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What Is DFARS NIST 800-171 Compliance And Why Should You Care?

If you are a federal government contractor, chances are, you might have dealt with Controlled Classified Information or unclassified information. Previously, how the contractors or agencies will handle such data and information solely depended on the contracts and agreements. Since unclassified information often contains sensitive data, third-party vendors with limited resources to safeguard their data against cyber-attacks are at higher risk of cybersecurity breaches. DFARS Compliance, CMMC, and NIST 800 171 compliance are put into place to standardize the process of handling, managing, and disseminating sensitive data.

The DFARS NIST 800 171 is a set of procedures that regulates how the government contractors and executives will handle and safeguard controlled unclassified information that they deal with. The NIST 800 171 was published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The document’s objective is to ensure that the CUI is handled and managed confidentially and there is no threat to its safety. The NIST 800 171 is enforced by the Department of Defense, and all entities handling sensitive information and data are required to comply with the guideline. 

What Information Is Considered CUI?

CUI or Controlled Unclassified Information is not classified data. However, since it contains personal or sensitive data, it is not shared in the public domain. Furthermore, CUI can be divided into 20 different sub-categories. The data ranges from infrastructure to transport.

What are the requirements to become NIST SP 800 171 compliant?

The requirements for NIST SP 800 171 compliance can be divided into Administrative and Technical categories.

Administrative requirements are the guidelines contractors or agencies providing IT services for government contractors have to fulfill to prevent cyber-attacks or data breaches. Administrative requirements include reporting risks, reviewing procedures, maintaining and up keeping systems.

Technical requirements: The guideline also emphasizes the technical aspects of data protection. Today, a majority of data are processed and stored in digital format. Various technical solutions are required to transfer the data over the internet. The NIST SP 800 171 standards help government contracts create rules on access, data reporting, and cybersecurity.

What NIST SP 800-171 Compliance Means To You

According to the guidelines of the NIST SP 800 171, the government contractors will have to take the necessary steps to be compliant.

Locate:  The first step is to identify the IT infrastructure areas and framework that contains Controlled Unclassified Information.

Categorize: After identifying the CUI location, the next step is categorizing and separating files containing CUI. This process is aimed at streamlining the proof of compliance. 

Limit Access: Once you have separated the CUI files from other files, your next step should be limiting the access to sensitive data. Putting the expiration date of CUI files ensures the data is not accessed after completing the project.

Encrypt: All the data should be encrypted to prevent cyber-attack. Encryption works as an extra layer of protection and doesn’t disrupt the user’s accessibility.

Monitoring: The new guideline makes it mandatory for the contractors to create a mechanism for monitoring people who access the CUI. This makes it easier to trace who is responsible for data breaches and data loss.