What is NIST compliance? A brief guide for your company

Picture of Angela Johnson

Added on by 3 min read

security locks

If you own a business or an organization that has worked with the U.S. government, the word compliance may not be a new thing to you.

Information sharing between the government and private entities is a highly sensitive affair and is, therefore, held with high-security standards.

Treating it as anything otherwise could allow hackers to feast on your private data, and before you know it, critical security systems are compromised. 

What is NIST compliance? 

First thing's first: what is NIST compliance?

NIST Compliance is the process of complying with one or more NIST publications. NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) is a division in the U.S. Department of Commerce, whose aim is to set standards on technology-related matters, especially security control.

These standards are set to ensure cybersecurity efforts are uniform across all government agencies or businesses working with the federal government.

The meaning of NIST compliance differs according to various NIST publications. Let's explore how, below.



NIST CSF compliance eases the compliance with security frameworks, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

By complying with this publication, you ensure that your organization and your clients' systems, data, and networks are safe from cybersecurity attacks. This helps you save significant time and avoid expenses that you might have incurred in the future due to such attacks.

2. NIST 800-171

NIST 800-171 compliance is for organizations that engage in business with the US Department of Defense (DoD). Examples include the organizations and nonfederal information systems that serve as DoD contractors, stores, and those that handle Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).

Complying to NIST 800-171 requires that your organization adheres to all the security standards set by the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) – if you fail to meet these standards, you risk losing your contract.

3. NIST 800-53

NIST 800-53 compliance means that your organization adheres to the Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 200 (FIPS 200) and Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA). NIST 800-53 security regulations cover 18 areas, including incident response, disaster recovery, access control, and business continuity. 

Compliance with a NIST framework is voluntary for nonfederal agencies and all entities that don't have an affiliation with the U.S. government. 

What are the benefits of NIST compliance?

1. Help your organization secure its data and networks

Securing your data and networks ensures your organization is protected from cyber threats such as cyberattacks, ransomware, and malware.

2. Ensure your organization complies with industry or government regulations 

Depending on the type of compliance you take, NIST compliance ensures you conform to other body regulations, such as SOX, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

3. Provide leeway to bid for federal government contracts 

Before you engage in business with the U.S. government, you're required to be NIST compliant. Failure to do that may put you at risk of contract termination or legal troubles. 

An important note

Being NIST compliant doesn't mean that you're entirely free from cybersecurity attacks. Make sure you adopt other measures to ensure your systems' full security, such as embracing comprehensive security policies, monitoring web application vulnerabilities, and implementing continuous employee training on cybersecurity awareness. 

6 key steps for ensuring NIST compliance

Helping your organization become NIST compliant involves the following 6 steps.

Step 1: Develop a risk management assessment on NIST compliance

To develop a risk management assessment, you'll need to consult the NIST 800-53 publication, which provides full guidance on how to create one. (Note: Following NIST 800-71 is not enough for creating a risk management process, as it only describes the process in a few sentences.)

Step 2: Design and apply access controls that comply with NIST

Your contracting agency can prescribe the proper controls. Or, you can follow the NIST 800-171 and NIST 800-53 publications, as they have detailed information on how to go about designing and operating access controls. Again, the controls you apply should be supported by your entity's risk assessment.

Step 3: Manage third-party auditing

Both NIST 800-171 and 800-53 need third-party audit programs. Therefore, you should review different types of audit software to see which one works best for you. 

Step 4: Create a compliance management plan

This plan should include your action plan and milestones for compliance success. That will then help you address the compliance gaps that may arise and keep you informed on what to implement at every stage of the process. 

Step 5: Apply for an Authorization to Operate (ATO)

This is a critical step in getting NIST compliant as it involves a complete NIST audit on your entity. Once you pass the audit, you can get an Authorization to Operate (ATO). 

Step 6: Monitor the risks

As earlier mentioned, becoming NIST compliant doesn't free you from cyberattacks. You'll need to continuously monitor your risks to ensure you're always ahead of cyber-criminals. 

Moving ahead: NIST compliance remains critical

In this increasingly digital age, becoming NIST compliant is crucial for organizations who want to truly protect their systems from irreparable security attacks and threats.

While our brief guide covers some key information on the benefits and process for NIST compliance, there's still lots of information we didn't cover here that can help you secure your systems.

For more, check out these helpful resources:


To learn more about how Proxyclick helps organizations with regulatory compliance, see our full guide on the topic below.

Read the guide  



About our guest author

Angela Johnson is a compliance enthusiast who enjoys statistics, running and helping businesses gain control of their compliance certifications. Angela has been working in compliance for 6 years after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Information Systems.




Like this article? Spread the word.