It should go without saying that government contractors handling controlled unclassified information (CUI) must prioritize robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed Special Publication 800-171 (NIST SP 800-171), a comprehensive set of guidelines to help organizations safeguard CUI. In this section, we will cover what NIST SP 800-171 is, why and when certification is necessary, the requirements of NIST SP 800-171, its comparison to the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), and the steps needed to obtain certification for your company.
What Is NIST SP 800-171?
NIST SP 800-171 provides a framework of security requirements for protecting the confidentiality of CUI in non-federal information systems and organizations. Its goal is to ensure that organizations that handle CUI implement adequate security controls to prevent unauthorized access, disclosure, or loss of sensitive information. NIST SP 800-171 was designed to apply to contractors, suppliers, and other entities that interact with the U.S. federal government and handle CUI.
Why & When Is NIST SP 800-171 Certification Necessary?
NIST SP 800-171 certification is necessary for organizations that handle CUI, as it demonstrates their commitment to protecting sensitive information and complying with federal regulations. Here’s why and when certification is important:
- Compliance: Many government contracts and agreements now require compliance with NIST SP 800-171 as a condition of doing business. Certification is essential to meet contractual obligations and maintain business opportunities with the federal government.
- Security Best Practices: NIST SP 800-171 provides a comprehensive set of security requirements derived from industry best practices. Compliance ensures your organization follows these guidelines to protect CUI from cybersecurity threats.
- Risk Mitigation: Implementing NIST SP 800-171 controls mitigates the risk of data breaches, unauthorized access, and reputational damage that could arise from the mishandling of CUI.