The National Institute of Standards and Technology is a U.S. government agency that publishes cybersecurity frameworks organizations can use to strengthen their internal controls and compliance programs. Its most notable framework is NIST Special Publication 800-53, a framework that contains more than 900 unique controls across 18 larger “control families.” 

NIST controls are meant to enhance an organization’s cybersecurity program, risk posture, information protection, and security standards. NIST 800-53 is mandatory for federal agencies, but any other organization can also use the standard to improve their own security program.

Information technology is rapidly changing, so the NIST 800-53 standard is now on its fifth revision to keep up with emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT). Indeed, the adaptability of NIST frameworks is one of the primary reasons so many organizations keep using the standards NIST churns out.

What is the NIST cybersecurity framework?

The NIST cybersecurity framework (NIST CSF) is more than just a collection of rules and guidelines; it’s a dynamic and adaptable blueprint for fortifying your organization’s digital defenses. The framework is designed to help any organization — any size, any industry, any amount of maturity in your security program — to manage and reduce cybersecurity risk.

At its core, NIST CSF offers a structured approach to securing information systems, including risk management, incident response, and contingency planning. It helps organizations to align their cybersecurity strategies with broader business goals and objectives. By adhering to NIST recommendations, organizations can protect their data and information systems against an ever-expanding range of cyber threats, adhering to control baselines and promoting efficient federal information security.

Within the NIST CSF you’ll find a set of guidelines and best practices that cover the full spectrum of cybersecurity, including risk management, incident response, and media protection. These guidelines serve as a baseline for organizations to identify vulnerabilities, mitigate risks, and maintain the resilience of their information systems.

What is the goal of NIST?

NIST is a cornerstone of cybersecurity, but its influence extends even further. The purpose of NIST (and the frameworks it produces) is to enhance the security and resilience of information systems. Notable NIST frameworks include:

  • NIST 800-53. This standard provides an extensive catalog of security controls for federal information systems and organizations, serving as a comprehensive guide for safeguarding sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII). Adherence to NIST 800-53 assures compliance with the Federal Information Systems Management Act (FISMA), which is required for federal government agencies and government contractors.
  • NIST Cybersecurity Framework. NIST CSF was first designed for critical infrastructure sectors. Today the framework outlines how any organization can effectively manage and reduce cybersecurity risk.
  • NIST 800-171. This standard is intended for defense contractors and others that might handle controlled, unclassified information (CUI). It is related to NIST 800-53, although 800-53 has many more individual controls. 

What are the NIST security controls?

At their core, NIST security controls are comprehensive safeguards and countermeasures that organizations can implement to secure their information systems. Whether you’re a federal agency, a private business, or part of any organization that relies on digital information, these controls play a crucial role in assuring the security and resilience of your systems.

The primary purpose of NIST security controls is to provide organizations with a structured and organized approach to securing their information systems. The controls encompass various security requirements, from access control and authentication (digital and physical access) to risk assessment and incident response, and much more. By adhering to these controls, organizations can systematically address vulnerabilities, mitigate risks, and enhance their overall cybersecurity posture.

How many security controls are there in NIST?

The current version of NIST 800-53 has more than 900 unique security controls, organized into 18 control families. This significant number underscores the sweeping scope of NIST’s approach to cybersecurity.

That said, not every organization needs to implement all 900 security controls. Rather, companies can use 800-53 as a guide to help them understand the correct security controls to implement for their specific needs, and then methodically work through those controls to assure that each one is implemented, tested, and working. 

NIST has also introduced a specialized standard NIST SP 800-53B, which focuses on high-impact security controls specifically designed for national security systems. NIST SP 800-53B supplements the main standard, and addresses the unique and rigorous demands of safeguarding classified information within national security systems. 

NIST SP 800-53 Revision 5

NIST introduced the fifth revision of its 800-53 framework in 2020, formally titled “Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations.” This revision marks a significant evolution from the previous version because it intentionally drops the word “federal” from the title. Doing so broadens the scope of the guidance, making 800-53 applicable to all organizations, not just those working with the U.S. government

Revision 5 introduces an outcomes-based approach, transforming the structure of the controls to focus on achieving specific results. Moreover, it removes the limiting term “information system,” broadening the applicability of these controls to encompass a wide range of systems. 

This expansion includes emerging technologies such as IoT devices and cyber-physical systems, reflecting the evolving landscape of information security and privacy.

Maintain compliance with ZenGRC

Maintaining NIST compliance is not easy. To assure a successful and seamless approach, trust ZenGRC. Our platform automates compliance workflows, simplifies your journey, and empowers you to focus on what matters most: protecting your valuable data and information systems. 

With ZenGRC, you can centralize and streamline your NIST control management processes. 

Ready to experience the ZenGRC difference? Schedule a demo today, and let us show you how our solution can make NIST compliance a breeze.

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