Comparing FedRAMP and NIST: What’s the Difference?

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Jun 24, 2024

Fedramp vs nist

Federal government contracts are vastly different from corporate ones. They have distinct control requirements and measures that need to be kept pace to safeguard sensitive data. 

Not obtaining certain certifications can be a non-starter for companies in the public sector looking to obtain government contracts. And with each one having its own set of rules, CISOs quickly find out just how challenging it can be to navigate this space. 

For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on two such frameworks—NIST 800-53 and FedRAMP. Read on to learn about the key differences between FedRAMP and NIST 800-53 and how to pick between the two.

NIST 800-53 Overview

NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Special Publication 800-53 recommends security and privacy controls for federal systems under FISMA rules. It was first published in 2005 and has been revised several times to adapt to evolving cybersecurity threats and technologies.

The creation of SP 800-53 involved a collaborative effort with contributions from various sectors, including defense, intelligence, civil government, cybersecurity experts, and organizations.

In simple terms, it’s a detailed guide to cybersecurity that covers topics such as who can access what, how to handle problems and system setup.

The guide is part of NIST’s 800 series, covering crucial information system security elements. Even though the framework was initially created with federal systems in mind, it has since been updated for non-federal systems.

Background on controls

NIST SP 800-53 consists of 20 different security control groups categorized into 20 families or areas of operation. Among controls, monitoring for unauthorized access, responses to incidents, and configuration management are some areas it covers.

These guidelines, part of the 800 series of NIST Special Publications, deal with computer security and cybersecurity. Initially used solely in federal information systems, the new versions also cover non-federal systems.

What is FedRAMP? 

FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program) is a framework that defines the level of risk associated with cloud services used by U.S. federal agencies. In simple terms, FedRAMP enables you to use contemporary cloud technologies, prioritizing security and safeguarding federal information.

It focuses on three main areas: security processes that include but are not limited to authorization, security assessment, and monitoring.

The mission of FedRAMP is to shape a uniform and durable cloud security for the administration of the United States. This can help cloud products have security standards that meet specific requirements and free the market for cloud services for a mature environment. This encourages government agencies to use cloud services more widely and fosters collaboration by sharing insights and solutions across the government.

How is FedRAMP connected to NIST 800-53?

FedRAMP is connected to NIST 800-53 because as FedRAMP simplifies the security assessment process for Cloud Service Providers, CSPs need to follow the security controls and enhancements set out in NIST Special Publication 800-53. 

Moreover, the NIST CSF advises using threat intelligence to spot, stop, and handle cyber threats better. On the other hand, FedRAMP needs cloud service providers to offer ongoing monitoring reports to inform federal agencies about security concerns.

For example, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company operates from a single centralized data center or hosting facility. As a result, all users of this SaaS platform benefit from the same level of physical security measures in place at that facility. This uniformity greatly reduces the risk for all users. 

On the other hand, when different government agencies acquire this SaaS solution, each agency is tasked with setting up and maintaining its own secure password protocols. This decentralized approach ensures that each agency can tailor their password controls to meet its specific security needs effectively.

In other words, FedRAMP uses NIST 800-53 as its guideline so that cloud services meet federal security standards.

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Comparative analysis on FedRAMP vs NIST 800-53

ElementsFedRAMPNIST 800-53
ScopeFedRAMP provides a steady way to check, approve, and monitor CSPs to ensure they meet top-notch security standards.
The NIST 800-53 standards aim to secure federal information systems. They offer a detailed framework for federal agencies and organizations handling federal information to establish and uphold strong security controls.
SuitabilityFedRAMP rules apply to all federal agencies using CSPs to handle federal information, from collection to disposal.US-based contractors and federal agencies are required to follow NIST 800-53. Even though it’s mandated for them, many state and private sectors adopt it as their security control framework.
Security controlsThe FedRAMP framework tells CSPs which security controls to use and how to show they’re using them. These controls match up with the NIST 800-53 guidelines.NIST controls help strengthen a company’s cybersecurity, risk management, and information protection.
Continuous monitoringContinuous monitoring is a key principle emphasized by NIST 800-53. It involves ongoing surveillance to detect security vulnerabilities, threats, and incidents.FedRAMP mandates that CSPs use continuous monitoring to maintain compliance with security standards over time.

Crucial requirements of NIST 800-53 & FEDRAMP

NIST 800-53 and FedRAMP have essential requirements to ensure robust cybersecurity. 

NIST 800-53

NIST SP 800-53 offers a set of controls to help build secure and resilient federal information systems. These controls cover operational, technical, and management standards that ensure information systems maintain confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

The controls are broken—low, moderate, and high, split into 18 families. The NIST SP 800-53 security control families are:

  • Access Control
  • Awareness and Training
  • Audit and Accountability
  • Contingency Planning
  • Configuration Management
  • Identification and Authentication
  • Incident Response
  • Maintenance
  • Media Protection
  • Personnel Security
  • Physical and Environmental Protection
  • Planning
  • Risk Assessment
  • Program Management
  • Security Assessment and Authorization
  • System and Communications Protection
  • System and Information Integrity
  • System and Services Acquisition

FedRAMP

Here are the requirements of FedRAMP:

  • FedRAMP requires companies to have a federal agency sponsor to get through the authorization process. Without a Federal sponsor, a company cannot apply for FedRAMP.
  • FedRAMP categorizes Cloud Service Offering (CSO) into one of three security profile levels: low, moderate, and high, depending on the data your organization stores and processes. Your sponsor must determine which category would apply to you, given the nature of your services. Usually, companies are categorized as either high or medium-risk.
  • The number of controls to be implemented would be ~325 (for Medium risk) or ~500 (for High-risk vendors).
  • 3PAO stands for third-party assessment organization in FedRAMP. They check your cybersecurity and make a Readiness Assessment Report (RAR) for you.

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How does NIST 800-53 work with FedRAMP?

FedRAMP and NIST 800-53 complement each other in the journey toward achieving federal compliance requirements or securing a government contractor.

Security controls

NIST 800-53FedRAMP
This framework provides a detailed catalog of security controls and guidelines applicable to federal information systems. It covers various aspects such as access control, encryption, incident response, etc.FedRAMP adopts the controls outlined in NIST 800-53 as its framework’s baseline. This ensures that CSPs adhere to security standards when seeking FedRAMP authorization for federal use.

Assessment and Authorization

NIST 800-53FedRAMP
Organizations leverage NIST 800-53 guidelines to implement and maintain these controls within their systems. This preparation helps them align with FedRAMP requirements and undergo successful assessmentsThe FedRAMP program focuses on assessing and authorizing cloud services for federal agencies. It evaluates CSPs against the additional controls defined in NIST 800-53.

Continuous Monitoring:

NIST 800-53FedRAMP
Continuous monitoring is a key principle emphasized by NIST 800-53. It involves ongoing surveillance to detect security vulnerabilities, threats, and incidents.FedRAMP mandates CSPs to implement continuous monitoring practices to ensure ongoing compliance with security requirements. 

FedRAMP: Plan of Action and Milestones

Both frameworks utilize a Plan of Action and Milestones (POA&M) to address gaps between required controls and current security implementations. 

Organizations identify areas for improvement, prioritize remediation efforts, and track progress toward compliance.

And moreover, if you are an organization with an existing infosec program looking to enhance it with automation without changing your current controls, Sprinto is here to help.

Sprinto’s platform lets you set up and map your controls across different frameworks. This lets you keep using your established security program but with automated monitoring and easier evidence collection.

You can “bring your own controls” into Sprinto and create a new framework customized to your company’s needs. 

Ready to get started?

Meeting U.S. government security standards like FedRAMP and NIST 800-53 requires an investment but unlocks opportunities for valuable government contracts. One of the major challenges is the diversity of frameworks and standards that government agencies may require. 

Each agency may have its own security controls based on frameworks like NIST SP 800-53, FedRAMP, or others. Keeping track of these requirements and ensuring compliance across the board can be significant, especially for organizations with limited resources or expertise in government contracting.

The next step is clear if your team prioritizes data security and wants to avoid cybersecurity pitfalls and data privacy breaches. Implement NIST SP 800-53 and FedRAMP as your standards, and partner with Sprinto for solutions. This combination will bolster your organization’s security and minimize duplicative efforts.

Sprinto provides automated evidence collection, expert support, and continuous monitoring, significantly reducing audit times from weeks or months to just days.

FAQs

What is the difference between NIST 800 – 171 vs FedRAMP?

NIST SP 800-171 requirements cover about 35% of the broader NIST SP 800-53 controls needed for FedRAMP compliance. CSPs who aim to offer services to government agencies must meet FedRAMP standards to get their Authority to Operate.

What are the security requirements of FedRAMP?

CSPs need to follow security rules from NIST Special Publication 800-53. This guide lists all the security controls and statements CSPs should use in their systems. It covers things like who can access what, how to handle problems, and making sure systems and info are safe and sound.

How does FedRAMP map to NIST controls?

CSPs need to show they meet these security requirements from NIST, which include areas like who can access things, what to do if there’s a problem, and keeping systems and info safe.

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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