Maintaining high data privacy and security standards is critical to preventing cybersecurity threats from compromising your data. For a more streamlined implementation of security and privacy controls, NIST recommends a set of diverse requirements that cater to any organization, regardless of size, industry, or business needs. Read on to learn more about NIST SP 800-53.
What are the NIST Security and Privacy Controls?
To help organizations streamline the implementation of security and privacy controls, NIST groups them into 20 Control Families. This blog will provide a summary of the NIST security and privacy controls listed in SP 800-53, along with some useful background information on them.
When implementing security and privacy controls in NIST’s SP 800-53, the process will be most efficient and effective when you work with a threat and vulnerability management partner.
Background to the Security and Privacy Controls NIST Recommends
Before breaking down the various safeguards listed in the security and privacy controls NIST recommends in NIST SP 800-53, it helps to understand why these controls were established.
The NIST standard security and privacy controls were developed to address the pressing need for data privacy and security across various industries. These controls apply to organizations in any sector, provided they use up-to-date information technology systems and can implement security policies and practices to enforce risk management and cybersecurity compliance.
However, the safeguards in each Control Family must be optimized for your organization’s business and security needs and the types of technologies used to handle sensitive data.
Furthermore, the NIST standard security and privacy controls are subject to change and are often updated to reflect changes to the privacy and security requirements of data environments.
Breakdown of NIST Security and Privacy Controls by Family
Each Family of NIST security and privacy controls addresses specific safeguards and has its own requirements; all Families are assigned a two-character identifier (i.e., “Access Control” is abbreviated as “AC”). Below is a summary of the NIST SP 800-53 controls, by Family:
Access Control Management (AC)
The effective management of access to environments containing sensitive data is critical to directly preventing data breaches and subsequent loss, compromise, or exposure of sensitive data. Controls in the AC Family were developed to safeguard access to sensitive data by:
- Restricting access to sensitive data environments to only authorized users, ensuring:
- Access is role-based and inactive user accounts are terminated
- Enforcement of user authorization or approval across accounts
- Separation of duties for administrator and user functions
- Implementation of the least privilege access principle
- Ensuring the flow of information within and outside your organization is protected by blocking external, potentially malicious traffic
- Ensuring security events involving access to sensitive data environments are monitored
- Notifying security teams in the event of unusual or unsuccessful logins
Management of access controls will reduce the chances of hackers and other cybercriminals gaining access to sensitive data illegitimately.
Security Awareness and Training (AT)
Security awareness is essential to educating staff in your organization about best practices for reducing cybersecurity risks and safeguarding sensitive data environments.
The safeguards in NIST SP 800-53 Control Family AT include:
- Training users to increase their level of cyber vigilance and security literacy
- Documenting security training processes at all levels of training
- Leveraging security training feedback to optimize future training and security implementation
Investing in security training exercises will help your staff become more cyber vigilant and enable proactive security threat mitigation.
Security Audits and Accountability (AU)
When it comes to audit and accountability best practices, NIST 800-53 recommends:
- Logging security events that may be useful when preparing for audits
- Recording information related to the who, what, where, and when of security events in preparation for audits
- Storing audit records securely and backing them up when necessary
- Planning for instances of audit logging failures
- Assessing audit records for unusual activity that might compromise their integrity
- Time-stamping audits to simplify audit tracking
- Protecting audit information to prevent unauthorized access
Management of audits should be overseen by your audit security policy, ensuring that all processes related to audits comply with the audit requirements of regulatory frameworks.
Security Assessment, Authorization, and Monitoring (CA)
Conducting security assessments and monitoring the effectiveness of controls is critical to keeping track of those requiring optimization and those functioning effectively.
The safeguards listed in Control Family CA require organizations to:
- Conduct the appropriate assessments when evaluating security controls
- Control the exchange of information between internal assets
- Plan for remediation activities following vulnerability assessments
- Implement systems for security authorization via designated individuals
- Continuously monitor systems for security threats
- Penetration test systems to identify vulnerabilities before they become threats
Implementation of controls for security assessments will help you promptly manage vulnerabilities and prevent them from evolving into serious security threats.
Management of Security Configurations (CM)
The controls in Family CM help you effectively manage and optimize the security configurations behind your cyber defenses and include:
- Establishing and documenting baseline security configurations
- Tracking and controlling changes to security configurations
- Conducting impact analyses before implementing configuration changes
- Implementing restrictive controls to manage configuration changes
- Implementing least functionality principles where needed
- Inventorying system components to identify assets at risk
- Managing the user installations of software and the use of software
Effective management of configurations will help you stay ahead of threats to your assets.
Planning for Contingencies (CP)
Proactive preparation for potential cyberattacks and data breaches is critical to keeping your organization’s data safe when these security incidents occur.
The safeguards listed in Control Family CP include:
- Outlining the roles and responsibilities of all individuals involved in contingency planning processes
- Developing a contingency plan to minimize the loss of data and disruptions to business continuity
- Testing contingency plans to evaluate their effectiveness
It is critical for all contingency plans to include backups to support the recovery of systems and the data they handle.
Identification and Authentication Processes (IA)
Identification of the devices, users, or networks connected to your assets is critical to preventing cyberattacks from unfolding. The safeguards listed in Control Family IA include:
- Implementing multi-factor authentication for all sensitive account access
- Identifying and authenticating all devices looking to gain network access
- Securing the management of identifiers and authenticators
- Using industry-standard identification and authentication tools
When overseen by a security policy, identification and authentication processes will safeguard assets connected to your networks.
Incident Response Management (IR)
Cyber preparedness for security incidents will help minimize downtime and mitigate disruptions to business continuity. When a security event occurs, the incident response safeguards listed in Control Family IR will enable you to handle the incident effectively.
Training staff on the best ways to handle incidents will increase their level of cyber preparedness and cyber vigilance. Testing incident response plans will ensure that they are sufficiently optimized to handle security incidents. Incident monitoring and reporting are also critical to refining incident handling procedures in preparation for future security events.
Maintenance of Assets (MA)
During IT asset maintenance, it is critical for them to remain fully functional while reducing the risk of vulnerabilities that can exploit any security system downtime. The safeguards listed in Control Family MA ensure that maintenance processes do not hinder asset functionality.
These safeguards also enable maintenance personnel to perform their jobs effectively without compromising assets during maintenance.
Protection of Media Devices and Storage (MP)
Devices or assets containing media files must be securely handled to ensure that sensitive media is not exposed and compromised. To this end, the controls in Family MP ensure that access to media is protected. MP controls also secure the transportation and disposal of media containing sensitive information, mitigating its loss or compromise.
Physical and Environmental Protection (PE)
The safeguards in control family PE can help you secure access to physical facilities containing sensitive data and protect assets from being impacted by environmental threats. Control Family PE safeguards ensure physical access to facilities containing sensitive data is restricted.
The specific considerations covered in Family PE include but are not limited to:
- Authorization for physical access
- Control (restriction) of physical access
- Access control for transmission and output
- Monitoring of physical access (including visitor records)
- Emergency protections—power shutoff, lighting, fire protection, etc.
- Environmental protections for the primary worksite and alternative sites
Physical access controls may limit visitors from accessing sensitive data environments and can minimize the removal of sensitive data from protected environments.
Control Family PL – Infrastructure and System Planning
Planning the processes involved in running your organization’s IT infrastructure and security systems is critical to streamlining security implementation. Effective infrastructure and system planning translate into well-organized security processes that support robust safeguards.
Security Program Management (PM)
Besides planning out security activities, you must implement processes to oversee the development and deployment of these activities. The safeguards listed in Control Family PM help manage security programs by ensuring that their safeguards are up-to-date and meet the requirements of regulatory compliance frameworks.
Furthermore, these safeguards help support security program leadership.
Personnel Security (PS)
The privacy and security of data also depend on the personnel tasked with managing security processes and their implementation. The safeguards listed in Control Family PS help you achieve robust security by enabling you to hire the appropriate staff to handle cybersecurity.
For example, specific areas of consideration for Family PS include:
- Identifying and designating position-specific risks
- Screening all potential hires relative to these risks
- Securing transfer, termination, and other staff movement processes
PS ensures employees are adequately trained and ready for cybersecurity implementations.
PII Processing and Transparency (PT)
Personally identifiable information (PII) must be safeguarded at all times, whether at rest or in transit, especially if your organization processes large amounts of sensitive data. When implementing the controls listed in Family PT, it is critical to identify special categories of data that are highly sensitive and must be protected at all times.
NIST privacy overlay controls come into play here—in the form of technical, administrative, or physical safeguards—to protect PII from data breach risks.
Risk Assessment (RA)
Security risk assessments are critical to identifying threats and vulnerabilities to your organization’s assets and mitigating them early on. The safeguards in Control Family RA help during the development of risk assessment methodologies and vulnerability monitoring and scanning processes. With the help of the RA controls, you’ll hunt for threats more effectively.
Acquisition of System and Services (SA)
When the time comes to acquire new assets, it is critical that the acquisition process does not affect the privacy or security of data on existing assets. To this end, the safeguards listed in Control Family SA address the allocation and prioritization of resources throughout the system development life cycle, and guide system acquisition, documentation, and developer processes.
System and Communications Protection (SC)
If the staff in your organization use systems or tools to communicate and collaborate internally or externally, you must safeguard the integrity of these systems. To protect systems and communications, Control Family SC recommends safeguards for separating system and user functionality, creating boundary protections, and managing cryptographic keys.
System and Information Integrity (SI)
To secure the entirety of your IT infrastructure, you must identify the broad range of threats that could pose significant security risks. When protecting systems and the information they handle, the controls in Family SI help you identify and remediate software flaws and malicious code.
Specific considerations for Family SI include but are not limited to:
- Establishing (and automating) security alerts and advisories
- Ensuring software, firmware, and information integrity
- Protecting against spam and validating information inputs
- Managing and retaining information to the minimum extent possible
- Implementing protections for PII and processes for de-identification
These controls will also help you monitor systems for unusual patterns that may point to security vulnerabilities—the sooner they are identified and classified, the sooner they’ll be neutralized.
Supply Chain Risk Management (SR)
Although not as common, supply chain risks can impact the privacy and security of assets containing sensitive data, especially if the risks are not promptly identified. The controls listed in Family SR are critical to minimizing the harm caused by disruptions in the supply chain for assets necessary to the functioning of your security systems. These controls also guide the acquisition of assets, including systems and components of your IT infrastructure.
Given the extensive list of controls in the NIST SP 800-53, it is best to consult a threat and vulnerability management expert on how best to integrate these controls into your existing cybersecurity infrastructure.
Safeguard Data Privacy with the NIST SP 800-53 Controls
The most effective way to implement the security and privacy controls NIST recommends is to work with an experienced threat and vulnerability management partner like RSI Security.
Whether you are looking to optimize controls related to security risk management, security awareness training, or planning out security processes, our team of experts will help you implement industry-standard best practices. Contact RSI Security today to get started!