What is the NIST Special Publication 800-171 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 800-171, titled “Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations,” provides guidelines to ensure the security of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) handled by nonfederal entities, including contractors, subcontractors, and private sector organizations working with federal agencies. This document is part of NIST’s efforts to standardize and improve the security posture of information systems across the United States, especially those that process, store, or transmit CUI outside of federal systems.


NIST SP 800-171 was developed in response to the increasing need to protect sensitive federal information that resides on nonfederal information systems and organizations. With the growing threat of cyber attacks and data breaches, it became crucial to establish a unified framework for safeguarding CUI when it is shared with or managed by nonfederal entities. The guidelines outlined in this document aim to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access, disclosure, or misuse of CUI, thereby enhancing the overall security and resilience of the federal information ecosystem.

Objective and Scope

The primary objective of NIST SP 800-171 is to provide a set of security requirements for protecting CUI on nonfederal information systems. These requirements are intended to be applied by nonfederal entities that handle CUI, including contractors and subcontractors working with the federal government. The document emphasizes the importance of implementing a cohesive and effective security strategy to protect CUI across diverse systems and organizational contexts.

Core Components

NIST SP 800-171 is structured around 14 families of security requirements, each focusing on a specific aspect of information security. These families are:

  1. Access Control: Measures to limit access to CUI to authorized users and processes.
  2. Awareness and Training: Requirements for ensuring that personnel are aware of the security risks associated with their activities and the relevant policies, standards, and procedures.
  3. Audit and Accountability: The need for keeping detailed logs of system activity to enable monitoring, analysis, and investigation of security incidents.
  4. Configuration Management: Guidelines for establishing and maintaining the security configuration of information systems.
  5. Identification and Authentication: Ensuring that users accessing CUI are properly identified and authenticated.
  6. Incident Response: Preparedness to detect, respond to, and recover from security incidents.
  7. Maintenance: Regular maintenance of information systems to ensure their continued security.
  8. Media Protection: Safeguards for protecting CUI stored on digital and physical media.
  9. Physical Protection: Measures to secure physical access to systems containing CUI.
  10. Personnel Security: Ensuring that individuals with access to CUI are trustworthy and meet established security criteria.
  11. Risk Assessment: Processes for assessing the risks to organizational operations, assets, and individuals.
  12. Security Assessment: Regular assessments of security controls to ensure their effectiveness.
  13. System and Communications Protection: Protection of information systems’ integrity and confidentiality during transmission and at rest.
  14. System and Information Integrity: Measures to protect systems and information from malicious code, unauthorized changes, and other threats.


The document specifies 110 security requirements distributed across the 14 security families. These requirements are designed to be technology-neutral and flexible enough to be implemented within various organizational and system contexts. The core requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • Implementing least privilege access control mechanisms.
  • Conducting security awareness training for all personnel.
  • Maintaining accurate and complete audit logs.
  • Ensuring secure configuration settings for information systems.
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication for network access to privileged accounts.
  • Developing and testing incident response plans.
  • Protecting CUI on mobile devices and removable media.
  • Conducting risk assessments to identify and prioritize security risks.
  • Regularly assessing the effectiveness of security controls.

Implementation and Compliance

NIST SP 800-171 is designed to be flexible, allowing organizations to tailor the specific security requirements to their operational environment and the sensitivity of the CUI they handle. Organizations are encouraged to integrate these security requirements into their existing information security management processes. Compliance with NIST SP 800-171 is typically a contractual requirement for nonfederal entities that handle CUI as part of their work with federal agencies.

To assist organizations in implementing the security requirements, NIST provides additional guidance, including NIST SP 800-171A, “Assessing Security Requirements for Controlled Unclassified Information,” which offers assessment procedures to evaluate the implementation of the requirements specified in SP 800-171.


NIST SP 800-171 represents a critical step forward in standardizing the protection of CUI across nonfederal information systems and organizations. By adhering to the guidelines and requirements outlined in this document, nonfederal entities can significantly enhance the security and integrity of CUI, contributing to the broader goal of securing the federal information ecosystem. As threats evolve and new challenges emerge, adherence to NIST SP 800-171 will remain a key.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us Here

Please verify.
Validation complete :)
Validation failed :(
Your contact request has been received. We usually respond within an hour, but please be patient. We will get back to you very soon.
Scroll to Top