NIST compliance refers to the act of observing the requirements and standards set by the NIST, a non-regulatory agency founded in 1901 that is currently under the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST compliance helps businesses and government agencies meet industry-specific regulatory compliance requirements. Since NIST is a federal government construct, NIST compliance only applies to organizations within the U.S.
NIST compliance can mean different things, depending on the NIST publication. One example is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF). NIST is a framework that comprises critical IT infrastructure guidelines, standards, and practices. It aims to help owners and operators of essential IT infrastructure manage cybersecurity risks.
Since laws, rules, and regulations are critical drivers of IT innovation, most tech companies make NIST compliance a top priority.
- Different Facets of NIST Compliance
- Tips for NIST Compliance
- Benefits of NIST Compliance
- NIST and NISR Compliance, What’s the Difference?
Different Facets of NIST Compliance
NIST compliance requires organizations to break down their cybersecurity framework into three main components—the framework core, implementation tiers, and profiles, which we described in more detail below.
The core facet refers to the set of desired security activities and outcomes organized into categories. This facet should be intuitive to enable communication between an organization’s different teams.
The core facet consists of three parts:
- Functions: Helps organizations identify threats (current and potential alike) and protect against these through data security strategies, determine vulnerabilities and prevent them from getting exploited, and recover data lost in case of a breach.
- Categories: Refer to the organization’s primary cybersecurity objectives that must always be met for compliance.
- Subcategories: Include outcome-driven statements that provide considerations for improving or creating a comprehensive cybersecurity program.
The implementation tiers facet describes the degree at which an organization’s cybersecurity risk management protocols align with the requirements defined by NIST. The framework has four tiers, ranging from Partial (Tier 1) to Adaptive (Tier 4). Using this element, the organization can access its degree of rigor and how well-thought-out its cybersecurity risk decisions are.
The profiles facet aims to check the unique alignment of the organization to the compliance requirements. Specifically, organizations use the profiles to validate and improve their current cybersecurity posture.
Tips for NIST Compliance
In a bid to be NIST-compliant, organizations can consider the following tips.
Categorize the Data and Information That Need Protection
To be NIST-compliant, organizations need to categorize the data and information within their security landscape. In effect, this process requires data mining, especially in an age where organizations have become data hoarders, as storage is significantly cheaper.
As a pro tip, organizations should consider getting rid of redundant or obsolete data, which only takes up massive amounts of storage. In addition, consider prioritizing intellectual property, personally identifying information (PII), and financial account information.
Conduct Risk Assessment
Periodic NIST cyber risk assessments should help organizations refine baseline controls. The latter highlights the set of controls applicable to their information and IT systems so these meet legal, regulatory, and policy requirements. Conducting consistent risk assessment essentially assesses an organization’s compliance and safety within the parameters the federal government put in place.
Notably, suppose your organization maintains relationships with the federal government. In that case, you are required by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) to conduct a risk assessment guided by the Risk Management Framework (RMF). It would be prudent to maintain the NIST security risk assessment over a longer term, including ongoing monitoring and evaluation of new and existing data for compliance.
Document Baseline Controls
At the root of documenting baseline controls is having a written security plan. The latter should clearly point out low-, moderate-, and high-security controls for information systems (ISs). Note that the baseline will be primarily influenced by community interests, environmental operations, and the kind of IT infrastructure organizations use during operations.
Monitoring performance should help organizations measure the efficacy of some of the security controls they implement. Performance results aid in decision-making. An organization’s performance should provide a matrix that helps it establish relationships between its IT infrastructure and program security practices.
Benefits of NIST Compliance
Complying with the NIST framework brings several advantages discussed in more detail below.
Confidence against Cybersecurity Threats
All organizations need to identify and assess cybersecurity risks constantly. If they are NIST-compliant, they should have sufficiently clarified how they would respond to a cybersecurity incident and bounce back from it. That translates to greater confidence in the face of cybersecurity threats, including malware attacks and data breaches.
Deflection of Fines
NIST is a federal contract. Noncompliance with the framework is thus considered a breach of contract with the government that can result in monetary damages and other adverse consequences. That said, fulfilling its mandates should ensure that an organization’s safety from related litigation or fines.
Avoidance of Reputation Damage
Data breaches do not only severely impact on organizations’ bottom line but can damage their reputation as well. The latter can cost them to lose the trust of partners and consumers. Concisely, NIST compliance is part of proactive reputation management and should help organizations avoid suffering from reputation damage.
Meeting Contract Qualifications for Federal Funding
As part of federal guidelines, organizations must incorporate NIST compliance as a requirement in their contracts. Compliance also makes it possible for them to be eligible for more contracts within the government sector. In addition, it is paramount for organizations seeking to secure federal funding to comply with the NIST framework.
NIST and NISR Compliance, What’s the Difference?
As mentioned earlier, NIST compliance is only required of organizations based in the U.S. You can think of the Network and Information Systems Regulations (NISR) as NIST’s counterpart in European Union (EU) countries. As such, organizations that operate critical infrastructure in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden should comply with NISR.
NISR aims to protect the critical national infrastructure of EU member countries against cyber attacks. It affects two types of organizations—operators of essential services (OESs) and digital service providers (DSPs).
To sum up, NIST compliance refers to adhering to the IT security best practices and controls that both the federal government and private enterprises agreed to. The framework has specific requirements mapped out into 14 security control families that aim to ensure system and information integrity and security. Altogether, NIST noncompliance may have adverse consequences, including fines, litigation, and potential infrastructure compromise. From a marketing perspective, compliance allows organizations to appear more security-conscious than their competitors, thus attracting the security-conscious consumers.