NIST is the abbreviated name of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It’s one of many federal agencies under the U.S. Department of Commerce, and plays a crucial role developing technology and security standards to meet the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

NIST frameworks help organizations those bidding on defense contracts) to understand the security controls that might be necessary to safeguard Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), so that those organizations can bid on U.S. defense contracts. That said, NIST has created many security frameworks, leading to significant confusion when creating a new cybersecurity program for your organization.

What Is NIST Compliance?

In general, NIST frameworks provide a set of suggested security procedures for government information systems. The government endorses these standards, and corporations follow them because the standards incorporate security best practices applicable across a wide range of sectors.

For example, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) is one widely recognized NIST standard. NIST standards are based on best practices from various security papers, organizations, and publications, and are intended to serve as a foundation for government agencies and projects that require rigorous security safeguards.

In many circumstances, following NIST principles and recommendations can help organizations to comply with other regulations, such as the above-mentioned FISMA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).

What Are the Five Functions of the NIST Framework’s Cybersecurity Practices?

The NIST CSF defines the security procedures businesses should use to safeguard their digital assets from unwanted access. It does not establish new standards or security solutions that firms must implement; that is, following the CSF isn’t required by law.

Rather, the CSF framework provides companies with a set of best cybersecurity practices. These practices are the five essential functions listed below.

  1. Identify. Raise awareness within your company about the need for cybersecurity risk management. Then, determine the systems and data within your business that your company must protect. (Good compliance software can help your company address this function.)
  2. Protect. Put security measures in place to keep your systems and data safe from attackers. These measures may include cybersecurity solutions, company-wide security policies, and personnel training on handling data correctly.
  3. Detect. Good cybersecurity requires visibility into enterprise networks, systems, and devices. A well-planned cybersecurity strategy is also required, including protocols and tools for identifying cybersecurity problems.
  4. Respond. Create incident response strategies to reduce harm as rapidly as possible and to meet any breach disclosure duties that your company might have when an attack happens.
  5. Recover. Implement a business continuity plan to restore data and services your cyberattack has harmed, learn and improve from every cybersecurity incident, and communicate your findings throughout your business.

What Are the Four Tiers Used to Assess an Organization’s Cybersecurity?

The NIST framework also offers four tiers to help assess the maturity and strength of an organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Tier 1: Partial. The organization does not adhere to basic cybersecurity and has not implemented a written security plan. Cybersecurity measures are frequently ad hoc, and established in response to a previous occurrence.

Tier 2: Risk-Informed. While there are no enterprise-wide cybersecurity safeguards, the corporation is aware of cyber supply chain hazards. Some cybersecurity efforts exist, but need to be implemented at all company levels.

Tier 3: Repeatable. The business formally establishes a company-wide cybersecurity policy that is evaluated and modified to reflect the ever-changing technological world.

Tier 4: Adaptable. The organization’s cybersecurity policy is constantly adjusted to align with industry standards and developing technologies. Tier 4 firms learn how to fortify their systems from security events and communicate their findings with their internal network and external partners.

What Are the Benefits of NIST Compliance?

The first benefit of NIST compliance is that it safeguards the integrity of an organization’s IT environment. NIST also establishes the groundwork for businesses to comply with particular requirements such as HIPAA or FISMA. Remember, however, that NIST compliance doesn’t guarantee that your data is safe. Hence NIST recommendations begin by instructing businesses to inventory their cyber assets using a value-based approach, to identify the organization’s most sensitive data and prioritize protective activities around it.

What Are the Different Frameworks for NIST Compliance?

NIST compliance means something different with each NIST framework. Here are three of the most commonly used frameworks for cybersecurity to help you on your path to NIST compliance.


The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) is a voluntary framework intended for use at the organizational level to manage and reduce cybersecurity risk based on existing standards, guidelines, and practices.

Compliance with NIST CSF can ease compliance with other security frameworks, including the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and IT general controls for Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). Put another way: NIST CSF compliance can save time and expense down the road.

Many organizations use NIST CSF to assure customers that their systems, network, and data are safe in the organization’s hands.

NIST 800-53

NIST 800-53 brings businesses and their technology products or services in line with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) and the Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 200 (FIPS 200). Compliance with those standards is necessary to bid on government contracts or to function as a government agency.

The NIST 800-53 framework covers 18 areas, including access control, incident response, business continuity, and disaster recovery. Companies that adopt NIST CSF at the organization-wide level may choose 800-53 to implement more robust controls over their products or services.

Compliance with NIST 800-53 is mandatory for federal agencies and contractors, and encouraged for all other enterprises..

NIST 800-171

Organizations doing business with the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) must comply with another set of NIST requirements: NIST Special Publication 800-171, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Non-Federal Information Systems.

Businesses must meet the standards of NIST SP 800-171 to bid on defense contracts. Implementing those standards helps defense contractors to comply with the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), which is required to bid on defense contracts.

NIST provides critical, common language and foundational security standards that, when implemented, can take your cybersecurity program to the next level. Once you’ve determined which NIST frameworks are most appropriate for your organization, you’ll be ready to begin your journey to NIST compliance. In our recent webinar: 5 Keys to Successful NIST Audits, you can learn more about the next steps.

Achieve Compliance In a Breeze with ZenGRC

Manually assessing operational risks, implementing internal controls, and providing documentation at each stage may be time-consuming and cumbersome. ZenGRC software can assist you in keeping track of regulatory updates and new risk factors while identifying gaps during risk assessment.

Professionals within your company can access the compliance information required to guarantee ethical activities using role-based authorizations. Furthermore, giving employees access to rules and procedures provides them with reference resources to assist them in complying with regulatory obligations.

Additionally, people working for your company can access the documents required and the proper authorizations to change them per their jobs.

With the base content of ZenGRC, your organization may incorporate new rules or standards into its compliance program. Furthermore, this product can also help you with your compliance gap analysis to demonstrate the additional effort required to achieve complete compliance by examining overlaps with current compliance criteria.

Schedule a demo to learn more about how ZenGRC may help your company reach compliance quickly.