Building a Robust Security Posture: Understanding NIST SP 800-53 Requirements

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8 months ago

A data breach can be a very dangerous experience, especially if it happens to federal organizations that deal with important information concerning the United States. To safeguard this information from data breaches, among other security concerns, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed the NIST Special Publication 800-53 original version in 2005.

We are living in a world that has increased dependency on technology. You need to note that the risk of data breaches increases as technology advances. That’s why organizations must build a robust posture that enhances the security of their data, assets and systems from vulnerabilities and threats. The NIST 800-53 is one of the most effective frameworks for establishing and maintaining information security. In this article, we focus on understanding NIST SP 800-53 requirements.

Get Familiar With the Document

You need to obtain the NIST SP 800-53 document to understand the requirements. It is readily available from the NIST website at no cost. Once you download your copy, it’s time to understand the purpose of the NISP publication. NIST SP 800-53 aims to offer guidelines and security control to safeguard federal organizations and information systems.

Determine Its Applicability

Assess your organization to determine whether NIST SP 800-53 is applicable to your business. Initially, the publication was meant for federal information systems, but today, various sectors, for instance, the private industry, have embraced it. When you read the introduction of the document, you will find the purpose and scope. Then, determine your organization’s scope as you consider factors like:

  • The sensitivity of the data you are handling,
  • Information systems that you handle in your organization
  • Security needs and goals specific to your organization
  • Regulatory requirements applicable to your industry

You also need to research any regulatory or legal requirements pertaining to your organization.

Identify Your Systems and Data

You need to properly categorize your systems and data to determine the level of security controls your organization needs. As you classify the data your organization deals with, you will determine its criticality, sensitivity and confidentiality. Below are the categories to consider.

  • Sensitive data – The data whose exposure could harm your employees, customers or organization.
  • Confidential data – This is highly sensitive data that should be protected no matter the circumstances.
  • Public data – As the name suggests, anyone can access it as it is nonsensitive.

Choose the Appropriate Security Controls

From the NIST framework, you need to determine the controls that apply to the systems in your organization. Here, controls are grouped into families, offering a comprehensive set of measures that help mitigate security risks.

At this stage, you identify impact levels in your data and systems to determine the appropriate controls. Levels include high, moderate and low. You also need to consult the baselines in the NIST framework, i.e., the high baseline, moderate and low baseline. That is how you find your starting point as you select controls.

When it comes to controlling families, you need to understand that each of the three families addresses specific security aspects. For example, there is incident response, cryptography and access control. Ensure you are familiar with the objectives for control in every family.

Tailor Controls to Your Environment

You need to understand that not all controls may be equally relevant to every business. Therefore, you must tailor the controls you have chosen to fit into your specific environment. To succeed in this, you should consider the unique needs of your organization, resources and the level of risk tolerance. Failure to undergo this process may result in implementing unnecessary or overly burdensome controls.

Document Security Policies and Procedures

Documentation of security policies and procedures is very important in implementing NIST SP 800-53. It helps in ensuring that your organization applies security controls consistently. It also provides proof that your personnel have an understanding of their roles and responsibilities regarding the maintenance of security in your organization.

Here, you first generate a framework to use for your documentation. Then, come up with a hierarchy that can differentiate procedures, policies, standards and guidelines. Through differentiation, you gain clarity and consistency. Have an overarching policy for information security. Ensure that the document is clear and easy to understand. When writing these documents, ensure all your employees can understand every bit of information. Also, keep the policies updated to stay relevant as threats and technology keep evolving.

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