The ultimate guide to NIST 800-171
November 30, 2022

The ultimate guide to NIST 800-171

While the world of information security has many standards and frameworks that are widely used, there are also standards that are more specialized. If you’re just hearing about NIST 800-171 for the first time, you’re not out of the loop. This guide will help you determine if you need NIST 800-171, and if so, how to move forward.

What is NIST 800-171?

NIST 800-171 is a special publication of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is a detailed list of security controls that can be used to protect sensitive information. Specifically, this standard is designed to protect controlled unclassified information (CUI) that is handled by contractors hired by the federal government.

The US federal government defines CUI as sensitive, but not classified, information that is controlled and owned by the government. While it’s not critical enough to be classified, CUI can still have economic or national security consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. NIST 800-171 is designed to keep it safe.

Who needs NIST 800-171 compliance?

NIST 800-171 is a legally mandated framework. By law, any contractor that is hired by any US federal agency, and is handling CUI in its network, must be NIST 800-171 compliant. This is part of the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) which took effect in 2017. If you hope to win federal contracts, attaining NIST 800-171 compliance will allow you to bring on those contracts smoothly.

What are the NIST 800-171 controls?

In total, there are 110 controls that are required in the NIST 800-171 framework. They are divided into 14 categories:

  • Access control
  • Awareness and training
  • Audit and accountability
  • Configuration management
  • Identification and authentication
  • Incident response
  • Maintenance
  • Media protection
  • Personnel security
  • Physical protection
  • Risk assessment
  • Security assessment
  • System and communications protection
  • System and information integrity

Each of these categories plays a role in creating a thoroughly protected information system that can keep your CUI safe.

What is the current version of NIST 800-171?

Like many government regulations, NIST 800-171 has gone through changes and iterations over time. As of the publication of this blog, the currently enforced version of NIST 800-171 is Revision 2, which was released in February 2020.

What does it mean to be NIST 800-171 compliant?

There is no formal third-party audit or certification for NIST 800-171 compliance. Instead, you’re responsible for verifying your ongoing compliance with a self-assessment. If you don’t maintain your compliance, and it is found that you’re not in compliance, especially if this comes to light because of an information breach, you could face fines, lawsuits, and loss of government contracts.

What is the best way to become NIST 800-171 compliant?

Vanta’s automated compliance platform conducts an assessment of your information system to determine which NIST 800-171 controls you already have in place. From there, our platform gives you a detailed report of any NIST 800-171 controls you need to implement to reach compliance. 

Vanta was designed by knowledgeable experts to help you achieve compliance smoothly and as swiftly as possible. If you’re ready to get started, sign up for a Vanta demo to learn more about our innovative platform.

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Access Review Stage Content / Functionality
Across all stages
  • Easily create and save a new access review at a point in time
  • View detailed audit evidence of historical access reviews
Setup access review procedures
  • Define a global access review procedure that stakeholders can follow, ensuring consistency and mitigation of human error in reviews
  • Set your access review frequency (monthly, quarterly, etc.) and working period/deadlines
Consolidate account access data from systems
  • Integrate systems using dozens of pre-built integrations, or “connectors”. System account and HRIS data is pulled into Vanta.
  • Upcoming integrations include Zoom and Intercom (account access), and Personio (HRIS)
  • Upload access files from non-integrated systems
  • View and select systems in-scope for the review
Review, approve, and deny user access
  • Select the appropriate systems reviewer and due date
  • Get automatic notifications and reminders to systems reviewer of deadlines
  • Automatic flagging of “risky” employee accounts that have been terminated or switched departments
  • Intuitive interface to see all accounts with access, account accept/deny buttons, and notes section
  • Track progress of individual systems access reviews and see accounts that need to be removed or have access modified
  • Bulk sort, filter, and alter accounts based on account roles and employee title
Assign remediation tasks to system owners
  • Built-in remediation workflow for reviewers to request access changes and for admin to view and manage requests
  • Optional task tracker integration to create tickets for any access changes and provide visibility to the status of tickets and remediation
Verify changes to access
  • Focused view of accounts flagged for access changes for easy tracking and management
  • Automated evidence of remediation completion displayed for integrated systems
  • Manual evidence of remediation can be uploaded for non-integrated systems
Report and re-evaluate results
  • Auditor can log into Vanta to see history of all completed access reviews
  • Internals can see status of reviews in progress and also historical review detail

PCI Compliance Selection Guide

Determine Your PCI Compliance Level

If your organization processes, stores, or transmits cardholder data, you must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a global mandate created by major credit card companies. Compliance is mandatory for any business that accepts credit card payments.

When establishing strategies for implementing and maintaining PCI compliance, your organization needs to understand what constitutes a Merchant or Service Provider, and whether a Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) or Report on Compliance (ROC) is most applicable to your business.

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Identify your PCI SAQ or ROC level

The PCI Security Standards Council has established the below criteria for Merchant and Service Provider validation. Use these descriptions to help determine the SAQ or ROC that best applies to your organization.

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A SAQ A is required for Merchants that do not require the physical presence of a credit card (like an eCommerce, mail, or telephone purchase). This means that the Merchant’s business has fully outsourced all cardholder data processing to PCI DSS compliant third party Service Providers, with no electronic storage, processing, or transmission of any cardholder data on the Merchant’s system or premises.

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A SAQ A-EP is similar to a SAQ A, but is a requirement for Merchants that don't receive cardholder data, but control how cardholder data is redirected to a PCI DSS validated third-party payment processor.

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for service providers

A SAQ D includes over 200 requirements and covers the entirety of PCI DSS compliance. If you are a Service Provider, a SAQ D is the only SAQ you’re eligible to complete.

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Level 1 for service providers

A Report on Compliance (ROC) is an annual assessment that determines your organization’s ability to protect cardholder data. If you’re a Merchant that processes over six million transactions annually or a Service Provider that processes more than 300,000 transactions annually, your organization is responsible for both a ROC and an Attestation of Compliance (AOC).

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Learn more about how Vanta can help. You can also find information on PCI compliance levels at the PCI Security Standards Council website or by contacting your payment processing partner.

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