You hear the acronym “NIST”, for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but what does NIST have to do with your business? It’s a fair question, and one you need to understand.
The core function of NIST is to promote competition by encouraging businesses to leverage technology, with the dual goals of improving quality of life and protecting U.S. consumers and the economy. IT companies know NIST as the government oversight body that outlines technology standards and cybersecurity protocols. Most of the time when businesses refer to “NIST”, the reference is to a specific publication released in 2015 – but regularly updated – that details how controlled unclassified information (CUI) should be dealt with.
The special publication above, NIST 800-171, focuses on CUI, in digital or physical format. This information is regarded as sensitive to the interests of the United States but isn’t considered classified, like “state secrets”. In a nutshell, CUI needs protective measures in place to safeguard the information. This publication further outlines cybersecurity protection protocols for businesses that store, process, or share CUI, regardless of industry.
Compliance with NIST 800-171 standards not only means CUI is protected, but your overall data security is heightened. The major reason NIST 800-171 was defined and published was due to several large-scale data breaches that were in news reports.
Protection standards are generally divided into four areas:
If you’re already taking significant steps toward improving your cybersecurity protections, you may be already NIST 800-171 compliant – but it’s better to be sure than to become the next victim of a security vulnerability.
First, determine what data you work with that is considered CUI, including all locations where CUI is stored or accessed. If you already categorize and separate this data, you’re well on the right path. In addition to the steps in the above bullets, you’ll also want to encrypt CUI, as well as track and log all access to CUI and establish a formal training process so that access to CUI is consistent.
The bottom line is this: NIST 800-171 compliance is an involved process, but increased security for your IT systems can only benefit your business and your data. NIST 800-171 compliance provides a roadmap to protect your network, control user access, and what you need to protect CUI and add layers of security to your total technology ecosystem. Preventing data leaks is just one proactive measure toward preserving your professional reputation, your long-term viability, your relationships with customers, and so much more.
If this seems like a lot to digest, you’re not alone. Many businesses work with consultants for NIST 800-171 compliance, and for good reason. Compliance is a complex process, with consultants allowing you to focus on your core business while ensuring you reach your compliance goals.
Protect your data and your business today by becoming NIST 800-171 compliant.