NIST 800-53: Security Controls and Best Practices

NIST 800-53 Security Controls and Best Practices

NIST 800-53 is a compliance framework for information security and privacy that is primarily used by the US Federal government and its suppliers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is itself a government agency, charged with fortifying US government information systems and organizations against threats. There are almost 1,000 controls in NIST 800-53, divided into 20 different control ‘families.’ Each family has a variety of customizable controls specific to its areas, such as access control, employee training, incident response, and the like. 

It can be daunting to navigate your way through all the controls and get your compliance certification right. But no worries, with Akitra, you can complete your NIST 800-53 compliance audit and get certified — all on your first try!

In this blog, we will outline the various control families, give you a rundown of what they involve and provide tips on the best practices that will assist you in selecting and implementing appropriate controls to comply with NIST 800-53.

Now, let’s learn about the control families of NIST 800-53.

What are the NIST 800-53 Control Families?

NIST 800-53 has a long list of security and privacy controls. Let’s learn a bit about all of them.

Access Control

Controls for access to systems, networks, and devices are part of the Access Control family. Controls provide direction on how to implement access policies, account management, and user privileges, among other things. The controls are designed to reduce the danger of access to various systems, devices, and networks.

Awareness and Training

The Awareness and Training control family ensures that users of information systems are properly trained to recognize hazards. Improved knowledge of various operational hazards and threats to privacy and system security is a specific focus. Requirements for creating training policies, records, and feedback enable the company to fine-tune its approach to cybersecurity training.

Audit and Accountability

The Audit and Accountability control family specifies processes for logging and auditing events. The baseline content of audit records, the storage capacity of logs, and the procedure for monitoring and evaluating logs are all covered by controls. Log audits are a tool for accountability and an important aspect of discovering the cause of breaches or system issues.

Assessment, Authorization and Monitoring

The Assessment, Authorization, and Monitoring family focuses on continual security and privacy control monitoring and development. It encompasses the formulation of an assessment strategy as well as the delegation of control assessment to the team. The preparation of a plan of action and milestones (POAM), an essential document for detecting and addressing vulnerabilities or flaws, is also covered by controls.

Configuration Management

Controls in the Configuration Management family are focused on network software and device configuration. The formulation of a configuration policy, the creation of a system baseline configuration, and the management of unlawful configuration or devices are all covered by controls. Configuration restrictions reduce the chances of unauthorized hardware or software being installed on the system, as well as vulnerabilities caused by setting changes.

Contingency Planning

Controls in the Contingency Planning family help businesses prepare for system failures and breaches. Controls include the production of system backups and the preparation of alternate processing or storage facilities to assist mitigate system downtime. Other controls, such as training and plan testing, focus on contingency planning. This set of controls is critical for minimizing the impact of a system outage or network breach, as well as defining clear procedures for resuming normal operations.

Identification and Authentication

Controls in the Identification and Authentication family ensure that users and devices are reliably identified. Various controls target different aspects of secure user or device authentication. Controls improve user management policies and reduce the danger of illegal system access.

Incident Response

All aspects of responding to a significant occurrence are covered by the Incident Response family of controls. This involves pre-incident training and planning, as well as contingency plans for actively monitoring and responding to incidents as they happen. Specific types of incidents that different organizations may experience are covered by enhanced controls. Data breaches, supply chain failures, public relations damage, and malicious code in the system are all examples of incidents.


All aspects of system maintenance, including software upgrades, logging, and inspection tools, are dealt with by the Maintenance family of controls. It discusses the importance of timely maintenance to reduce the risk of operational interruptions, as well as policy and maintenance personnel management.

Media Protection

The Media Protection family of controls governs the organization’s use, storage, and disposal of media and information. Policies and processes in place help to reduce the risk of data breaches and leaks.

Physical and Environmental Protection

Physical access to devices and facilities, as well as the mitigation of risks to facilities, are covered by the Physical and Environmental Protection family of controls. Controls include policies for physical access to system controls, as well as access and visitor tracking, as well as device and asset monitoring. Other controls include emergency lighting or power, as well as relocation to alternative facilities in the event of a physical attack.


The Planning control family includes system design, management processes, and the establishment of baseline system settings, as well as privacy and system security plans (SSPs).

Program Management

The Program Management family of controls encompasses all aspects of information system management, including a wide range of processes, programs, and plans. This includes a plan for information security, a risk management strategy, and a plan for key infrastructure.

Personnel Protection

Personnel Security is a group of controls that encompasses a variety of policies and processes related to personnel management. This includes the procedure for terminating employee contracts as well as the level of risk each position poses to information security.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) Processing and Transparency

The PII Processing and Transparency family of controls focuses on consent and privacy to help preserve sensitive data. By correctly maintaining personally identifiable information, businesses can reduce the risk of data breaches.

Risk Assessment

The Risk Assessment control family is concerned with determining system vulnerabilities and associated risks. The establishment of risk response methods, as well as the usage of vulnerability monitoring technologies and processes, are all covered by controls.

System and Services Acquisition

The allocation of resources and the construction of system development life cycles are all part of the System and Services Acquisition family of controls. Controls aid businesses in developing a secure acquisition procedure for new systems and devices, ensuring the system’s and data’s integrity. The creation and testing of new systems, as well as developer training and security processes, are all covered by controls.

System and Communications Protection

The System and Communications Protection control family protects system boundaries and ensures that collaborating devices are managed safely. Controls provide detailed instructions on how to set up and manage systems, including access, partitions, and usage limitations.

System and Information Integrity

The System and Information Integrity family of controls is concerned with ensuring the information system’s integrity. Controls include anti-malware and anti-spam measures, as well as protocols for regular system-wide monitoring.

Supply Chain Risk Management

The Supply Chain Risk Management control family includes policies and processes for mitigating supply chain risks. Processes for evaluating and managing suppliers, as well as the examination of supply chain systems and components, are included.

To summarize, here’s a list of the families with examples.

Best Practices for NIST 800-53

These pointers will help you achieve your NIST 800-53 without any wasted effort. Go ahead, give it a read, and try to emulate them as best you can!

  • Take an inventory of your sensitive information. Find out what kind of data your company handles, where it’s kept, and how it’s received, managed, and communicated. Data that is sensitive can be scattered across various systems and applications; it is not always where you believe it is.‍
  • Sort the information into categories. Classify your data based on its importance and sensitivity. For each security aim (confidentiality, integrity, and availability), assign each information type an impact value (low, moderate, or high) and categorize it at the highest impact level. FIPS 199 (the US Federal Government standard that establishes security categories of information systems used by the Federal Government, one component of risk assessment)can help you choose which security categories and effect levels are appropriate for your or your organization’s goals, mission, and financial performance. To streamline the process and assure consistent, dependable outcomes, automate discovery and classification.‍
  • Perform a risk assessment to help you analyze your existing level of cybersecurity. A risk assessment requires identifying risks, evaluating the likelihood of their occurrence, and assessing their possible impact. Next, take steps to mitigate the most important risks, and then evaluate the effectiveness of those steps.‍
  • Make a strategy for improving your policies and procedures. Controls should be chosen and, if necessary, tailored based on your individual company requirements. The scope and rigor of the selection process should be proportional to the impact of the risk being mitigated. Document your strategy and the reasoning behind each control and policy decision.‍
  • Employee security training should be thorough, consistent, and periodically refreshed. All staff should be educated on access governance and cybersecurity best practices, such as how to spot and report malware.‍
  • Make compliance a continuous process. Maintain and improve your compliance with a cloud-based compliance automation service, which allows you to achieve compliance and also continuously monitors systems and services to make sure they stay compliant.
  • Engage an independent auditor. An external auditor will verify that your organization meets the NIST 800–53 standard. After the initial audit, it should be repeated on an annual basis to ensure the standard continues to be met.‍

Achieve Your NIST 800-53 Certification with Akitra!

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new business 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.

‍Akitra’s Andromeda Compliance automation service delivers a comprehensive suite of NIST 800-53 policies and controls to provide a solid compliance foundation. It also includes a risk assessment module to assess where you need to focus your compliance efforts to address any gaps. Akitra’s compliance service automatically collects evidence from the full range of systems and services used by your organization so that you can prove the operational effectiveness of your controls to your auditors. Once your firm is compliant, our automated service helps you stay compliant through continuous monitoring and gap detection.

Akitra supports multiple compliance frameworks including SOC 1, SOC 2, HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS, NIST 800-53, and ISO 27001.

Akitra’s compliance experts are also part of the comprehensive service and will provide you with the professional guidance you need to confidently achieve and maintain compliance certification.

Get on the bandwagon, and choose Akitra TODAY!

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