NIST Compliance

The term ‘NIST’ is an abbreviation for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. As per the US government, NIST is a non-regulatory government agency that works under the US Department of Commerce. This body aims to foster modernization and induce industrial competitiveness through the evolution of systematic measurement science, principles, and technology.

NIST focuses on developing and implementing security compliance criteria for the State Government and numerous companies dealing with government statistics. It concocts guidelines authorized under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It also creates the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) in line with FISMA, which determines the state obligations for cybersecurity.

If you are unfamiliar with NIST compliance, let’s delve deeper and see what it stands for.

What Is NIST Compliance?

The security mandates set by NIST legally bind any organization that delivers products and services to the US federal government. These security mandates minimize data breach incidents at the highest level. Security standards such as NIST SP 800-171 and NIST SP 800-53 are among the most widely adopted security measures that deal with unspecified information.

Developed in May 2015, the NIST SP 800-171 is a published document created for protecting controlled, unclassified information. As per this document, defense contractors must adopt all the mentioned security recommendations to establish their credibility and ability to conceal sensitive information. The NIST SP 800-171 also highlights their role in case of data breaches while offering guidance on the available protective measures.

By adapting to the security standards set by NIST, cybersecurity teams establish a criterion they use as a yardstick applicable to all concerned enterprises.

For Whom Is NIST Compliance Mandatory?

The NIST security standards apply to all those companies that are part of the federal supply chain. Whether prime contractors or subcontractors, all are bound by the security standards set by NIST. Federal government agencies, corporations, and people working on government projects are also bound to comply with the NIST guidelines.

Organizations that wish to become a part of the government supply chain in the future must also comply with the set NIST criteria. It is known to remove potential barriers that might arise during the tendering procedure.

Interestingly, numerous companies not part of the national supply chain also wish to comply with the NIST security standards highlighted in the NIST framework. It is because these guidelines provide the best possible security measures to safeguard an organization’s confidential information.

NIST compliance helps organizations protect confidential data and information from breaches. It not only nullifies cybersecurity risks lurking within the organization but also nullifies the external ones, thus safeguarding their critical infrastructure. One thing to note is that the NIST compliance applies to all data, not just the one linked with the federal government

All organizations must comply with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework whosoever provides products and services to the federal government. Any organization that fails to meet the NIST compliance requirements would be unable to bid on government contracts or do business with government agencies.

What Is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework delineates every possible way of securing organizational data to manage and minimize cybersecurity risks. For this purpose, the framework adopts an established procedure to ensure that organizational assets are safe from malicious software and actors. The procedure consists of five unique steps.


In the first step, the framework identifies sensitive data and systems the corporation must protect. It might include confidential organizational information, client profiles, and employee records. It might also include sensitive information about federal government dealings and all the stakeholders involved.


The second step is the protection phase, in which the cybersecurity team implements security procedures to protect organizational data. It encompasses all the instruments, hardware, and software designed to mitigate cyber threats. Simultaneously, it also involves bringing stakeholders and employees on the same page to ensure data security.


The detection step involves implementing tailor-made tools and procedures to detect cyber threats. Because organizations maintain vast databases of confidential information, keeping an eye on key systems, networks, and devices is important. Therefore, cybersecurity teams might have to scan all the applications that manage and store organizational information.


In case of a data breach, the response phase dictates a reactive approach to respond timely and eliminate potential security risks. During this phase, cybersecurity teams will establish a response mechanism depending on the level of threat. The retaliatory efforts might include initiating firewalls and antivirus software to detect and eliminate malware programs.


The NIST Cybersecurity Framework identifies multiple ways to recover lost data if the organization’s data security is breached. It includes efforts to restore data from backups, recapturing control of workspaces, and retaliatory procedures and tools to minimize downtimes.

Why Comply With NIST Standards?

Here are some reasons why organizations should comply with the NIST standards.

Data Protection

Regardless of the type of business, NIST standards can benefit any organization that complies with them. These standards outline various ways to protect data and manage cybersecurity risks for corporations that are part of the federal supply chain. The NIST standards can ensure data protection. Hence they are beneficial for many companies and federal contractors.

Sometimes, organizations might have to protect their customer information as well as be part of data security protocol. In any incident where customer data is compromised, the organization can face many challenges, including legal action, fines, and loss of trust and reputation.

The culprits can misuse leaked customer information to hack customer accounts and make unauthorized purchases. However, by adhering to NIST compliance, corporations can minimize cybersecurity incidents.

Competitive Edge

Most organizations adopt NIST compliance and acquire NIST certification simply because it gives them an edge over their competitors. Having a fool-proof data safety system is an important aspect for many corporations.

In situations where organizations challenge one another for the same contracts, data security can play a pivotal role. If a company ensures controlled unclassified information and NIST compliance, it has an increased chance of winning.

It is important to note that maintaining a vigorous security posture as an organization can attract potential clients. It gives customers and clients a strong message that the company is considerate with data handling. As a result, it boosts customer and client confidence in the organization, generating more business leads and profits.

What Are The Most Common Types Of NIST Special Publications?

There are two common types of NIST special publications: NIST SP 800-53 and NIST SP 800-171. Both offer a comprehensive guide to NIST-compliant organizations regarding handling classified information.

NIST 800-53

The NIST 800-53 provides a detailed overview of managing and protecting data on federal information systems. Developed by the non-regulatory federal agency, NIST, this NIST special publication ensures data protection for corporations and government contractors who can access federal information. It also encompasses the risk management framework that deals with the data safety of federal information systems.
Published in February 2005, the NIST 800-53 special publication dictates countermeasures to ensure the integrity and privacy of federal information systems. It witnesses continuous revisions over time to meet the emerging cybersecurity needs of NIST-compliant organizations.

The NIST 800-53 provides a baseline for security controls that can help any organization take on its cyber security needs. Not to mention its comprehensive nature that specifies numerous access controls that corporations can improve and invest in.

NIST 800-171

NIST 800-171 is a NIST special publication that highlights the data security requirements and procedures for non-federal corporations that tackle unclassified information. Published in June 2015, the NIST 800-171 is tailor-made to protect CUI in IT grids of government contractors. It lays the foundation of numerous practices federal contractors need to follow while dealing with CUI.

Because it defines the cybersecurity requirements for contractors handling sensitive unclassified federal information, NIST 800-171 plays a key role in strengthening data security. It also outlines a standard criterion of cybersecurity for all contractors and subcontractors handling CUI in the federal supply chain.

One thing to note is that there is no certification body to assess a contractor’s devotion to NIST 800-171. Therefore, self-assessment is the only way to ensure whether they maintain compliance or not. Contractors must produce official documents that incorporate a system security plan to exhibit compliance with NIST 800-171.

What Are The NIST Security Requirements To Comply With NIST 800-171?

NIST compliance is an ongoing process that non-federal corporations must adhere to if they are dealing with controlled unclassified information. Organizations that comply with NIST 800-171 must fulfill all the essential security requirements, which are as follow:

Controls Requirements

According to NIST guidelines, non-federal corporations are bound to evaluate and develop appropriate security controls to protect sensitive data. They are to create mechanisms that form the basis of official policies and practices that dictate NIST compliance.

In addition, these corporations must also develop and keep audit reports concerning access to CUI. The NIST 800-171 special publication also emphasizes secure data transmission by encrypting data traffic and stored data.

Supervising And Executive Requirements

To maintain NIST compliance as outlined in the NIST 800-171 mandate, non-federal corporations must ensure continuous monitoring of user access to federal information systems. They are to validate every user who has access to these information systems via multi-factor verification.

Moreover, corporations dealing with sensitive data must establish cybersecurity compliance by introducing incident management protocols. At the same time, they must search systems and networks for risk assessment and mitigate potential threats. This involves implementing numerous security solutions, such as antivirus programs and observing network traffic.

End User Procedural Requirements

The NIST 800-171 mandate plays an important role in protecting the critical infrastructure of organizations dealing with federal information. The end user procedural requirements are a continuation of the NIST standards defined by the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

This requirement dictates that organizations must provide continuous and adequate training and understanding to end users who handle CUI. The management is also bound to follow the least possible password intricacy compliance to fulfill the security compliance standards by NIST.

Security Measures Requirements

Organizations handling CUI must review and create reasonable security controls according to the established NIST standards. They must handle and back up CUI carefully while developing numerous policies to avoid unauthorized access to it.

Additionally, the NIST 800-171 mandate also states that entities dealing with federal information should have the ability to track and control access to IT networks.

What Is CMMC?

MMC stands for Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. It is a standard all corporations must adhere to if they wish to bid on DoD contracts. The US Department of Defense developed the CMMC framework to enhance the security posture of corporations that are part of the federal supply chain.

The introduction of CMMC standards aimed to minimize cybersecurity breaches while ensuring data security. There are different levels of CMMC, and each level dictates the ability of a corporation to safeguard sensitive information.

What Are The Various CMMC Levels?

Corporations must meet five unique CMMC levels to comply with CMMC standards fully. Each level has a specific set of cybersecurity requirements that organizations must accomplish before they can advance to the next level. An organization that reaches level 5 CMMC means it completely fulfills all the requirements of the CMMC standards.

Level 1: Executing Cybersecurity Practices

To accomplish this level, corporations must adopt basic security controls that ought to protect Federal Contract Information. The state provides the FCI to the corporations; however, it must stay secret from the public. Level 1 organizations must consistently change employee passwords while also updating antimalware definitions.

Level 2: Recording Cybersecurity Techniques

After establishing basic cybersecurity protocols, organizations must introduce mechanisms to protect CUI. The National Institute of Standards and Technology highlights these mechanisms under NIST publications such as NIST 800-171.

According to NIST publications, corporations must develop documentation guidelines to execute cybersecurity procedures effectively.

Level 3: Handling Cybersecurity Methods

The level 3 corporations must implement additional security controls to advance to this tier. This level involves fulfilling certain security mandates, such as incident coverage. Corporations must also devise strategies to acknowledge various organizational activities compulsory to implement cybersecurity protocols effectively. These include information related to employee training and resources.

Level 4: Examine Cybersecurity Measures

To reach this tier, corporations must examine and review their cybersecurity measures and determine their effectiveness. At this level, they become capable of taking corrective action to eradicate any vulnerabilities present in the system. Plus, organizations must abide by additional NIST controls as part of NIST compliance.

Level 5: Augmenting Cybersecurity Systems

Level 5 organizations must implement cybersecurity practices across multiple platforms, including systems and IT networks. They might also have to execute additional cybersecurity policies to protect CUI.

What Are The Costs To Meet NIST Or CMMC Compliance Standards?

Organizations must bear the costs incurred to become NIST compliant, which depend mainly on the changes required and assessment costs.

Cost of Changes

The costs incurred to become NIST or CMMC compliant would depend on the size of the corporation. It is also determined by the type of technology the organization uses and the amount of CUI it handles.

To meet CMMC or NIST compliance standards, organizations must make several technological and procedural changes. For instance, they might have to upgrade to a next-generation firewall to improve their cybersecurity. Or, they might have to configure their security protocols to handle CUI securely and effectively.

In case the organization is tech-savvy and has already implemented innovative technology such as modern workstations and the latest software for data security, these processes must be assessed. Although it will significantly reduce the costs incurred for becoming NIST or CMMC compliant, slight adjustments might be in order.

On average, companies pay around $5,000 to $15,000 to get themselves compliant with NIST standards as described in the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

Cost Of NIST Or CMMC Assessment

According to the NIST 800-171 mandate, entities can become NIST 800-171 compliant through self-assessment. They do not require any third-party assessment for this purpose. However, they can choose to perform a NIST assessment via an outside provider.

As for CMMC, the cost of CMMC assessment would depend on the level of the organization. Level 1 corporations can self-evaluate themselves. Likewise, level 2 corporations dealing with federal information crucial to national security require assessment from CMMC third-party assessment organizations. In comparison, level 3 corporations are bound for a state-led assessment.

On average, corporations should expect to pay around $3,000 to $5,000 for level 1 CMMC assessment. Be mindful that the costs incurred increase at higher levels.

How Is The Nist Assessment Process Carried Out?

To accomplish NIST compliance, an organization must go through a NIST assessment process that determines whether it effectively fulfills the security requirements. The NIST assessment procedure is comprised of three phases:

  • Business development analysis.
  • Technical evaluation of systems and IT networks.
  • Data evaluation.

Organizations have to bear costs in becoming compliant. But because most of them already have numerous technologies implemented, they might not have to spend extra money. However, the assessment will then focus on how to tweak those technologies to meet the NIST compliance standards.

The corporation’s CUI handling will be evaluated during the NIST assessment procedure. In this phase, they might be interrogated about various access situations and how their cybersecurity policies come into play.

Based on the organization’s response, the evaluator will rate that company as fully, partially, or not compliant at all. In addition, they might also provide assisting documents that support their claim while also giving suggestions to become NIST-compliant.

Who Must Comply With CMMC?

Depending on the contract, entities that handle CUI or FCI must comply with CMMC. Any organization or contractor that is a part of the government supply chain must become compliant. Entities such as universities, research institutes, and manufacturing organizations competing for government contracts must also comply.

Because these entities are more likely to deal with CUI, they must comply with the set cybersecurity standards. One thing to note is that conformity is not limited to prime contractors. Anyone who handles, stores, and broadcasts CUI for numerous federal agencies must be compliant with CMMC.

Moreover, CMMC standards not only apply to defense contractors. Rather, they also apply to subcontractors selling products and services to the government.

Although most organizations compliant with CMMC are manufacturers, others dealing with CUI cannot count themselves out. This means that any organization, whether an engineering firm, procurement services corporation, or staffing agency, must be compliant if it handles CUI. Likewise, any company involved in business activities with prime or subcontractors in the government supply chain is also bound by CMMC.

Remember that any organization that fails to become compliant loses its eligibility for existing and future government contracts.

Bottom Line

NIST compliance is a cybersecurity standard established to ensure organizations dealing with CUI handle it responsibly. Because the CUI holds sensitive information, it must be handled, stored, or transmitted carefully. Without these cybersecurity protocols, secret information can get into the wrong hands and compromise national security.

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.
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