NIST SP 800-53 is shorthand for the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-53, Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organization. The NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Commerce Department and was established to encourage and assist innovation and science through the promotion and maintenance of a set of industry standards. NIST SP 800-53 is a set of standards and guidelines to help federal agencies and contractors meet the requirements set by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
Another part of NIST’s remit is to develop Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) alongside FISMA. To help federal agencies meet these standards, the NIST publishes guidance documents under its Special Publications (SP) 800 series. The 800 series reports on the Information Technology Laboratory’s (ITL) research and guidelines. NIST SP 800-53 deals with the security controls or safeguards for federal information systems and organizations.
The NIST SP 800-53 provides a catalog of controls that support the development of secure and resilient federal information systems. These controls are the operational, technical, and management safeguards used by information systems to maintain the integrity, confidentiality, and security of federal information systems.
NIST guidelines adopt a multi-tiered approach to risk management through control compliance. SP 800-53 works alongside SP 800-37, which was developed to provide federal agencies and contractors with guidance on implementing risk management programs. SP 800-53 focuses on the controls which can be used along with the risk management framework outlined in 800-37.
Compliance with NIST SP 800-53 and other NIST guidelines brings with it a number of benefits. NIST 800-53 compliance is a major component of FISMA compliance. It also helps to improve the security of your organization’s information systems by providing a fundamental baseline for developing a secure organizational infrastructure. It is important to note, however, that simply following the guidelines laid down by NIST should not be the extent of an organization’s security program. While NIST SP 800-53 compliance is a great starting place, the NIST guidelines themselves recommend that you should assess all your data and rank which is most sensitive in order to further develop your security program.
In developing standards and guidelines required by FISMA, NIST consults with other federal agencies and offices as well as the private sector to improve information security, avoid unnecessary and costly duplication of effort, and ensure that NIST publications are complementary with the standards and guidelines employed for the protection of national security systems. In addition to its comprehensive public review process, NIST collaborates with the Department of Defense (DoD), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Intelligence Community (IC), and the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS) to establish a common foundation for information security across the federal government.