What Exactly Is NIST?

Our team has recently received several inquiries on NIST: What is it, and how can you stay compliant?

What Exactly Is NIST?

Our team has recently received several inquiries on NIST: What is it, and how can you stay compliant?

The acronym NIST stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency residing within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Congress founded it in the early 90s to preside over the harnessing of science and technology to improve living standards. NIST has been vocal in advocating fair play and healthy competition in these two fields.

So, how is this relevant to your business? Don’t worry; we’ll get to that in a few. First, here’s a brief video to get us started:

Why Is NIST Important For Your York or Gettysburg Business?

When the internet and computers were invented, nobody knew that they’d become such an indispensable part of our daily interactions. The government soon saw that it was necessary to define standard best practices for the creation, dissemination, and usage of these technologies. NIST was the authoritative body tasked to oversee this process, given its background in science and technology.

Since then, the agency has formulated over 1300 Standard Reference Materials (SRMs). However, the most common one — which is also our focus today — is NIST 800-171. Quite often, we simply say NIST to refer to NIST 800-171. This Standard gives the agency power over the allocation and control of unclassified government information held by non-governmental institutions.

An excerpt from the official NIST website reads, “Congress has given NIST responsibility to disseminate consistent, clear, concise, and actionable resources to small businesses.” Going by NIST’s past activities, we could as well interpret this to mean organizations of all sizes. Essentially, any establishment that works directly or indirectly with the government must be NIST compliant. However, this does not mean that the concept is irrelevant for institutions that don’t trade with the government. In business, we say no knowledge is bad knowledge.

How Can You Stay NIST Compliant?

First, let’s start by defining Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). These are any official government information that is not necessarily classified but is still considered relevant and critical. A good example is architectural sketches of government buildings or official blueprints of projects like railway lines. Private entities can always request access to this information for individual consumption. When the government entrusts your business with such data, you are expected to keep it off the wrong hands.

NIST 800-171 seeks to protect the CUI’s integrity and privacy in private institutions’ custody. It mandates you to:

  • Isolate, categorize, and encrypt all the Controlled Unclassified Information within your organization.
  • Implement robust control and access measures for all the CUI in your possession.
  • Deploy a reliable monitoring system with unabated visibility into the CUI databases. It should also record all the access attempts (denied and successful) and login activities, i.e., which user accessed what information?
  • Finally, you must regularly train your employees on NIST 800-171 compliance requirements and how to protect all the CUI in your custody.

NIST compliance, just like any other concept in IT and data security, is both sophisticated and straightforward. Many small and medium-sized businesses often prefer outsourcing NIST compliance management from more experienced service providers like TREYSTA Technology Management.

Can You Manage NIST Compliance With Your In-house Team?

The simple answer Is — it depends. Established businesses with seasoned IT professionals can opt to manage this process internally. They may just seek help when they’re due for audits or to fix mistakes identified by auditors. For small and medium-sized businesses, it’s cheaper and more effective to outsource this service.

TREYSTA Technology Management helps you effectively manage NIST compliance at just a fraction of your in-house IT budget. We’ve been the go-to compliance and other IT services provider in York or Gettysburg since 1995.

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