​NIST 800-171 for Federal Contractors (FAR)

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NIST 800-171 isn’t just for Department of Defense (DoD) contractors. Representatives from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and DoD officials have recently been putting this information out in webinars and other training seminars on NIST 800-171. 

In summary, all US government contractors will have to comply with the NIST 800-171 requirements. This is a significant shift from the high-level 15 cybersecurity controls that are currently required by non-DoD contractors with FAR. 

The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) is the driving factor in this and NIST 800-171 already contains the plan for all "non-federal organizations" to have to comply with NIST 800-171, with guidance supposed to be coming from NARA sometime in 2017.

This coming requirement is even specified on page v of NIST 800-171:

Executive Order 13556, Controlled Unclassified Information, November 4, 2010, establishes that the Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) Executive Agent designated as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), shall develop and issue such directives as are necessary to implement the CUI Program. Consistent with this tasking and with the CUI Program’s mission to establish uniform policies and practices across the federal government, NARA is issuing a final federal regulation in 2016 to establish the required controls and markings for CUI government-wide. This federal regulation, once enacted, will bind agencies throughout the executive branch to uniformly apply the standard safeguards, markings, dissemination, and decontrol requirements established by the CUI Program.

With regard to federal information systems, requirements in the federal regulation for protecting CUI at the moderate confidentiality impact level will be based on applicable policies established by OMB and applicable government wide standards and guidelines issued by NIST. The regulation will not create these policies, standards, and guidelines which are already established by OMB and NIST. The regulation will, however, require adherence to the policies and use of the standards and guidelines in a consistent manner throughout the executive branch, thereby reducing current complexity for federal agencies and their nonfederal partners, including contractors.

In addition to defining safeguarding requirements for CUI within the federal government, NARA has taken steps to alleviate the potential impact of such requirements on nonfederal organizations by jointly developing with NIST, Special Publication 800-171 — and defining security requirements for protecting CUI in nonfederal systems and organizations. This approach will help nonfederal entities, including contractors, to comply with the security requirements using the systems and practices they already have in place, rather than trying to use government-specific approaches. It will also provide a standardized and uniform set of requirements for all CUI security needs, tailored to nonfederal systems, allowing nonfederal organizations to be in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, and to consistently implement safeguards for the protection of CUI.

Finally, NARA, in its capacity as the CUI Executive Agent, also plans to sponsor in 2017, a single Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clause that will apply the requirements contained in the federal CUI regulation and Special Publication 800-171 to contractors. This will further promote standardization to benefit a substantial number of nonfederal organizations that are attempting to meet the current range and type of contract clauses, where differing requirements and conflicting guidance from federal agencies for the same information gives rise to confusion and inefficiencies. The CUI FAR clause will also address verification and compliance requirements for the security requirements in NIST Special Publication 800-171. Until the formal process of establishing such a FAR clause takes place, the requirements in NIST Special Publication 800-171 may be referenced in federal contracts consistent with federal law and regulatory requirements. If necessary, Special Publication 800-171 will be updated to remain consistent with the federal CUI regulation and the FAR clause.


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