What is the NIST Special Publication 800-161 About?

Security policy and preparedness has become an integral part of the FCC requirements on Service Providers. These cybersecurity requirements are being tied to the grant process that so many service providers count on to keep their networks current to both technology and bandwidth needs of their end users. The FCC has been bringing these issues into the picture for some time now. The good news is that part of the BEAD process includes spending allowances on Cyber Plans.

There are several requirements associated with this, and the following is part of the picture. This is both for me and the reader to understand the key components of these specifications/publications in a swift way without over summarizing, nor diving too deep. I encourage the reader to get the actual documents, links for which are provided.

You can find the NIST PB 800-161 and other related documents here: https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/sp800


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-161, “Supply Chain Risk Management Practices for Federal Information Systems and Organizations,” serves as a detailed guideline designed to assist federal agencies and associated stakeholders in identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks within their information and communications technology (ICT) supply chains. The document recognizes the intricate and interconnected nature of modern supply chains and the potential risks they pose to the security, integrity, and availability of federal information systems. NIST SP 800-161 aims to bolster the resilience of these systems by providing a comprehensive framework for supply chain risk management (SCRM).


In an era marked by rapidly evolving technology and increasing interconnectivity, supply chains have grown complex and extend across global networks. This complexity introduces vulnerabilities and opportunities for adversaries to exploit weaknesses, potentially compromising sensitive information and critical infrastructure. Recognizing this, NIST SP 800-161 provides a structured approach to managing these risks, ensuring that federal agencies and their partners can trust the integrity and security of their ICT supply chains.

Objective and Scope

The primary objective of NIST SP 800-161 is to guide federal agencies in the effective management of supply chain risks. This encompasses risks associated with the procurement and use of ICT products and services that could affect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of federal information systems. The document aims to integrate SCRM practices within the broader organizational risk management frameworks, ensuring a cohesive and comprehensive approach to identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks throughout the supply chain.

Core Components

The document is structured around several core components crucial for the successful implementation of SCRM practices:

  • SCRM Planning: Strategies for developing and integrating SCRM plans with organizational objectives and risk management frameworks. This includes establishing SCRM goals, identifying critical assets and supply chain elements, and defining risk tolerance levels.
  • Risk Identification and Assessment: Methods for identifying and assessing supply chain risks at different stages, from procurement to decommissioning. This involves analyzing the supply chain structure, identifying potential threat sources, and evaluating the impact and likelihood of identified risks.
  • Risk Response: Recommendations for responding to assessed risks, including mitigation strategies, risk acceptance criteria, and contingency planning. The document emphasizes the importance of a proactive approach to managing supply chain risks.
  • Information Sharing and Communication: Guidelines for effective communication and information sharing among stakeholders within and outside the organization. This includes establishing mechanisms for sharing intelligence on threats, vulnerabilities, and incidents related to the supply chain.
  • Supplier Relationship Management: Approaches to managing supplier relationships to mitigate supply chain risks. This encompasses supplier selection and due diligence, contractual agreements including security requirements, and ongoing monitoring of supplier performance against these requirements.
  • Implementation and Continuous Improvement: Directions for implementing SCRM plans, integrating them with existing processes, and continuously monitoring and improving SCRM practices. This involves establishing metrics for SCRM effectiveness, conducting regular reviews of SCRM practices, and updating SCRM strategies as needed.


NIST SP 800-161 sets forth a series of requirements designed to guide federal agencies in establishing and maintaining effective SCRM practices:

  1. Governance: Create a governance framework that delineates roles, responsibilities, and accountability for SCRM activities.
  2. Risk Management Process: Adopt a structured risk management process tailored to the organization’s supply chain risk landscape. This includes comprehensive risk assessments, development of risk response strategies, and ongoing risk monitoring.
  3. Controls Implementation: Implement appropriate security controls to address identified risks, utilizing NIST SP 800-53 as a reference for selecting controls relevant to supply chain security.
  4. Continuous Monitoring: Develop mechanisms for the continuous monitoring of the supply chain to identify and respond to emerging risks and vulnerabilities.
  5. Training and Awareness: Ensure all relevant personnel are trained and aware of their roles in SCRM, emphasizing the importance of security within the supply chain context.


NIST SP 800-161 offers a detailed and structured approach to managing supply chain risks in federal information systems and organizations. By adhering to the guidelines and requirements outlined in this document, federal agencies can enhance the security and resilience of their ICT supply chains against a broad spectrum of threats. This proactive and comprehensive SCRM practice is essential for protecting national security, economic interests, and the public welfare in a globalized and interconnected world.

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