Stay on top of NIST 800-171 with this handy guide

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If your business currently has or is pursuing government contracts, you’re aware that you need to address certain compliance measures. The main compliance your business will need to focus on to be able to sign a government contract is NIST 800-171. And as with any government-mandated standard, there are plenty of hoops to jump through and fine print to overlook. But you shouldn’t be nervous. With the information and strategy below, you will be well-oriented to keep your business NIST compliant.

NIST 800-171: An overview

As with any government compliance, NIST 800 (and by extension NIST 800-171) are living documents. The nuts and bolts of the framework may change year to year, which means part of the battle of staying compliance is staying aware of changes to the text of the compliance.

NIST has undergone a few changes over the years, primarily in 2013 and mid-2019. Currently, the official version is NIST 800 171 Revision 2. And with these changes means a reassessment of your company’s compliance solution.

NIST is still the security framework developed for any business to use. But as a government contractor, you must jump through a few additional hoops, a few of which we will cover here. 

Access control

Because government contractors are handling Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), the first thing NIST set out to do is develop how contractors should handle this information. The first step is to have a protocol for who can access CUI. This is done by creating a clear hierarchy of permissions so that not everyone can access all CUI your company has. Additionally, you must follow strict guidelines when digitally or physically transferring any CUI.

Awareness and Training

The best risk management measure you can take is training and education, and NIST recognizes that as one of the most vital requirements. Since 90% of data breaches are unintentional and caused by human error, the single best prevention measure is to make sure y our staff — at all levels — are informed on their role in your business’ security framework and what type of threats they need to be aware of.

Incident response

Preventing your security risk is only part of the battle. Your business also needs to have processes in place for when a security breach does occur.

NIST 800-171 requires that you have an incident response protocol in place. A good protocol will include threat identification, containment, forensics and documentation for it all. It will also have the guidelines that your staff needs to follow when a breach occurs — this can be as simple as quarantining a computer or as complicated and completely restricting access to a vital business system.

In addition, you will need to regularly test your incidence response protocol to ensure it performs how it is meant to.

Risk and security assessments

In order to keep a security framework relevant to how your business operates, regular assessments to your systems need to occur. These assessments fall into two buckets: risk assessments and security assessments.

Risk assessments are exactly what the name implies: it requires taking stock of all of the different sectors of your business, from staff to on-premise security to software, to assess what latent risks are present in your entire infrastructure. This is a vital practice, as 65% of organizations in a recent study said they experienced an operational hiccup due to an unassessed risk sector. Through this identification, you should be able to apply suitable remedies to reduce your overall organizational risk.

Security assessments, on the other hand, require you to periodically check on all the security controls within your organization. This included things like access point control, login in settings, who can access certain data, as well as things like firewalls and active security monitoring. 

You don’t need to be the expert

If all these standards some complicated an a bit stressful, that’s normal. And these are just a few of the most important items contained within the NIST 800-171 framework. 

But you don’t need to manage all of this alone. In fact, it’s better if you leave it to experts who have experience with NIST specific recommendations and guidance. And that is exactly what Xpert Technologies does with our xSecure solution. Instead of trying to learn and manage all of this alone, Xpert can be your guide to developing the right policy and procedure to keep your business compliant.