You don’t have to spend a long time in the cybersecurity and information technology world before someone brings up NIST compliance. 

Since the agency’s inception in 1901 — yes, it’s that old — the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been trusted as the guardian of all proper measurements and standards, including cybersecurity standards meant to increase data security. 

NIST, which these days is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, continues to conduct studies and develop protocols applicable to many different industries. That includes the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) which was released in 2014. 

Today let’s take a look at the Cybersecurity Framework, and whether NIST compliance is mandatory — or simply just a good idea if you work in the information technology business. 

NIST compliance is mandatory for federal agencies and their contractors

It’s perhaps not surprising that NIST compliance is mandatory for all federal agencies, and has been so since 2017. 

Government contractors that fall anywhere within the supply chain for a federal agency must also be in compliance with NIST standards. Exactly which standards will depend on what goods and services the company provides, and which government agency it’s contracting with. 

Typically, all contractors must comply with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF). Most also usually need to comply with other NIST “special publications” such as its NIST 800-53 standard for privacy and data security controls. Defense contractors specifically need to comply with CMMC, the cybersecurity maturity model certification, based on NIST 800-171. 

Private sector compliance with NIST and the NIST Cybersecurity Framework 

For private sector businesses that don’t bid on government contracts, compliance with NIST standards is voluntary. Even so, embracing NIST standards comes with numerous benefits that make the idea well worth considering. 

For example, the NIST cybersecurity framework’s flexible design can be quite useful when a company is trying to map its way to better protection of its critical infrastructure, implement proper security controls, and reduce the risk of cyber attacks. 

By following NIST guidelines, you don’t have to start from zero developing your own cybersecurity framework. Adopting NIST demonstrates that your business is committed to data protection and developing solid security policies. 

If you answer yes to one or more of the following questions, NIST compliance would be a good next step for your business: 

  • Do you handle data protected by HIPAA?
  • Do you routinely manage controlled, unclassified information? 
  • Do you have many third-party vendors and contractors? 
  • Will you ever compete for a contract with the U.S. government some day in the future?
  • Do you hope to enter the national security business, either as a service provider or a small business contractor?
  • Do you perform any work that must be compliant with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)?

NIST compliance requirements often end up being industry requirements, especially when protecting against data breaches and other cybersecurity risks. 

Cybersecurity and compliance management tools

Seeking NIST compliance does not have to be as overwhelming and frustrating as it may sound. As the COVID-19 pandemic lifts and business kicks back into high gear, Reciprocity can help you stay competitive. 

ZenGRC’s compliance, risk, and workflow management software is an intuitive, easy-to-understand platform that not only keeps track of your workflow; it also lets you find areas of high risk before that risk has turned into a real threat. 

Worry-free compliance management is the Zen way. For more information on how ZenGRC can enable your CMS, contact us for a demo.