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A Beginner’s Guide to NIST Compliance & the Steps Businesses Need to Comply

Every industry has a set of suggestions or guidelines that they recommend businesses follow in order to help ensure the safety and security of their products or services. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce that provides recommendations for how businesses should handle security and privacy issues.

When a company wants to go the extra mile to protect its data and customers, business owners might want to shoot for NIST compliance. By following the recommendations made by NIST, businesses can help create a stronger security posture that can better defend against cyber attacks.

What is NIST Compliance?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a set of best practices that businesses can use to manage cybersecurity risks. The framework is voluntary, but many businesses choose to adopt it because it can help them improve their cybersecurity posture and protect themselves from cyber threats.

The framework is made up of five core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. Each function contains a set of subcategories that businesses can use to guide their cybersecurity efforts.

Businesses that want to achieve NIST compliance should implement the guidelines laid out in the Cybersecurity Framework. However, it’s important to note that complying with NIST is not a one-time event. In order to stay compliant, businesses need to continuously monitor and update their cybersecurity practices.

Who Needs To Comply With NIST?

Although achieving NIST compliance isn’t mandatory for every business owner, some companies are required to follow the framework because of the sensitivity of their data.

NIST compliance standards must be met by anyone who processes, stores, or transmits potentially sensitive information for the Department of Defense (DoD), General Services Administration (GSA), NASA, and other government agencies or state agencies.”

In other words, if your business works with the government or handles sensitive data, then you might be required to comply with NIST standards.

What Does My Business Need to Do To Comply With NIST?

Every business that wants to achieve NIST compliance will need to take different steps, since the framework is voluntary and each business has unique cybersecurity needs. However, there are some general steps that all businesses can take to get started:

1. Assess your current cybersecurity posture. Here, you’ll develop a risk management assessment to find out where your company’s cybersecurity weaknesses are. Follow the NIST 800-53 publication, which gives more information on how to create a thorough risk assessment.

2. Identify which parts of the Cybersecurity Framework are relevant to your business. As we mentioned earlier, the five core functions of the framework are: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. Not every function will be applicable to every business. For example, if you have a small business with limited data, you might not need to make very detailed plans about the Recover function.

3. Review audit software. Both NIST 800-171 and 800-53 need third-party audit programs, so you might need to upgrade your software if you’re not using a compatible program.

3. Implement the guidelines laid out in the Cybersecurity Framework. This is where you’ll create a compliance management plan or in other words, your game plan. You should include each step you’d like to take to meet the NIST guidelines, as well as compliance milestones.

4. Apply for an Authorization to Operate (ATO). Without an external NIST audit of your security, you can’t receive compliance. But once you pass the audit, you can get an Authorization to Operate (ATO).

5. Monitor and update your cybersecurity practices on an ongoing basis.

Achieving NIST compliance can help businesses protect themselves from cyber threats and create a stronger security posture. By taking the time to assess their current cybersecurity posture and identify which parts of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework are relevant to their business, companies can start taking the necessary steps to protect their data and customers.

Benefits of Complying With NIST

1. Improved Cybersecurity: By following the Cybersecurity Framework, businesses can improve their overall cybersecurity posture and make it more difficult for cybercriminals to penetrate their systems.

2. Enhanced Customer Confidence: Customers are increasingly concerned about data security, and achieving NIST compliance can help businesses build trust with their customers.

3. Reduced Risk of Regulatory Fines: In some industries, failure to comply with NIST standards could result in regulatory fines. For example, the healthcare industry is subject to HIPAA regulations, and companies that fail to meet HIPAA standards can be fined up to $1.5 million.

4. Improved Business Continuity: Following the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can help businesses recover from a cyber attack more quickly and continue operating despite the disruption.

5. Access to Government Contracts: In some cases, businesses may need to achieve NIST compliance in order to bid on government contracts. For example, the US Department of Defense requires contractors to follow NIST 800-171 standards.

Brightline IT Can Help Your Business

Knowing which functions to implement and how to get started with NIST compliance can be daunting. But our team at Brightline IT is well-versed in the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and can help your business assess its current cybersecurity posture, identify gaps, and create a plan for achieving compliance.

Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your business benefit from the NIST compliance standards!