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NIST 800-53 and Its Importance to SMBs

Updated: Feb 13

With businesses increasingly relying on digital systems, the significance of establishing and complying with comprehensive and complete cybersecurity practices and policies cannot be overstated. The growing threat landscape has made it crucial for organizations of all sizes to adopt predefined and tested frameworks to protect their businesses from cyberattacks 

 

A framework is a collection of guidelines, recommendations, and best practices outlined to assist in the management of cyber security risks. There are many security frameworks, including SOC2, PCI-DSS, and NERC-CIP among many others. However, since its inception in 2013, the NIST 800-53 has become a popular choice among businesses of all types and sizes. While NIST 800-53 is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s an incredibly flexible foundational framework that organizations can tailor to their security needs.




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NIST 800-53 Overview


The NIST framework was originally built to enhance the security of critical assets and information, such as government data managed by federal agencies. However, only two years after its inception, other companies with similar security needs adopted it as a best practice for securing their own assets and information resources. 

 

NIST aims to achieve 5 cybersecurity life cycle goals, including threat identification, protection, detection, response, and recovery. Risk identification is the first step toward security and aims to pinpoint the critical data, systems, and assets that must be safeguarded and the possible threats that could be launched against them. After recognizing the risks to the different components, the next step is implementing measures that minimize or eliminate the associated security risks. Protection includes using a firewall, access control lists and sensitization against social engineering attacks. 

 

Detection identifies the presence of anomalies. NIST emphasizes the planning of comprehensive detection strategies that include procedures and tools to recognize anomalies. Intrusion Detection Systems are suitable for this stage of the cybersecurity lifecycle. 

 

The next step is incident response, carried out in the event of an attack. The incident response plan should consist of the best steps to report and mitigate the incident. Finally, NIST also establishes a list of recommended controls that ensure businesses resume normal operations as quickly as possible. NIST 800-53 also encourages practitioners to write a comprehensive report including the attack, mitigation actions, and how to improve security to prevent future attacks. 


NIST 800-53 Structure

 

The 5th revision of NIST includes over 1000 controls categorized into 20 control families. Each control has details, including a set of steps and control enhancements meant for higher-risk organizations. To be compliant with a control in the framework, an organization needs to meet all the steps outlined. 

 

NIST also highlights the impacts of certain risks in three tiers: low, medium and high. These tiers are not a one-size-fits-all and the cybersecurity personnel in different organizations need to perform assessments to understand their unique risks. 


Download Cymbrella's free E-Book on Cyber Security Essentials for Business Owners to learn more about how to protect your business in today's technology environment.



Key Control Families 


While NIST 800-53 has 20 control families, implementing the entire framework can be costly and cumbersome. Most modern organizations, especially SMBs will benefit from tailoring the key controls included in this section to fit their needs.


Access Control


The Access Control family defines a set of controls that establish permissions defining what level of access each user or group is entitled to. The core objectives of this family are to maintain data integrity and confidentiality and enforce the principle of least privileges, where users or user groups are given the minimum privileges to resources required to perform their organizational duties. 

 

The following are the key controls that most organizations could benefit from within the Access Control family: 


  • AC-1: Access Control Policy and Procedures.

  • AC-2: Account Management.

  • AC-3: Access Enforcement.

  • AC-4: Information Flow Enforcement.

  • AC-5: Separation of Duties. 

  • AC-6: Least Privilege.

  • AC-7: Unsuccessful Logon Attempts. 

  • AC-12: Session Termination.

  • AC-17: Remote Access.

  • AC-18: Wireless Access Controls.

  • AC-19: Access control for mobile devices.

  • AC-20: Use of external systems.


Audit and Accountability


The Audit and Accountability control family seeks to identify and investigate suspicious activities, verify adherence to regulations, monitor the performance of security policies and controls to identify areas for improvement, and hold individuals accountable for their actions within the system. It achieves these objectives by establishing regulations for tracking and documenting user activity within the system. 

 

The following are the key controls within the Audit and Accountability family of NIST 800-53 framework:


  • AU-1: Audit and Accountability Policy and Procedures.

  • AU-2: Event Logging.

  • AU-3: Content of Audit Records.

  • AU-4: Audit Log Storage Capacity.

  • AU-5: Response to Audit Processing Failures.

  • AU-6: Audit Record Review, Analysis, and Reporting.

  • AU-7: Audit Record Reduction and Report Generation.

  • AU-8: Time Stamps.

  • AU-9: Protection of Audit Information.

  • AU-10: Non-Repudiation.

  • AU-11: Audit Record Retention.

  • AU-12: Audit Record Generation.

  • AU-13: Monitoring for Information Disclosure.

  • AU-14: Session Audit.

  • AU-15: Alternate Audit Logging Capability.


Configuration Management


Proper configuration is crucial for the proper functioning of equipment in a network. The Configuration Management control family focuses on securing information systems throughout their configuration lifecycle. It does this by identifying and documenting the authorized configuration of systems and components, controlling changes to the configuration, and verifying the implemented configuration to ensure it matches the baseline configuration.

 

This family of controls ensures that only authorized individuals can modify system configurations, configuration issues are quickly identified and remediated, and systems are efficiently restored to a known good state.

 

The following are key controls in the family:


  • CM-1: Configuration Management Policy and Procedures.

  • CM-2: Baseline Configuration.

  • CM-3: Configuration Change Control.

  • CM-4: Security Impact Analyses.

  • CM-5: Access Restrictions For Change.

  • CM-6: Configuration Settings.

  • CM-7: Least Functionality. 

  • CM-9: Configuration Management Plan. 

  • CM-10: Software usage restrictions.


Incident Response


Security incidences may either cripple parts of an organization’s operations or all operations in extreme cases. The Incident Response Control family outlines steps to take when such incidents occur to identify, analyze, eradicate, or minimize their damage and recover quickly to normalcy.

 

Key controls are as outlined below:


  • IR-1: Policy And Procedures.

  • IR-2: Incident Response Training.

  • IR-3: Incident Response Testing.

  • IR-4: Incident Handling.

  • IR-5: Incident Monitoring.

  • IR-6: Incident Reporting.

  • IR-7: Incident Response Assistance.

  • IR-8: Incident Response Plan.


System and Communications Protection


The core objectives of the System and Communications Protection control family are to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to systems, data, and communication channels, maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information, safeguard systems and resources against denial-of-service attacks, and manage the flow of information within and between systems to prevent unauthorized data transfers and leaks.

 

SC-1 to SC-8 controls are the key aspects of this family:


  • SC-1: System and Communications Protection Policy and Procedures.

  • SC-2: Separation Of System And User Functionality.

  • SC-3: Security Function Isolation.

  • SC-4: Information in Shared System Resources.

  • SC-5: Denial of Service Protection.

  • SC-6: Resource Availability.

  • SC-7: Boundary Protection.

  • SC-8: Transmission Confidentiality And Integrity.


The full Security and Privacy Controls publication can be found here:



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Benefits of NIST 800-53


Nist 800-53 owes its growing popularity to benefits such as its comprehensiveness and completeness, flexibility, wide recognition by experts and security practitioners, and the regular updates and maintenance it receives to combat new and evolving threats. 


  • Comprehensiveness and completeness: NIST has over 1000 controls, surpassing all other popular security frameworks, such as SOC2 which only has 75, and PCI-DSS which only has 300. These controls are structured and can be tailored to address security concerns in organizations of all sizes, including SMBs. More comprehensive controls often translate to more stringent security measures and fewer illegal access points. 


  • Flexibility: NIST 800-53 offers in-depth steps and explanations for controls that cover wide use cases. Practitioners can then select the best controls to use to meet their security needs and requirements.


  • Risk Prioritization and Cost-Effectiveness: SMBs often allocate less funds to cybersecurity efforts compared to larger enterprises. The NIST 800-53 guides security practitioners in these SMBs to focus on the most critical risks, enabling effective resource allocation.  


  • It is widely recognized and accepted as a best practice standard for information security: NIST 800-53’s wide recognition assures security professionals they are taking the most secure approach to network security. It also has a wide community base of practitioners who offer support and guidance in the form of case studies and implementation guides. Being widely recognized also means that NIST 800-53 aligns with the compliance requirements of most industry sectors and government regulations.


  • Regular updates: NIST 800-53 receives regular improvements to ensure organizations can keep up with cybersecurity trends. Threats evolve and implementing new updates from the framework helps organizations understand how to safeguard their physical and information assets in the wake of the new threats. 


  • Enhances security: Effectively implementing the controls outlined in NIST 800-53 can enhance the overall security posture of businesses, significantly minimizing the risk of cyberattacks.


  • Scalability: NIST 800-53 is a scalable security framework that adapts to evolving security needs. This factor is especially key for SMBs because they often need to begin with fewer controls and increase them gradually. 


Learn more about Cymbrella's security offerings here: Managed Security Services


 

Get IT Support in Connecticut for NIST Implementation

 

In general, NIST 800-53 provides a security solution to help organizations hit the ground running with their security implementations. However, implementing it in its entirety can be costly, complex, and cumbersome, especially for small and midsize businesses that may not require all the controls outlined. 


The best approach for SMBs is to perform internal assessments to identify the unique needs and requirements of the business and then start with a few necessary controls and slowly build up as their business grows. 

 

Don't let the complexities of NIST hinder your business security. Partner with Cymbrella IT, your go-to provider for managed IT services. Our team specializes in Cyber Security in Connecticut where we assist in requirements analysis and guide you in NIST implementations to match your unique needs. 




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