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What is NIST? Understanding Why You Need to Comply
If your business often works with the United States government, you’re likely aware of the importance of compliance. You also know that any sensitive information shared with you by the government is subject to the highest security standards. This sensitive data can often be a target for hackers, so it’s vital that you take cybersecurity measures seriously.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has outlined a number of guidelines to help companies protect government data. What is NIST, and why should you be concerned with compliance? Continue reading to get the answers to these and other important questions.
What is NIST?
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, founded in 1901, is responsible for establishing technology, standards, and metrics to be applied to the science and technology industries. As one of the oldest science labs in the United States and a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST has a major impact on businesses in both the public and private sectors.
What exactly does NIST do?
NIST is the body that offers guidelines on technology-related matters, like how to adequately protect data. They offer standards on what security measures should be in place to make sure data is safe. By having NIST-outlined standards, there is a level of uniformity when it comes to cybersecurity.
What is NIST Compliance?
Because NIST outlines standards to make cybersecurity efforts uniform, businesses that work with the U.S. government or agencies within the government should pay close attention to these guidelines. Why are these guidelines important for these particular organizations? Government agencies and their contractors deal with highly sensitive data that can easily be targeted by hackers.
One goal of NIST’s cybersecurity recommendations is to help companies align with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). NIST offers a number of resources to help companies comply with cybersecurity recommendations, while still managing costs. NIST’s information technology guidelines allow companies to meet government expectations and successfully protect their data.
Who Should Comply?
Though most companies should be concerned with cybersecurity, NIST compliance is particularly important for companies who conduct business with the U.S. government. This could mean government agencies or outside contractors who provide the government with goods or services. In fact, even subcontractors, companies working with contractors who work with the government, may be required to meet NIST standards. NIST compliance may even be a requirement included in your contract.
Why Should You Comply?
Now that you know what NIST is, it’s important to understand the why behind NIST compliance. Non-compliance with NIST standards can have serious ramifications. Look at some of the reasons why you should comply with NIST standards below.
Protection of Data
First and foremost, the objective of NIST compliance is data protection. NIST regulations are focused on protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI). While this data isn’t classified, it may be highly sensitive. To ensure that your company’s private and proprietary information is secure, you should follow the guidelines provided by NIST.
Many companies have an “it will never happen to us” mindset when it comes to data breaches. Unfortunately, breaches are more common than you may think. In 2018 alone, 5 billion digital records were exposed to data breaches. You can’t put off your efforts to secure data and align with NIST standards.
Data breaches can have serious consequences, both from a productivity perspective and a reputational perspective. Some common consequences of non-compliance with NIST standards include:
- Loss of Business - When your data is compromised, your status as a government contractor could be in jeopardy. Your business could lose a significant number of clients, and miss out on future revenue.
- Negative Impact on Reputation - Clients don’t want to trust their sensitive data to a company with a reputation for careless data security policies. If you fail to comply with NIST standards, your company’s reputation could be seriously damaged.
- Criminal Charges or Lawsuits - If it’s determined that negligent actions led to a cybersecurity breach or you knowingly put data at risk, you could be subject to criminal charges. Your organization could face fines and even breach of contract lawsuits.
- Impacted Productivity - A significant data breach could seriously impact your company’s productivity levels. As soon as you detect an incident, you must remedy and report it. This diverts resources from other important tasks to the emergency at hand – dealing with the breach.
Finally, aligning with NIST standards could give your business an advantage over your competition. Many companies want to feel confident that the contractors and subcontractors they partner with will take every step necessary to protect their data. So, if both you and a competitor put in bids for a contract, but you can guarantee NIST compliance and CUI protection, while the other option cannot, your business is more likely to win the contract. Being a compliant business with the highest levels of cybersecurity standards is an attractive quality to potential clients.
How Can I Comply with NIST?
Finally, now that you have answered the key questions like what is NIST and why should you comply with it, it’s time to look at the steps you can take to make NIST compliance a reality.
Apply the Cybersecurity Framework
First, you should research and apply the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to your business. The Cybersecurity Framework provides all the basic knowledge and security measures needed to keep data protected. NIST published this framework to help businesses of all sizes gauge the level of security they need to protect data. The framework uses a repeatable, five-step process to ensure your security standards are up to par:
- Identify - Identity systems and data that should be protected.
- Protect - Implement security measures to protect data.
- Detect - Establish the appropriate policies and tools to detect a cybersecurity incident when it occurs.
- Respond - Create a cybersecurity response plan, and use it to address cybersecurity incidents.
- Recover - Recover data as quickly as possible and return operations back to normal.
Adopt a NIST Compliant File Sharing Solution
The best way to ensure your data is protected on a daily basis and to align with NIST compliance standards is to use a compliant file sharing solution. This ensures that you meet NIST's expectations from the minute you adopt your solution. If you choose an industry-leading solution like FTP Today’s GOVFTP, your business will benefit from the built-in security measures that align with NIST policies. This is a cost-effective and near-instant way to align with NIST regulations.
If your business is subject to NIST standards, you should not put off complying with these regulations. Take action today to prevent future data breaches, and to protect your company’s status as a government contractor. With the right security measures in use by your company and a secure file sharing solution as part of your compliance efforts, you’re sure to keep your data protected.
Learn more about complying with DFARS, another key government regulation. Download this helpful checklist now.
About Martin Horan
Founder of FTP Today and an expert in secure file transfer and Internet protocols. A software and IT geek since a young age, Martin has successfully led his companies through the digital age by spotting market niches and filling them with quality IT services.