NIST 800-171: Complete Compliance Guide

As organizations handle sensitive and controlled unclassified information (CUI), ensuring the appropriate security measures are in place becomes paramount. To address this, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed the Special Publication 800-171, which provides a comprehensive framework for protecting CUI.

What is NIST 800-171?

NIST 800-171, officially titled "Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations," outlines the requirements for safeguarding CUI. It establishes a set of controls designed to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information.

NIST 800-171 vs. NIST 800-53

While NIST 800-171 focuses specifically on protecting CUI within nonfederal systems and organizations, NIST 800-53 provides a broader set of security controls for federal information systems. The two publications complement each other, with NIST 800-171 addressing CUI protections that align with NIST 800-53 controls.

NIST 800-171 Requirements

The NIST 800-171 requirements consist of 14 families of security controls, each with its respective objectives. These requirements cover a broad range of areas, including access control, awareness training, incident response, risk assessment, and system and communications protection. Adhering to these requirements ensures appropriate security safeguards for CUI.

NIST 800-171 Controls

Within the framework of NIST 800-171, there are a total of 110 recommended security controls. These controls provide organizations with specific measures to implement and maintain the security of CUI. Examples of controls include access control policies, encryption of data at rest, incident response procedures, and inventory management.

Steps to Conduct a NIST 800-171 Self-Assessment

Conducting a self-assessment is an essential part of NIST 800-171 compliance. Follow these steps to ensure a thorough self-assessment:

Step 1: Familiarize Yourself with NIST 800-171 Requirements

To conduct a successful self-assessment, it is crucial to understand the requirements outlined in NIST 800-171. Review each family of controls and corresponding objectives to gain comprehensive knowledge.

Step 2: Identify Applicable Controls

Identify the controls that are relevant to your organization and assess how they currently align with your existing security measures. Determine any gaps that need to be addressed to achieve compliance.

Step 3: Perform Gap Analysis

Conduct a gap analysis by comparing your current security posture with the NIST 800-171 requirements. Document any discrepancies and prioritize areas that require immediate attention.

Step 4: Develop a Remediation Plan

Based on the identified gaps, create a remediation plan to address each deficiency. Assign responsibilities, set timelines, and establish milestones for implementing the necessary controls.

Step 5: Implement Controls and Document Evidence

Start implementing the controls outlined in your remediation plan. Document evidence of the implemented controls, such as policies, procedures, and technical configurations. This documentation will be essential during the assessment process.

Step 6: Test Controls for Effectiveness

Verify the effectiveness of implemented controls by conducting tests and assessments. Ensure the controls are functioning as intended and meeting the requirements set by NIST 800-171.

Step 7: Continuously Monitor and Improve

Compliance is an ongoing process. Continuously monitor and improve your security posture by conducting regular assessments, addressing vulnerabilities, and staying up-to-date with any changes or updates to NIST 800-171 requirements.

NIST 800-171 Compliance Checklist

A NIST 800-171 compliance checklist helps organizations ensure that they have implemented and maintained the necessary controls. Below is a table containing a sample checklist:

Control FamilyControl ObjectiveCompliance Status
Access ControlLimit system access to authorized users
Awareness and TrainingProvide security awareness training to employees
Configuration ManagementMaintain baseline configurations and manage changes

A complete list of the controls and their detailed descriptions can be found in CyberRiskAI's NIST 800-171 workbook, a template / checklist resource in excel and PDF format that you can download and use.


Complying with NIST 800-171 is crucial for organizations handling CUI. By understanding the requirements, implementing the necessary controls, and conducting regular self-assessments, organizations can effectively protect sensitive information and maintain compliance.

For a complete checklist of NIST 800-171 controls and their detailed descriptions, purchase a copy of CyberRiskAI's NIST 800-171 workbook which comes with an assessment report.

Unlock Your Path to CyberSec Compliance

Start on your cybersecurity audit journey now, work towards NIST 800-171 or ISO 27001 certification with our workbooks and report.


Free cybersecurity risk assessment template & tool.

It takes just 2 minutes to sign up and get access to our risk template & tool in Excel, Word and PDF format.