How Can NIST 800-171 Help Reduce Risk?

The NIST 800-171 standard is a set of requirements that helps organizations that work with controlled unclassified information

(CUI) better manage their data so they can reduce the risk of compromising sensitive information. In short, it’s a compliance requirement from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), one of four organizations under the U.S. Department of Commerce.

At its most basic level, compliance with NIST 800-171 helps businesses protect sensitive information in many ways:

• From the moment data is born, it begins to age and requires regular monitoring for threats

and exposure. With annual reviews by third-party firms that are trained in the NIST standard, data maintained in a compliant environment is easier to identify and protect.

• A standardized process for marking, labeling and tracking data ensures that if the need to share it with third parties,

outside agencies or within your organization arises, your business can ensure the right people have the right access at the right times.

• Controlling what security data is stored on which devices helps limit the risk of unauthorized access by outside forces or malicious insiders.

The overall goal of NIST 800-171 is to ensure that organizations effectively protect sensitive information entrusted to them, reducing the risk of data breaches, financial losses and the reputational damage associated with compromised information. The standard also establishes a means to measure an organization’s data protection capabilities so they can improve upon their current processes and better protect their information.

Information is a valuable resource, and it is crucial that businesses safeguard the data they have carefully accumulated. With federal enforcement of NIST 800-171 imminent, now is the time to get on board with the standard or risk facing possible fines and legal ramifications.

What types of businesses need NIST 800-171?

Any organization that performs work for the U.S. government or holds more than $50,000 in federal contracts has to comply with NIST 800-171 and protect their sensitive information accordingly, regardless of what industry they work in. Other organizations must also implement the standard if they are required to by law or are subject to its enforcement.

The NIST 800-171 standard applies not only to government agencies, but also businesses that perform work for the U.S. government or receive federal funds in some way, which affects many organizations across all sectors of the economy. Some examples of companies that have to comply with NIST 800-171 include –

• Healthcare – Healthcare organizations have to comply with HIPAA regulations, and those seeking federal funding must also be compliant with NIST 800-171.

• IT – Organizations holding sensitive data on government networks or maintaining systems that serve the public need to follow NIST guidelines for protecting it.

• Telecommunications – Companies that offer telecommunications services to agencies and divisions within the U.S. government, such as internet service providers or cell phone networks, must abide by NIST 800-171 data protection standards.

• Education – Organizations that work with education grant programs from the government also need to be in compliance with NIST 800-171.

What risks are businesses facing if they don’t have NIST 800-171?

With the looming deadline for compliance, organizations must take steps immediately to become compliant with the latest federal data protection guidelines.

The consequences of noncompliance can be costly as well as embarrassing, putting sensitive company information at risk of exposure and financial damage. Many government agencies have already begun to enforce NIST 800-171 standards, with the Department of Defense being one of the first organizations to do so.

If an organization does not comply with NIST 800-171 by the deadline, they are subject to potential fines and legal action. The enforcement process can be complicated, but it typically involves four steps –

• Notification of noncompliance

• 30 day time period to become compliant

• A follow-up evaluation that may result in a civil penalty from $500 to more than $150,000 depending on the severity of the violation

• A final review and determination by the department head or designee regarding civil penalties related to the infractions

NIST 800-171 will help companies better protect their information and avoid costly fines and legal action. By implementing NIST guidelines for data security, organizations can reduce the risk of breaches and increase their overall protection strategies. With less sensitive information to worry about, businesses can be more productive and efficient with their time and resources.

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