NIST 800-171 and CMMC Consulting in Columbia, MD
We receive tons of inquiries concerning NIST’s special publication 800-171 compliance requirements and the Department of Defense’s CMMC assessment program. Therefore, we decided to craft this in-depth guide. To help government contractors and hopefuls understand what steps they need to comply with NIST 800-171 standards and pass the CMMC certification levels.
Understanding CMMC and NIST 800-171 Security Requirements
Both CMMC and NIST 800-171 are cybersecurity compliance standards that the Department of Defense requires all government contractors to fulfill before qualifying to bid a contract. Let’s look at each of them exclusively to understand what they cover.
What is the NIST 800-171?
For starters, NIST 800-171 stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-171. The regulation provides recommended best practices for protecting the confidentiality of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Put otherwise, all non-Federal Information Systems and Organizations that store, process, or transmit CUI must provide security protection for such systems. By complying with NIST 800-171 requirements.
Some of the most notable government agencies that require NIST 800-171 compliance among its contractors and subcontractors include the Department of Defense (DoD), General Service Administration (GSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), plus any other institution dealing with CUI.
In case you’re wondering, CUI entails any sensitive but unclassified information shared with government agencies, contractors, and sub-contractors. Examples of CUI may include product patents, financial data, medical information, research findings, etc. Such information needs maximal protection because it can be a valuable prize for your competitors or hackers.
So, what does it take to comply with NIST 800-171 regulatory requirements? Here is a highlight of the steps that you need to implement:
- Locate and identify CUI
- Categorize CUI according to urgency levels
- Implement required controls
- Document a system security plan to lay out how you’re implementing those controls
- Subject your employees to security awareness training
- Monitor your data to fish out any security threats
- Continuously assess your systems and processes to remain compliant in the long-term
What is CMMC?
CMMC stands for Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. It’s a unified standard developed to enhance cybersecurity across the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). The DoD developed CMMC to protect Federal Contract Information (FCI) and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Which had previously been exposed to significant compromises on the contractors’ information systems.
CMMC has five cybersecurity maturity levels it uses to assess contractors’ preparedness to protect CUI and FCI. The levels point at the cybersecurity processes and practices that contractors and sub-contractors need to fulfill to qualify for federal agency contracts.
Presently, you must fulfill up to at least level 3 cybersecurity maturity requirements to qualify to bid for government contracts. Here’s a quick overview of the five levels:
- 1st Level: Here, contractors and sub-contractors must prove capable of implementing the basic cyber hygiene to secure CUI and FCI.
- 2nd Level: This marks the beginning of the documentation stage. Besides fulfilling level 1 requirements, contractors also need to have a cybersecurity policy document explaining how you’re implementing the specific information security control protocols.
- 3rd Level: You must have an associated cybersecurity plan detailing how you’ve implemented the level 2 requirements.
- 4th Level: Here’s where your activities or practices get reviewed to ascertain their effectiveness, i.e., that they meet the required cybersecurity standards.
- 5th Level: It introduces more advanced measures that ensure contractors comply with all CMMC standards in all practices and processes.
The Differences Between CMMC and NIST 800-171 Security Requirements
Having understood both NIST 800-171 and CMMC frameworks, let’s now look at what sets the two standards apart. Before we proceed, it’s critical to note that CMMC is a more sophisticated compliance standard. It seeks to improve some of the security protocols left out in NIST 800-171 special publication. As such, you might need CMMC consulting in Columbia to understand it fully for hassle-free implementation. Here are a few reasons to prove that CMMC is a more superior security standard than NIST 800-171:
- Unlike NIST 800-171, where you only need to conduct self-assessment to prove cybersecurity compliance, with CMMC, you must undergo third-party external assessments. That is, to qualify for any federal contracts, you must have at least the first three of your CMMC maturity levels reviewed by a Third-Party Assessment Organization (C3PAO).
- With NIST 800-171, non-compliance with DoD cybersecurity requirements is acceptable, provided you outline plans to address deficiencies. On the flip side, there’s no middle ground with CMMC compliance; although it’s still in the rollout stage, DoD expects all its contractors to be certified by 2026.
- As we mentioned above, CMMC supplements NIST 800-171 by adding extra security standards previously left out. Each of the five CMMC maturity levels adds new requirements that contractors must meet to get certified.
What CMMC Level does Your Organization Need to Achieve?
The CMMC maturity level your organization needs to realize depends on the sensitivity of the CUI and FCI you will work with. It also depends on the range of cyber threats associated with that information. Here are some facts to keep in mind, though:
- CMMC maturity levels are accumulative. That is, to qualify for level 3, you must have fulfilled level 1 and 2 requirements.
- You must fulfill the requirements for the level you seek in both the practice and the process viewpoint.
- If you’re a DoD Prime contractor, you must ensure that your sub-contractors also meet the same CMMC maturity levels you’re certified for. But again, it all depends on the nature of the subcontractors’ work. For instance, if you’re a level 5 certified contractor, but you have a sub-contractor with whom you only share FCI, the DoD would require them to achieve only level 1 compliance requirements.
How Advantage Can Help
As it stands, there are around 110 requirements that different DoD contractors need to fulfill. Of course, that number varies depending on the industry you serve plus the level of sensitivity of the data you’ll be handling. Thankfully, Advantage uses a tool called FutureFeed to compile the information for our clients and understand the exact number of requirements they need to meet out of the original 110.
But wait, we don’t stop there; our Advantage team also commits to walking with you throughout the compliance process to ensure that you meet all the set CMMC standards as quickly and hassle-free as possible. Our CMMC consulting in Columbia entails conducting an all-inclusive GAP evaluation to determine your current state. Then draft a roadmap on what actions you need to take to meet the CMMC standards.
So don’t get left behind; let us help you fulfill all the burdensome CMMC compliance requirements as you focus on more value-adding business activities and prepare to bid for that big federal contract. Contact us today to schedule a complete cybersecurity assessment on your security infrastructure.