NIST 800-171 Compliance (Rules/Regulations)

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Confused By NIST 800-171 Rules & Regulations? You’re Not Alone

If your business is a contractor with the Department of Defense and you have questions about NIST 800-171 requirements, then you aren’t alone. These compliance requirements can be confusing for anyone, even long-established contractors. That’s why we want to help you understand what you need to do to be NIST 800-171 compliant and to answer common questions that you may have. You’ll find that it’s not hard to remain in good standing with the Department of Defense and their compliance regulations once you know the tips and tricks in this article.

One of the first things that you need to keep in mind, however, is how important cybersecurity is for companies doing business with the United States federal government. The federal government has for years now been one of the most highly targeted organizations for cybercriminals. According to Thales eSecurity, 71% of government agencies have been affected by at least one data breach, with some suffering more. When this happens, it can put the data and personal information of millions of Americans at risk. This has happened before, such as in June 2015, when the U.S. Office of Personnel Management fell victim to a cyber attack. As a result, 21.5 million people had their data exposed as the victims of this breach.

Now that you know the importance of being compliant with federal cybersecurity mandates, the first thing to know is what exactly the NIST 800-171 is, and why your business may be affected by it. The NIST 800-171 is a set of standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, to ensure that proper measures are going to be taken to protect Controlled Unclassified Information or CUI. These standards are made mandatory by the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement, or DFARS.

NIST 800-171 is mandated because it is important to prevent data breaches that could result in CUI being compromised and to make sure that CUI stays confidential. There are three situations that occur where being compliant with NIST 800-171 is critically important. These three situations are together responsible for a great deal of NIST 800-171 non-compliance, so it’s important that you keep these in mind:

  • If CUI is stored, accessed, or managed in information systems and organizations that are not under the auspices of the federal government. This includes when a government agency uses a third-party program to store CUI. In that case, NIST 800-171 still applies.
  • If an organization that is not the federal government has access to the CUI but isn’t actively collecting, maintaining, or using it.
  • If the category the CUI is in doesn’t have any other compliance laws, such as HIPAA, to protect its confidentiality.

It’s difficult for many businesses to keep track of all this information and make sure that they are in compliance with the NIST 800-171 requirements. There are two ways to ensure compliance: with your in-house IT team or with a NIST 800-171 consultant. Oftentimes, the in-house IT staff that a business has don’t have a great deal of experience with government compliance mandates and NIST 800-171 in particular. While it’s vital that your company protect the CUI that it has access to, it’s common for your in-house IT team to struggle with compliance requirements. That’s why many have chosen to hire IT solutions staff who specialize in compliance reporting and assisting defense contractors and other non-governmental agencies to comply with NIST 800-171. LaScala IT is one such company that can make compliance with NIST 800-171 seem easy. With their holistic approach to your IT services, they’ll not only make sure that your data is secure but that your company is in compliance with NIST 800-171. They’ll then help you to improve your compliance if it is lacking. Whether or not you outsource your IT, you need to keep in mind the following best practices, but many businesses have found it easier and more cost-effective to outsource their compliance management to a company like LaScala IT.

14 Areas For Cybersecurity Compliance

There are 14 areas of your cybersecurity that you need to make sure that you are covering to adequately meet your NIST 800-171 requirements. These are:

  • Access control. You need to make sure that you are properly monitoring who has access to your network. Only people who are authorized to view CUI on authorized devices should be allowed to access this data.
  • Training and awareness. You need to make sure that all your employees understand the importance of maintaining NIST 800-171 requirements and how these requirements apply to their individual jobs. They should also understand how common cybersecurity threats are and how to identify them, including threats from within your business.
  • Accountability and auditing. If your business doesn’t have a proper audit trail, you need to remedy that. Without the capability of seeing who has access to CUI, you won’t be able to properly monitor access. You need to know who is accessing CUI and when they did it.
  • Configuration management. One crucial part of maintaining NIST 800-171 requirements is complying with guidelines for your software and hardware configurations. You need to ground these configurations in strong security principles and constantly be updating them as often as you can.
  • Authentication and identification. One of the simplest, yet most critical things you need to do to be in compliance with NIST 800-171 requirements is to identify who is attempting to access your systems and have a process to be able to properly authenticate them.
  • Incident response protocols. If a data breach or other incident in violation of compliance regulations were to occur, you need to have a plan for how to deal with it.
  • Maintenance regulations. You need to ensure that your information systems are receiving regular and thorough maintenance. This includes making sure that all systems still have proper protections.
  • Media protection. If you have information system media that has CUI stored on it, you need to take precautions to keep it safe. You also need to control who has access to this media and have a plan to sanitize or destroy it if the need should arise.
  • Security of personnel. You must screen the personnel at your company who will be accessing CUI. Additionally, you should have good procedures for when an employee leaves the company, and especially if they have been fired, to prevent leakage of CUI.
  • Physical protection. You need to make sure that you are putting up security around the physical location of information systems that contain CUI. This is to prevent unauthorized access from occurring on-site as well as from cyberattacks.
  • Risk assessment. You need to have good procedures for analyzing risk when it comes to cybersecurity threats for your organization. If you are at risk for a cyberattack, you should be prepared for this eventuality.
  • Security assessment. Similar to the risk assessment, you need to conduct an honest assessment of the security measures you have deployed in case of cybersecurity risk. If any of the areas mentioned here are found lacking in the assessment, you must improve them.
  • Protection of systems and communication. The boundaries of your information system are at high risk for data breaches and attacks. This principle applies to both external and internal boundaries. To ensure the safety of all CUI, you need to make sure that your organizational systems for your information are designed with cybersecurity in mind and have the potential to resist cyberattacks.
  • System and information integrity. Finally, it’s very important that you find all the flaws in the code for your information systems and fix them quickly. This includes malicious code as well as simple errors. When you detect something of this manner, you must act quickly to fix the situation.

All of this may seem like a lot for your organization to handle all by itself. That’s why IT partners such as LaScala IT are available to help your business. If you are working with CUI, and especially if any of the three situations outlined above apply to your business, then you need to keep all of these in mind. But you should also not depend too strongly on your in-house IT team to do a job that they may not have any experience in doing.

NIST 800-171 Compliance By LaScala IT

The principles outlined in this article are good starting points for you to shore up your cybersecurity defenses. But, for the best way to remain compliant with NIST 800-171, you should reach out to an IT company specializing in cybersecurity such as LaScala IT and set up an appointment today. You are liable to be surprised about the areas in which you are not in compliance. And when cybersecurity is of such paramount importance for defense contractors and others working with the federal government, you can’t afford to make those sorts of mistakes.

WRITTEN BY
Greg LaScala