Difference Between NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Feb 22, 2024

NIST 800-53 vs NIST 800-171

If you’re a government contractor, the burden of demonstrating compliance and implementing certain mandatory resource requirements may seem overwhelming. You’re certainly not alone in this.

Organizations that process government contractors are often mandated to become compliant with NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171 among NIST CSF, but which one of the two should your organization become compliant with? What’s the rationale for picking either or all standards? Let’s dive deeper into their specifications differences and see how either or all of them can help you with your compliance needs.

The NIST Special Publication (SP) 800 series was initiated in December 1990 with a mission to safeguard the IT systems of the U.S. federal government. However, organizations outside the purview of federal circles have found the NIST special publication valuable in their security efforts.

What are NIST 800 53 and 800 171?

NIST 800 53 and 800 171 are both continuously updated frameworks that help protect personal information and sensitive data from malicious attacks aiming to obtain unauthorized access. NIST 800 53 is for federal companies, while NIST 800-171 can be applied to non-federal systems.

Let’s look at the core definition of both of these publications:

NIST 800-53 vs NIST 800-171
NIST 800 53NIST 800 171
NIST SP 800-53 was created with protocols and safeguards designed for federal information systems. It  details security and privacy rules for these systems, covering access controls measures, auditing, and risk management. These rules are grouped into 20 families with over 1000 specific rules. It’s your complete handbook for info security, telling you what to do and how to do it.NIST SP 800-171 controls are meant for non-federal organizations that handle Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). It sets the basic security rules to keep CUI safe. CUI is not considered top-secret data but still needs protection, like financial records, export-related info, and specific personal data.

If you want to know more about the set of controls present in NIST 800 53, download the resource below:

NIST 800 53 vs NIST 800 171

NIST 800 53 vs NIST 800-171 are both frameworks that may contain personal information and other sensitive data. The primary difference lies in their scope—NIST 800-171 is applicable to non-federal systems and organizations, whereas NIST 800-53 is designed specifically for federal organizations.

In this section below, we’ll break down each publication and highlight the differences between NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171:

NIST 800 53 NIST 800 171
ScopeNIST 800-53 covers security controls for federal information systemsFocuses on more nuanced security requirements for non-federal systems who handle Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)
Number of ControlsNIST 800-53 has over 1000 security controlsThis has 110 security requirements for now. And despite the scope difference, both frameworks have similar controls covering a range of security needs
AudienceNIST 800-53 targets companies within federal information ecosystemsNIST 800-171 is for those dealing with CUI on behalf of the federal government
ImplementationNIST 800-53 is obligatory for federal agenciesCompliance here is optional for non-federal entities. Of course this is exempt when you are handling CUI for the federal government under the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS)
Level of detailNIST 800-53 offers more detailed security controls and guidanceNIST 800-171 demands adherence for  high-level security requirements
Consequences of non-complianceCompanies processing federal information can be levied heavy penalties when Non-compliance with NIST 800-53 is confirmedFor non-federal entities, following the NIST 800-171 is typically contract-dependent. Non-compliance can result in the loss of government contracts or legal action
Risk managementNIST 800-53 gives you a complete set of risk management rules. It covers the risk management framework that includes risk assessment and  effective risk managementIn contrast, NIST 800-171 compliance mandates a narrower set of rules for risk management
Impact on cybersecurityBoth frameworks can help a company’s cybersecurity posture. Compliance can also demonstrate commitment to cybersecurity to customers and stakeholders

Similarities between NIST 800 53 and NIST 800 171

Both NIST 171 vs 53 from NIST CSF are similar in using the risk management framework as a solid foundation to pave the path for implementing consistent and repeatable security measures. They help evaluate your cybersecurity posture and choose efficient security standards designed to withstand cybersecurity risks.

And the similarities extend to continuous monitoring too.

NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171 require ongoing monitoring to ensure additional controls stay strong over time. This includes regular checks to see if additional controls work well, spot any gaps, and take action to fix security risks.

While these two NIST publications safeguard data, they cater to different groups and vary in scope, detail, and use. If your business deals with federal info, look to NIST 800-171 for compliance gaps. If you operate or use federal contract info systems, then NIST 800-53 is your go-to for security controls and tightening the security posture of federal information systems.


The smart move is to combine NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171 to build robust cybersecurity measures. This way, you get a full set of advice to create a solid privacy controls foundation that complies with federal law or government-wide policy and expands your business scope.

Which One Should You Choose?

Both NIST 800-171 and NIST 800-53 aim to boost data protection efficiency and cybersecurity prowess for organizations dealing with sensitive data. But they’re not one-size-fits-all solutions; they are built for different use cases and cater to the needs of different audiences, from non-federal organizations to federal agencies.

  • To summarize, NIST 800-171 is mainly for a wide range of government contractors working with federal government agencies, while NIST 800-53 is designed for federal agencies and larger organizations.
  • Implementing NIST security guidelines can be puzzling, especially when the outcome is mapped to your organization’s compliance posture. Working with compliance partners to expedite this journey helps, and businesses today rely on compliance automation tools for this.
  • These tools automate repeatable compliance activities and minimize human intervention significantly. This reduces the time to implement access control requirements from 3-6 months to 2-4 weeks. And for NIST, Sprinto stands out to help you build a solid security program.

It simplifies the compliance process, monitors entity-level controls, alerts you of instances that could negatively impact your compliance posture, recommends a wide range of best practices, and helps maintain a secure business environment.

That’s not all; it’s built to scale with continuous monitoring. Sprinto’s tech suite is designed to help organizations get NIST 800-53 compliance with multiple security requirements without effort duplication.

For example, the foundation laid during a NIST compliance journey can be used when becoming compliant with SOC 2, ISO 27001, or GDPR. The common control families will remain, and the delta is added; this saves time, effort, and operational expense.

Clients and federal agencies have aligned their systems with the latest cybersecurity control families while maintaining focus on their business goals.

If you’re ready to start your NIST 800-53 or NIST 800-171 or want to implement both at once, compliance experts are here to help contact our security champs, and let’s get started.


What is the difference between NIST 800 172 and 171?

The difference between NIST 800 172 and NIST 171 is the scope of application. The former adds another level of protection for federal government programs for CUI. At the same time, the latter provides additional access control measures to protect CUI.

What is the difference between NIST 171 and 53?

NIST 800-53 is your go-to if you operate with federal institutions. But if you’re a non-federal agency or contractor handling Controlled Unclassified Information, NIST 800-171 is the one you should follow for control assessments.

What is the latest version of NIST 800-53?

The latest update is in the 800-53 Rev. 5 to ISO/IEC 27001 mapping, and it now aligns with the 2022 edition of ISO/IEC 27001. This update was made in July 2023 to improve the guidance on security control for cybersecurity professionals.

What is the difference between NIST 800-53 and NIST 800 53A?

NIST 800-53A is an add-on to NIST 800-53. It’s there to give cloud service providers and private companies guidance on security control when assessing the additional controls set out by NIST 800-53.

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Meeba, an ISC2-certified cybersecurity specialist, passionately decodes and delivers impactful content on compliance and complex digital security matters. Adept at transforming intricate concepts into accessible insights, she’s committed to enlightening readers. Off the clock, she can be found with her nose in the latest thriller novel or exploring new haunts in the city.

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