Why Use NIST 800-53?

June 13, 2019 | BY Apptega

NIST SP 800-53 stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-53, Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems Organization. That's a mouthful, right? 

This critical standard provides a set of guidelines designed to make it easier for federal agencies and contractors to meet the requirements imposed by the Federal Information Security Management Act, or FISMA.

If you’ve ever wondered why NIST 800-53 matters, we're here to help.

What is the Purpose of NIST 800-53?

NIST SP 800-53 seeks mainly to increase the security of information systems used by the federal government. According to DigitalGuardian.com:

"The guidelines themselves apply to any component of an information system that stores, processes, or transmits federal information. The most recent update to the guidelines was Revision 4 in April 2013 by the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative Interagency Working Group, part of an ongoing information security partnership among the U.S. Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, the Committee on National Security Systems, the Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. federal civil agencies.

The guidelines are revised in accordance with the evolving nature of information security and cover areas like mobile and cloud computing, insider threats, application security, and supply chain security.”

The NIST is a non-regulatory agency within the U.S. Commerce Department. It was developed to encourage and assist innovation and science through a set of defined industry standards.

What NIST 800-53 Does

Before we can talk about what NIST SP 800-53 does, let’s define what exactly it is. Here’s how Techopedia.com puts it:

"NIST 800-53 is a publication that recommends security controls for federal information systems and organizations and documents security controls for all federal information systems, except those designed for national security.

NIST 800-53 is published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which creates and promotes the standards used by federal agencies to implement the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and manage other programs designed to protect information and promote information security. Agencies are expected to meet NIST guidelines and standards within one year of publication."

NIST SP 800-53 provides an exhaustive catalog of controls designed to make federal information systems more resilient. These controls are fully operational and technical and designed to create management safeguards that can then be used by various information systems. The standard seeks to promote integrity, confidentiality, and security of federal information systems.


Another primary purpose of NIST SP 800-53 is risk management. By ensuring control compliance, NIST SP 800-53 helps federal contractors employ risk management programs that keep information safe and secure.

NIST SP 800-53 does this by defining 18 different sections of what it calls the NIST SP 800-53 security control family. These are as follows: 

  • Access Control
  • Incident Response
  • Program Management
  • Audit and Accountability
  • Maintenance
  • Risk Assessment
  • Awareness and Training
  • Media Protection
  • Security Assessment and Authorization
  • Configuration Management
  • Personnel Security
  • System and Communications Protection
  • Contingency Planning
  • Physical and Environmental Protection
  • System and Information Integrity
  • Identification and Authentication
  • Planning
  • System and Services Acquisition


Why Consider NIST 800-53?

Choosing to comply with NIST 800-53 offers a series of profound benefits.

First, NIST 800-53 compliance is a significant factor of FISMA compliance, meaning you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. NIST 800-53 also goes a long way to improve the security of your company’s information by securing your overall infrastructure.

Finally, NIST 800-53 promotes a level of independence, saying you should assess all your data and rank the most delicate pieces, thereby bolstering your internal security program.

With over 900 extensive compliance requirements, NIST SP 800-53 promotes many cyber benefits for your internal security and data program. By choosing to comply with NIST SP 800-53, you can bolster your intelligence and make other compliance issues easier to achieve.

Apptega's cybersecurity framework software can help you build, manage and report your cybersecurity program based on NIST 800-53 or 12+ other standards. We help you simplify the complexity of NIST 800-53, eliminate spreadsheets and help you document and report on an organization’s change and configuration management as part of its overall plan. Plus, with Apptega's Harmony you can see how your NIST 800-53 controls overlap other frameworks you are required to follow like ISO 27001, SOC 2, PCI, NIST, HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA and more.

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