Taking Steps toward DFARS Compliance: NIST 800-171 Revision 1

By Michael Bailie • May 26, 2017

In December of 2016 the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) finalized the first revision to it’s Special Publication 800-171, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) in Systems and Organizations. The updated document, NIST SP 800-171 Revision 1 is the new standard for which government contractors who store, transmit or process CUI, are required to comply with by the December 2017 deadline for compliance.

While many of the updates are verbiage changes to clarify the defined scope of the current controls, there are two major changes that need to be noted by those who are required to adhere to the regulation.

In the original 800-171 release, Control 3.1.19 specified the requirement to encrypt CUI on mobile devices. In the updated revision, the control is amended with the additional stipulation to include mobile computing platforms. Further, mobile devices and mobile platforms are more clearly defined to include smartphones, tablets, E-readers, and notebook computers. This additional specification is intended to remove any doubt as to the scope of the control. Encryption of mobile devices and mobile computing platforms is an instrumental step to help limit a data breach as these devices are often lost or stolen. If you are interested in additional information I have covered the importance and scope of the encryption of data at rest requirements required by the 800-171 in a previous blog post.

At the time of the original release, in June of 2015, NIST SP 800-171 was published with 14 Control Families which contained 109 security controls in total. The newly released revision publication has added just one control bringing the total number to 110. This added requirement is contained in the Security Assessment Control Family (3.12) and is defined as follows:

3.12.4-  Develop, document, and periodically update system security plans that describe system boundaries, system environments of operation, how security requirements are implemented, and the relationships with or connections to other systems.

Additionally, SP 800-171 Rev 1 notes there is no prescribed format or a specified level of detail for ‘system security plans’. However, organizations must ensure the required information in Control 3.12.4 is appropriately conveyed in the plans that are developed.

Aside from the requirement being imposed to have a formally documented security plan, having such a plan is a good indicator of the maturity of your organization’s overall security program. No matter how large or small your company is, it is important to have a plan to define the security of your information assets. The plan development process will help make you think more holistically about your organization’s security and will bring the many elements of your security model to one place. This will help provide the framework for keeping your company at the desired security level required by the 800-171.

It is important to understand the new control requires the following components in a security plan:

  • Documentation of its systems and environments of operation, including boundaries
  • Description of how security measures are implemented to satisfy the controls of the regulation
  • Definition of relationships with, and/or connections to other integrated systems

While these elements meet the minimum requirements for the new control, it is imperative to recognize this is only a baseline. A security program plan is never ‘done’ per se and should be a living document. The new control further reinforces that thought by requiring organizations to ‘periodically update’ the plan. This concept is also true for the 800-171 regulation itself, shown with the release of the current revision we are discussing. The ever-changing nature of the document ensures your organization is continuously adapting to the dynamic IT environment and the associated threats that we are faced with every day.

Does your organization need assistance becoming compliant with NIST SP 800-171 before the December 2017 DFARS compliance deadline? CyberSheath has the expertise to provide you with the specialized guidance you need and deliver industry-leading solutions. We have a specialized team of Cybersecurity Professionals with proven experience to guide and assist your business in achieving compliance.

Contact us today for a FREE consultation and we’ll make sure you have a strong cybersecurity defense strategy!

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