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6 Ways to Achieve Complete NIST Compliance


Compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework stands as a cornerstone in fortifying cybersecurity measures for organizations. In this world full of digital threats, achieving complete adherence to NIST guidelines is imperative.

In this article, we explore six essential strategies that pave the way toward comprehensive NIST compliance. From meticulous documentation of systems and processes to the implementation of robust security measures, each approach serves as a critical step in fortifying an organization's resilience against cyber threats.

Exploring the best practices of data protection and system architecture, these strategies form an easy-to-follow roadmap for achieving complete NIST compliance that helps strengthen your security foundation and achieve regulatory excellence.

What Does it Mean to be NIST Compliant?

Established in 1901, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) began as a U.S. government agency, primarily focused on standardizing units of measurement and designing equipment for accurate weight and measurement. Evolving over the decades, NIST broadened its scope, addressing businesses' needs for expertise, security, safety, and guidelines.

With the advent of the digital age, NIST introduced measurable standards for cybersecurity and data protection. NIST compliance now entails aligning with these standards, guidelines, and best practices. Synchronizing with NIST frameworks allows organizations to secure their information systems comprehensively.

NIST compliance involves implementing security controls, risk management processes, and cybersecurity measures in line with NIST guidelines. This adherence is crucial for organizations, particularly those handling sensitive information, as it fortifies against cybersecurity threats and ensures a structured approach to data management.

Crucially, NIST compliance extends beyond specific industries, gaining widespread recognition and adoption across various sectors. It establishes a robust foundation for information security and risk management in the digital landscape.

NIST Frameworks

There are numerous NIST frameworks that organizations can choose according to their niche. Three of the most popular NIST frameworks include:

NIST 800-53

This framework is a set of standards for U.S. government agencies and federal government contractors. These standards align with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). NIST 800-43 includes a large number of security controls including access control, audit and accountability, contingency planning, etc.

NIST 800-171

This cybersecurity standard is quite specific to organizations that are contractors of the U.S. Department of Defense. This framework has 110 requirements.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF)

CSF is considered the gold standard for maintaining cybersecurity solutions in organizations of any size and belonging to any sector. This framework has 5 core activities.

Merits of Adhering to NIST

NIST compliance has its benefits, which is the reason why organizations go above and beyond to achieve certification. It also benefits the people these organizations serve.

Let’s have a look at some of the top merits of adhering to NIST guidelines and achieving complete compliance.

  • The NIST Cybersecurity framework is the gold standard for building the most robust cybersecurity program. It helps highly vulnerable organizations, regardless of their size, to combat cyber threats effectively.
  •    NIST compliance is recognized as an industry's best practice. Its compliance allows companies to have better contracts and more lucrative business opportunities. Non-compliant organizations make investors nervous and highly wary of signing contracts. Most importantly, NIST compliance is pretty much a requirement to work with government agencies. Attaining NIST certification will open several doors of opportunities for businesses and subcontractors.
  •  NIST framework is designed in a way that is easier for the technical staff, as well as non-technical staff, to understand the benefits of. This allows for improved communication and decision-making between different sectors of an organization.
  • The NIST framework is highly adaptable and flexible. Any organization, regardless of its niche or size can adopt the standard security measures. The framework is also easy to maintain and does not require the active participation of a team. Employees can conduct their day-to-day work without actively getting invested in the security aspects of it.
  •    NIST-compliant organizations are in a better place when new regulations and laws are introduced. These security measures are progressive and new layers of protection can be built up easily and quickly, instead of starting from scratch.

Top Ways to Achieve NIST Compliance

Full compliance with NIST standards serves as a powerful asset for organizations. The certification alone increases an organization's potential for growth and enables them to secure numerous lucrative deals. Moreover, it shields organizations from legal lawsuits and prevents a tarnished reputation in the event of data breaches or cyber threats. The benefits of NIST compliance are extensive, prompting most organizations to strive for compliance.

Here are some of the top ways to achieve complete NIST compliance:

1.     Assess Your Current Status

To embark on your NIST compliance journey, start by assessing your company's security infrastructure. This evaluation should reveal existing security measures, and vulnerabilities, and determine the sophistication of the security program.

Make sure to review current security practices as well. This step guarantees that future strategies to achieve NIST compliance work with the vulnerable data, as well as data already protected by current security practices.

This step will help determine which NIST frameworks and security functions will be best suited for your company’s data protection.

Informed decisions regarding the implementation of specific NIST standards can consequently establish a resilient security framework.

2.     Conduct a Risk Assessment

A comprehensive review of the current system is imperative to identify security gaps. However, a more systematic approach lies in conducting a risk assessment. This assessment is crucial in identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities that may compromise data, processes, and systems. Armed with this knowledge, proactive measures can be taken to mitigate these risks effectively.

A thorough risk assessment leaves no stone unturned. It determines internal threats like inadvertent data breaches by employees, outdated software, weak passwords, credential misuse, and unsecured networks. It also investigates potential external threats such as cyberattacks, data theft, malicious software, and hacking attempts.

Furthermore, the process of risk assessment assists in prioritizing compliance actions and budget allocation. For instance, identifying a potential security breach or data leak warrants immediate attention due to the potential damage to reputation or legal ramifications. On the contrary, issues like outdated software, while important, may be deferred to the lower end of the priority list as they do not pose an immediate threat.

This risk assessment is instrumental in establishing objectives that will assist in complete NIST compliance.

3.     Establish an Action Plan

Now that you know your security system inside out, with all its weaknesses, strengths, and potential threats, it’s time to make an action plan.

NIST has introduced several standards of cybersecurity, however, the most popular ones are the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, NIST 800-53, and NIST 800-171.

 All these standards have a list of security controls shared by NIST. All these frameworks are user-friendly and outline the ways that data needs to be protected. Employing each of these security controls allows organizations to achieve high-level security as well as complete NIST compliance.

The IT team of the organization has their work cut out for them. They need to choose which standards will best protect the information of their organization, how to implement these security controls, budget and resource allocation, etc.

Creating a team, prioritizing tasks, and having a clear implementation plan will allow the organizations to achieve complete NIST compliance without any complications.  

4.     Implement Security Controls

With an action plan in sight, the next step is to start implementing security controls to manage the risks discovered during the assessment. To attain the NIST compliance certification, your organization's security system must meet all the NIST's standards.

Your job is to put controls and functions in place that meet those standards. These controls are listed by NIST under each of their standards. It might not be an easy task, but you have a lot of resources at hand. Visit the NIST website to access the guidelines of your chosen framework, hire professional cybersecurity teams, or make use of the many software that helps with NIST compliance.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework, a widely acclaimed standard, offers a Quick Start Guide on its website. This guide comprehensively navigates through the five functions outlined in the Framework Core, providing tailored recommendations to address the primary objectives of each function.

5.     Maintain Proper Documentation

During the entire process of applying security controls and running risk assessments before and after, don't forget to document it. The success of passing the audit relies entirely on how well you demonstrate it in records.

Make sure that you document your entire system, your method of operations, your teams, security tools, controls in the system, data placement, network architecture, etc.

A good practice is to store all these documents in a single data library to create an archive of all the controls that have been implemented and tested to create a foolproof security system.

6.     Conduct Vulnerability Scans

Another good practice when securing your system and aiming to achieve NIST compliance is to run vulnerability scans as often as possible. These scans allow you to keep an eye on all the devices and digital assets on your network and catch them the second they expose their vulnerabilities and pose risks to the security of the system.

Vulnerability scans allow you to identify potential threats from internal and external sources and take action as swiftly and effectively as possible. Again, make sure to document these identified risks and the security controls that mitigated them.

In many cases, you might not need to conduct vulnerability scans as a separate step because NIST standards such as section 3.11 of NIST 800 171 and 3.16 of NIST 800 53 list down risk assessment and remediation as one of the security controls and you’d use them during the implementation stage.

NIST has introduced a seven-step risk management framework for organizations aiming to achieve Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliance. These seven steps include:

  • Preparing The Organization
  • Categorizing Systems and Information
  • Selecting, Implementing, And Assessing Controls
  • Authorizing The System
  • Continuously Monitoring

Frequently Asked Questions

Q) How do I become compliant with NIST?

To achieve compliance with NIST standards:

  • Start by assessing your current status against NIST guidelines.
  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities.
  • Develop an action plan to address risks and bolster security measures.
  • Implement recommended security controls aligned with NIST protocols.
  • Maintain detailed documentation of processes and changes.
  • Regularly conduct vulnerability scans to proactively address weaknesses.

Q) How do I prove NIST compliance?

NIST compliance can be proved by conducting a self-assessment and collecting the evidence in a comprehensive document. The audit team will then test the system against all the key requirements of the NIST framework.

Q) What are the 5 core activities of the NIST framework

The five core activities of the NIST framework are:

  1.       Identify: The system is evaluated to identify the data and processes that need protection against cyberattacks.
  2.       Protect: Security measures are taken to protect the data identified in the first activity.
  3.       Detect: Various strategies are employed to create a system that effectively monitors and detects cyberattacks.
  4.       Respond: Develop techniques and adopt the best practices for the system to respond to cybersecurity threats after detection.
  5.       Recover: Working on creating a system that continues operation and recovers quickly after a cyber threat has been detected and thwarted.

Empower Your Business with Proven IT & Cybersecurity Solutions

Organizations — big and small — have only gone up and forward after achieving complete NIST compliance. Adhering to the standards of NIST strengthens the digital security of every organization, putting all investors, clients, and employees at ease. Not to mention, opening several doors of opportunities for NIST-compliant organizations.

In many cases, NIST compliance can make or break a lucrative business deal.

However, achieving the highest standards of cybersecurity isn't easy. It requires many hands on deck, expertise, and careful planning.

Large organizations have the means to fund a team to achieve NIST compliance, but small organizations and start-ups may not be that lucky.

Fortunately we have resources that can stay vigilant for you while you pay attention elsewhere. If you are concerned about hackers, CyberLynx's 24/7 Intrusion Detection and Response solution, will instantly alert you when a hacker bypasses your security. Not only that, they'd also be kicked out before they could even break your digital barriers.

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