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Malicious actors are constantly devising ways to penetrate a network and carry out their plans. It becomes increasingly difficult to stop them when companies lack a uniform way to protect their devices. Setting a security baseline helps companies work from established standards to secure their data. The first cybersecurity framework was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) under Executive Order 13636 in 2014. This framework sought to enhance the critical infrastructure of the United States.

NIST generates and maintains thousands of security and compliance standards across many different fields. In addition, NIST maintains information security standards that act as frameworks for organizations that do business with the federal government. Ensuring U.S. government networks and contractors are secure is important to our national security. Government agencies have to to meet certain standards, but the private sector can benefit from following these standards as well. The following are examples of NIST security standards:

NIST SP 800-171

The NIST SP 800-171 framework was established to provide standards and best practices for handling controlled unclassified information (CUI). Inadequate protection of CUI outside of government networks is a critical problem as government missions and functions can be harmed if the sensitive data is compromised.

NIST SP 800-171 helps secure companies that house CUI locally and are not collecting data, maintaining data or using an operating system on behalf of a federal agency and for which there are no governing regulations for protecting the confidentiality of the CUI. NIST designed the framework for enforcement on all components of the system that process, store and/or transmit CUI data.


NIST SP 800-53

NIST SP 800-53 was initially created in 2006, and the final version, NIST SP 800-53 Rev 4, was created in April 2013. Primarily, it provided a framework for security and privacy controls for federal computer systems to protect the following:

  • Operations, including mission, functions, image and reputation.
  • Organizational assets.
  • Individuals (employees, customers, etc.).
  • Other partner organizations.
  • U.S. computer systems (protection against hostile cyber-attacks, natural disasters, structural failures and human errors).

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

In 2014, NIST worked with the private sector and the federal government to create the Cybersecurity Framework (CSF). The CSF integrates industry standards as well as best practices to help organizations set up and manage their security programs. CSF provides a standard classification and vehicle to help organizations perform the following:

  • Identify their current cybersecurity posture.
  • Define their desired cybersecurity state.
  • Utilize a continuous and repeatable process to identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement.
  • Measure progress toward the desired state.
  • Communicate cybersecurity risks to internal and external stakeholders.

NIST SP 800-37 Risk Management Framework

A joint task force developed the SP 800-37 Risk Management Framework to create a certification and accreditation process with a system life cycle approach to risk management. RMF is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • It offers a controlled, organized and flexible process for managing security risk and privacy risk.
  • It addresses control selection, application and assessment; system and common control authorizations; and continuous monitoring.
  • It prepares organizations to implement the framework at the correct risk management levels through exercises.
  • It leverages continuous monitoring processes to enable near-real-time risk management and ongoing information system and common control authorization.
  • It provides valuable information to senior leaders and executives that allows them to make informed, cost-effective risk management decisions. The computing environment used in support of business functions and missions influences much of a business’s risk.
  • It ensures the system development life cycle includes security and privacy.
  • It pairs vital risk management procedures at the system level with risk management processes at the company level.
  • It enforces responsibility and accountability for the controls implemented within an organization’s information systems.


Security frameworks are essential to the success of organizations and businesses. Developing a strong security posture is a must to keep an adversary out of the network. To help companies do this, NIST created frameworks, starting with SP 800-171, as standards to help companies achieve regulatory compliance and safeguard their data. As the process matured and the need for an updated framework arose, NIST developed further standards and updated existing ones to meet the need of a strong cybersecurity framework.

These frameworks serve as great guides but can be flexible and require customization to fit each organization differently. Even with a framework as a starting point, it is difficult to know where to start analyzing and how to get up to speed. You may already have a seasoned security team. However, they may not have the experience needed to perform an efficient security assessment and identify gaps.

InfoDefense has years of experience in getting clients compliance-ready. We have the resources and knowledge to focus on the right areas and fill in any gaps detected. If your company is subject to federal compliance regulations or you just want to implement a NIST security framework to keep your data safe, contact InfoDefense today to get started.

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