which certification level is required to secure a particular contract.
- What is FISMA, and is it related to NIST 800-171?
Federal agencies must create and maintain information security programs under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), passed legislation in 2002. The Federal Information Security Modernization Act passed in 2014, is the most recent iteration of FISMA. The most current version is FISMA, which is also known as FISMA 2014 or the FISMA Reform.
FISMA was introduced to bolster the networks and systems of the government information defenses. It is relevant to government contractors and IT service providers since it applies to any organization part of the federal information network.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) creates cybersecurity standards and regulations under FISMA. To protect Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) on non-federal systems, the IT security standard NIST Special Publication 800-171 provides best practice cybersecurity protections. By adhering to NIST recommendations and publications, many FISMA standards can be satisfied.
- Are NIST 800-171 and NIST 800-53 the same?
Both NIST 800-171 and NIST 800-53 can be used to enhance cybersecurity procedures, but no, they are not the same. FISMA covers the federal information security systems covered by NIST 800-53, while DFARS covers the non-federal systems and organizations covered by NIST 800-171.
- What are the best practices for complying with the NIST 800-171 standard?
Here are a few best practices you can adhere to for a smoother compliance certification process:
- Identify the CUIs you must control. The agency you deal with may offer advice, but you may also need to decide what CUI means. Even without any advice, you should categorize any potential PII to secure and safeguard sensitive data against data breaches. Map your folders and permissions. A typical CUI includes Social Security numbers, bank routing information or account numbers, credit card numbers, and proof of permanent residency.
- Map your permissions and documentation. Consider using a least privilege model for your data. You must control who has access to CUI, according to NIST, and using a least privilege paradigm restricts access to CUI to those who need it. You must also ensure a reliable way to document who has access to CUI and under what circumstances.
- Monitor changes in CUI during audits using notifications. You must monitor CUI and respond to every security occurrence, per NIST. Make sure you have technologies that can alert you to unusual behavior and that you can audit every activity involving your CUI data. Additionally, you should have a method to follow the audit trail, validate its authenticity, or take corrective action if you notice access or changes to CUI that seem unusual.
- Can I get a NIST 800-171 certification?
No. NIST 800-171 compliance, attained through an assessment, is required if you process, transmit, or store CUI; a certification for NIST 800-171 compliance is unavailable. For NIST 800-171, there are three levels of evaluation. You can pass the basic level assessment through self-evaluation, while the DoD assesses medium and high levels.
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Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when prospecting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and 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 compliance automation platform and solutions help our customers become compliance-ready and certified for NIST 800-171 along with other frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, HIPAA, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, PCI DSS, GDPR, NIST CSF, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, CMMC, FedRAMP, and more such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s Risk Management product for overall risk management for your company, Trust Center, and AI-based Automated Questionnaire Response product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently.
The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings, 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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