If you’ve ever contemplated working for a government agency, you’ve likely heard of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) rules. These are recommendations and laws that government agencies, contractors, and subcontractors must follow to reduce cybersecurity risk and protect sensitive data.

Adhering to NIST standards might be beneficial even if your business does not deal with a government agency.

What is NIST Compliance?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a physical sciences laboratory and a non-regulatory federal agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It was created to help the United States better compete with economic rivals.

NIST plays a role in developing standards for various products and services, such as nano-devices, disaster-resistant buildings, cybersecurity frameworks, and global networking.

One of the most widely known branches of NIST is the Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC), which provides resources for information security, cybersecurity, and information privacy.

Cybersecurity professionals are most familiar with NIST Special Publications (NIST SPs), which address standards for cybersecurity programs. The most common NIST publications for professional security consumption are the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF), the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS), and NIST Special Publications such as NIST 800-171 and 800-53.

The main role of NIST today is to influence and guide cybersecurity frameworks in the U.S. federal government.

Complete Guide to NIST
Cybersecurity Framework

Why Is NIST Compliance Important?

If you’re wondering whether you need a compliance program, note that NIST compliance requirements are only mandated for U.S. federal agencies such as the Department of Defense (DoD) and their subcontractors. The private sector’s use of NIST frameworks is encouraged but voluntary.

NIST compliance is essential because NIST guidelines help to support the development of standards for many services and products. This is especially true for information security standards and minimum requirements for federal information systems.

NIST standards are essential when planning security controls to safeguard Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), which is a key issue in bidding for U.S. defense contracts.

While many organizations disregard data security until a data breach or another cybersecurity incident happens, businesses must understand that these incidents are more common than they might realize.

Over 5 billion digital records were exposed during data breaches in 2018 alone. Such a breach can cost a business valuable contracts its reputation and even result in legal penalties and charges.

NIST Requirements at a Glance

NIST SP 800-53 provides a variety of security controls that support the development of federal information systems. These controls offer a multi-tiered approach to risk management and a security control baseline to prevent the most common threats against information systems.

NIST SP 800-53 controls can be broken down into three classes based on severity: low, moderate, and high. They are then split into 20 families.

  1. Access Control
  2. Awareness and Training
  3. Audit and Accountability
  4. Assessment, Authorization, and Monitoring
  5. Configuration Management
  6. Contingency Planning
  7. Identification and Authentication
  8. Incident Response
  9. Maintenance
  10. Media Protection
  11. Physical and Environmental Protection
  12. Planning
  13. Program Management
  14. Personnel Security
  15. PII Processing and Transparency
  16. Risk Assessment
  17. System and Services Acquisition
  18. System and Communications Protection
  19. System and Information Integrity
  20. Supply Chain Risk Management

NIST Compliance Checklist

When preparing for NIST 800-53 compliance, there are several primary areas from our NIST guide that will help you get started:


Identify all of your sensitive data.


Map the sensitive data to your processes.


Perform a risk assessment to understand your data’s cyber threats.


Reconsider your access controls. Limit access to sensitive data and enforce strong password and two-factor authentication policies for users.


Create a System Security Plan (SSP) to protect sensitive data and meet NIST security requirements.


Monitor all sensitive data continuously to protect it from security risks.

Learn how to prepare for a NIST Audit in our Step by-Step Guide


The Future of NIST

The following is a summary of the latest updates from the NIST.gov site:

In January 2024, it was published the NIST AI 100-2 E2023, regarding “Adversarial Machine Learning: A Taxonomy and Terminology of Attacks and Mitigations”.


ZenGRC Has Your Solution for NIST Compliance

Achieving compliance for any NIST standard requires considerable investment in time and resources, particularly for an organization still using legacy tools and spreadsheets to achieve and maintain compliance workflows.

Also, remember: initial compliance is only half the battle. After compliance is achieved, your organization must maintain compliance to ensure that the new systems, processes, and controls don’t degrade over time.

At ZenGRC, our team can help prepare you for NIST compliance, expedite the process, and minimize the burden on your team.

ZenGRC can also help you meet requirements for other frameworks, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC).

ZenGRC NIST Capabilities

ZenGRC is an efficient solution for continuous compliance. Businesses don’t have to worry about their compliance stance because ZenGRC monitors it over the entire lifecycle and keeps up with the latest data protection regulations and requirements.

  • User-friendly dashboard with real-time metrics on prioritized risks
  • Pre-built evidence request templates that can help streamline your compliance audits
  • A central repository for all audit-ready documentation
  • Universal Control Mapping to streamline multiple requirements with a single control
  • Interconnectivity between threats, vulnerabilities, risks, and controls for greater insight and monitoring
  • Tracking functionality for outstanding requirements
  • Risk management functionality for providers and their related services
Ready to see ZenGRC in action?

Frequently Asked Questions

NIST compliance is currently only mandatory for federal agencies and their contractors. Private-sector businesses are encouraged to use NIST standards but are not legally required.

NIST SP 800-171 is a NIST Special Publication that provides requirements for protecting Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) and is part of achieving CMMC compliance to bid on defense contracts. NIST 800-53 provides a framework for security controls that support the development of federal information systems. The two standards overlap in numerous places, but they serve different purposes.

NIST 800-53 is more security control-driven, focusing strongly on federal information systems. ISO requirements are less technical, risk-focused, and appropriate for organizations of all shapes and sizes.

NIST compliance varies depending on the complexity of your infrastructure and the level of compliance being sought. As an estimate, most organizations pay $5,000 to $15,000 for a NIST assessment. Beyond that, costs for remediation range from $35,000 to $115,000.

Here are a few questions that might help you determine whether your organization should be concerned about compliance:

  • Is your software’s access to Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) controlled and adequately isolated?
  • Is the CUI controlled? The physical location of the CUI, the internet network, authentication factors, and infrastructure all ensure that the CUI is only available to authorized persons.
  • Does your system employ extensive information technology practices?
  • Are backups maintained?

Here are some of the benefits of using NIST compliance software.

  • Automates compliance assessment: NIST software automates these operations, allowing faster, more precise compliance. This saves businesses considerable amounts of time and resources.
  • Monitoring compliance posture around the clock: NIST compliance software allows businesses to spot hazards, misses, or misconfigurations while delivering real-time notifications for speedier reaction times.
  • Gets you audit-ready: The software streamlines the NIST compliance strategy, ensuring you have completed all the critical stages required to become audit-ready. A NIST platform facilitates internal audits by collecting and presenting evidence so auditors can easily consume and accept it.
  • Streamlines personnel procedures: A NIST compliance tool can help you develop and implement awareness and training initiatives.