A Comparison of NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 Mandates

November 20, 2023

NIST 800-53 vs. 800-171: What’s the Difference?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology publishes handbooks, technical reports and special publications on information security subjects. The NIST Special Publication 800 series on computer security includes the NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171 mandates. Learn more about the difference between NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 and how to determine the most relevant mandate for your organization.

A Comparison of NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 Mandates Compyl

What’s the Difference Between NIST 800-53 vs 800-171?

NIST 800-53 and 800-171 apply to different types of agencies and organizations that process, store or transmit Controlled Unclassified Information. The main difference between these mandates is that NIST 800-53 covers federal systems while NIST 800-171 applies to contractors and other non-governmental organizations.

The NIST 800-53 mandate for federal agencies includes 20 families of security controls. NIST 800-53 is closely related to other government security guidelines, such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program and the Federal Information Security Management Act.

NIST 800-171 provides a cybersecurity baseline for non-federal contractors and organizations that handle CUI. This information is not classified but may include personally identifiable information, proprietary business information or intellectual data. NIST 800-171 includes 14 families of controls that are a subset of controls for the NIST 800-53 mandate.

What Is NIST 800-53 Used For?

NIST 800-53 establishes cybersecurity compliance standards for governmental information systems. This framework is flexible enough to apply to any agency or organization and is future-proof against new threats and changing regulations. 

A surface-level comparison of NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 indicates that these mandates share many controls. For example, Access Control, Awareness and Training, Audit and Accountability, Incident Response, Physical and Environmental Protection and System and Information Integrity are controls under both mandates. 

NIST 800-53 also has some unique controls. These include Assessment, Authorization, and Monitoring; Contingency Planning; Program Management; and System and Services Acquisition. There are three security control baselines for system impact levels under NIST 800-53B, as of Revision 5: low, moderate and high. A privacy control baseline also applies to this mandate regardless of impact level.

What Organizations Does NIST 800-53 Apply To?

Most federal agencies and other government organizations must comply with the NIST 800-53 mandate. In particular, organizations that have FedRAMP designation or are bound to the requirements of FISMA may also be subject to NIST 800-53.

NIST 800-53 serves as the basis for FedRAMP standards for cloud computing and federal service provisions. FISMA sets forth information security requirements for federal agencies, including the requirement that these organizations adhere to the NIST 800-53 mandate. Non-federal organizations can also benefit from referencing NIST 800-53 or 800-171 for guidance.

The main difference between NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 is the number of controls. In practice, additional controls mean that 800-53 requires a higher level of security than 800-171. These mandates provide a solid foundation for government-grade cybersecurity but are not broad enough to suffice as standalone frameworks for federal agencies, contractors or non-governmental organizations that handle CUI.

What Is NIST 800-171 Used For?

NIST 800-171 is another Special Publication that establishes a mandate for non-federal organizations, such as contractors that store, process or transmit CUI. CUI is not classified but is sensitive enough that breaches can have serious consequences. All of the controls for this mandate are also applicable under NIST 800-53, but 800-171 covers fewer control families. 

In the past, contractors and other organizations that work with CUI had to comply with NIST-171. In light of recent changes, decision-makers at organizations with contracts under the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement should consider whether to pursue compliance with NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 or Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification.

DFARS began requiring cybersecurity protocols in 2015 but did not strictly enforce these requirements. Compliance is now a critical factor. By 2025, theCybersecurity Maturity Model Certification 2.0will replace NIST-171 for organizations with contracts under DFARS. CMMC 2.0 closely aligns with the NIST 800-171 mandate and 800-172 enhanced controls.

What Organizations Does NIST 800-171 Apply To?

Organizations seeking to work with the U.S. government may need to comply with NIST 800-171 to qualify for federal contracts. This includes contractors with the Department of Defense, General Services Administration and other government agencies. Contractors under DFARS should consider certifying to CMMC 2.0. 

There are three levels of certification for CMMC 2.0. Level 1 applies to organizations that handle federal contract information. Level 2 aligns with the security requirements of NIST 800-171 and is mandatory for organizations that handle CUI. Level 3 certification for high-priority programs draws on NIST 800-171 and enhanced security requirements for protecting CUI from NIST 800-172.

Decision-makers at organizations should decide whether NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 mandates are applicable or determine whether CMMC 2.0 is more relevant. While NIST 800 series mandates are future-proof in theory, CMMC 2.0 will soon be a requirement for DFARS contracts. These requirements can apply to supply chain operations, even if organizations are not linked to federal systems.

How Can Organizations Comply With NIST Mandates?

The requirements to prove compliance with NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 mandates vary. For NIST 800-53, federal security teams perform organizational risk assessments. Self-assessments can be sufficient for NIST-171, but independent consultants can also provide impartial third-party audits. 

Both of these NIST mandates involve a large number of control families. It can be challenging for organizations that are new to adopting cybersecurity measures or smaller organizations with limited resources to comply with NIST 800-53 or 800-171. 

A centralized compliance platform that supports automation can help organizations meet the requirements of these information security mandates to obtain government contracts. Compyl supports the rigorous requirements of government-gradesecurity and privacy controlsand other relevant frameworks.

Free Security Assessment Today

When Should an Organization Comply With NIST 800-53 vs 800-171?

Federal agencies must comply with the NIST 800-53 mandate. Contractors and other non-governmental organizations that process, store or transmit CUI are subject to NIST 800-171 or CMMC 2.0. Decision-makers should determine whether NIST 800-53 vs 800-171 is the most relevant mandate and use Compyl to promote compliance through automation and continuous monitoring.Request a demoto discover how Compyl can help your organization meet its information security requirements.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the use of cookies on your device in accordance with our Privacy and Cookie policies