What is NIST 800-53? (Complete Guide)

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

May 28, 2023

NIST 800-53

Recent data from Lloyds Insurance Marketplace reveals that cyber attacks cost businesses a staggering $400 billion annually. Moreover, these attacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated, posing a severe risk to companies of all sizes and across all industries. 

To combat this, an executive order was recently signed, which mandates agencies to manage cybersecurity risks effectively. This reinforced the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) of 2014 giving birth to NIST 800-53. 

To ensure maximum security, it is essential to implement cybersecurity frameworks, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-171, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations, and SP 800-53, Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations. 

If you want to learn more about NIST SP 800-53, join us as we provide you with a complete guide to understanding and implementing this cybersecurity framework.

What is NIST 800-53?

NIST 800 53: NIST 800 53 are a set of controls carefully curated by the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL). These controls provide a comprehensive framework for safeguarding sensitive data against various threats, ranging from natural disasters to malicious attacks.

What is NIST 800-53

NIST 800-53 is a security compliance standard with a list of controls that highlights the creation of a safe and secure federal information system. The controls in the standard are technical, operational, and management related to maintaining confidentiality, availability and integrity. This standard was born out of a necessity to combat the developing technological capabilities of national adversaries, and it’s a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Institute of Standards in Technology.

But wait, what exactly is NIST 800-53? Well, it’s a set of controls carefully curated by the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL). These controls provide a comprehensive framework for safeguarding sensitive data against various threats, ranging from natural disasters to malicious attacks.

Now, here’s the kicker – NIST 800-53 is required for all U.S. federal information systems, except for those related to national security. And the best part? It’s technology-neutral, meaning that it can be taken up by any company operating an information system with sensitive or regulated data. 

You need to note that NIST 800-53 isn’t just for the government; it’s a tool that any organization can use to bolster its security posture.

What is the purpose of NIST 800 53?

The purpose of NIST SP 800-53 is to enhance the security posture of information systems utilized by the federal government. The purpose of NIST is to furnish guidelines in the form of a catalog of controls, which facilitate the development of secure information systems.

The process takes you through categorizing your information system at a low, medium, or high-security level. With these categories, you compare the NIST 800-53’s security catalog and determine which applies to your firm.

However, the core components of NIST are divided into five areas:

components of NIST 800-53

Each area of focus is chock-full of activities that work together to keep your systems secure. And these activities are not just your average, run-of-the-mill tasks – they’re the leading information security practices and incident response plans that’ll help you stay ahead of the game.

Also check out: A detailed guide on NIST Compliance

Who needs to comply with NIST 800 53?

All U.S. based contractors and federal government agencies are required to comply with the rules of NIST 800 53. However, this does not stop state or private organizations from using it as their security control framework.

This is because you can’t manage what you can’t measure. What does that mean? Well, simply put, if you’re unaware of the systems on your network or if you’re caught off-guard by unexpected admin accounts or abnormal applications, you lack a baseline from which to manage your network.

So, what’s the solution, you ask? It’s all about visibility. NIST 800 53 will serve as a bird’s eye view of your network, down to the tiniest details. This level of visibility is not just important; it’s absolutely required. With it, you’ll be able to manage your system effectively.

And to effectively do this, you need a compliance automation platform like Sprinto. Get a demo here to know how Sprinto can help you.

How to implement the NIST 800 53 framework?

NIST 800-53 says to deploy strong security assessment tools to understand the real-time security posture of your organization. A tool like Sprinto measures the effectiveness of your security measures and suggests system improvements based on evidence collected.

Here are the 5 steps to implement NIST 800 53 framework in your organization:

Implementation of NIST 800-53 framework

Setting the stage for success

Congratulations on taking the first step toward implementing the NIST Framework! The key to achieving success is establishing a clear set of goals for data security. Ask yourself questions like, “What are your risk tolerance levels?” or “Where should you prioritize protection?” By creating a set of goals, you can create a plan of action, define the scope of your security efforts, and ensure everyone in your organization is on the same page.

Assessing your current position

The next step is to assess your organization’s cybersecurity efforts through a detailed risk assessment. This provides valuable insights into which of your current efforts meet NIST standards and what needs to be improved. You can use open source or hire a cybersecurity specialist to assess thoroughly.

Customizing it 

The NIST Framework provides voluntary guidelines applicable to a wide range of industries. However, each business is unique and requires a tailored approach. Creating a profile outlining your needs ensures the framework is tailored to your organization’s requirements. Utilizing the Implementation Tiers can elevate your organization’s cybersecurity measures from reactive to proactive.

Identifying gaps and creating an action plan

Communicate the findings from the risk assessment with key stakeholders to determine vulnerabilities and threats to your operations, assets, and individuals. Use the results to conduct a gap analysis and prioritize which areas need to be addressed first. This will form the basis of your action plan.

Implementing and continuously improving

Now it’s time to put the NIST Framework into action. However, it’s important to note that implementation is just the beginning. Continuous monitoring and improvement are necessary to ensure the framework is customized to your business’s needs. Keep iterating and improving to stay ahead of the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape.

Check out the difference between NIST vs ISO 27001

What are the NIST 800-53 security controls?

These are the security controls in NIST 800-53 you need to be aware of. Take a look:

  • Access control
  • Audit and accountability
  • Awareness and training
  • Configuration management
  • Assessment, authorization, and monitoring
  • Identification and authentication
  • Incident response
  • Maintenance
  • Media protection
  • Personnel security
  • Physical and environmental protection
  • Planning
  • Risk assessment
  • System and services acquisition
  • System and information integrity
  • System and communications protection
  • Program management
  • PII processing and transparency
  • Supply chain risk management

Benefits of NIST 800-53

The benefits of NIST 800-53 is plenty. Here is the list of benefits you need to know about NIST 800 53: 

Experience superior and unbiased cybersecurity

The NIST CSF is a voluntary approach representing the collective wisdom of thousands of information security professionals, making it the most comprehensive, in-depth set of framework controls. When you harness this crowd-based wisdom, you can fill in blind spots you didn’t know existed and gain an understanding of your company’s security needs.

Enable long-term risk management

With the framework, you can wave goodbye to the outdated mindset of one-off audit compliance and risk assessment and instead embrace a more adaptive and responsive posture toward managing cybersecurity risk. The right tools can help you easily adopt a continuous compliance approach, enabling you to respond and recover swiftly and effectively.

Bridge the gap between stakeholders

The NIST comes from a risk-based approach, which executives can relate to. This approach fosters better communication and decision-making throughout your organization, with security budgets better justified and allocated. Adopting this framework develops a common language for business and technical stakeholders, facilitating improved communication from practitioners to the Board and CEO.

Embrace flexibility and adaptability

Given its risk-based, outcomes-driven approach, the NIST is the most flexible framework. Many industries have successfully adopted it like sizable critical infrastructure in energy, transportation, and finance. This also includes small and medium-sized businesses. Being a voluntary framework, it is customizable, and with the core functions and implementation tiers, it offers an easy-to-grasp blueprint that speeds up ongoing guidance.

Prepare for the future 

As regulations and laws change, the NIST provides reliable security measures for building and iterating cybersecurity programs. New regulations and standards like NYDFS (23 NYCRR 500) use the framework as a foundation for compliance guidelines. And this trend is expected to continue across all industries.

Make the NIST CSF a cornerstone of your cybersecurity program

Managing cybersecurity is a Board- and CEO-level issue. This is why the NIST serves as a powerful asset for cybersecurity practitioners. Its flexibility and adaptability make it a cost-effective way for you to approach cybersecurity and create a company-wide conversation around cyber risk and compliance.

This framework is an asset for practitioners and an important part of the bridge between technical- and business-side stakeholders. It paves the way for a future where security is at your company’s agenda.

What’s next?

Are you looking to achieve NIST 800 53 framework compliance for your organization? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Let our team of experts take you through the process with ease. Sprinto’s cutting-edge automated security platform provides you with a centralized resource to streamline and monitor your compliance strategy, every step of the way. 

Say goodbye to manual and disjointed efforts, and say hello to a seamless compliance journey with Sprinto. Interested in learning more about our NIST 800-53 compliance guide? Connect with us today.


What data does NIST SP 800-53 protect?

NIST SP 800-53 safeguards information systems against diverse threats, such as cybersecurity incidents, privacy breaches, and malicious attacks.

What does NIST SP 800-53 cover?

NIST 800-53 is a set of guidelines that outlines the controls required to develop secure and resilient federal information systems. These controls comprise operational, technical, and management standards that are vital for maintaining information systems’ confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

What are the 5 core functions of NIST?

The 5 core functions of NIST are:

  • Identify
  • Protect
  • Detect
  • Respond
  • Recover
Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Meeba is a content marketer who is ISC2 certified in cybersecurity. She is passionate about delivering impactful and authoritative content and strives to bridge the gap between complex cybersecurity concepts and the wider audience. In her free time, she can be found with her nose in a thriller novel or exploring new places in the city.

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