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Cybersecurity Review: NIST SP 800-171 in Plain English!

By Nancy Brown, KY APEX Accelerator Executive Director


This article was originally published in our monthly KY APEX Accelerator Newsletter. If you have any questions about this topic, your KY APEX Accelerator consultant is here to help! Not a client? Sign up here.

Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) is considered information that has been designated by the U.S. government as Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU), as well as information that is subject to specific federal regulations such as export control and privacy laws. Compliance with CUI regulations is essential for ensuring that information is protected to the best of our ability from unauthorized access and misuse.

Enter the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-171, which provides guidelines for protecting CUI in non-federal information systems and organizations. The framework was developed to standardize the handling of sensitive government data across various industries and organizations that may encounter CUI (through government contracts, for example).

The guidelines established in NIST SP 800-171 are based on 14 "families" of security controls. These families cover a wide range of topics such as access control, awareness and training, configuration management, incident response and security assessment. These security controls are designed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of CUI, as well as protect against cyber threats and data breaches.

One of the key benefits of NIST SP 800-171 is that it provides a consistent and comprehensive approach to cybersecurity across different organizations and industries. It also helps organizations comply with federal regulations, such as the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), which mandates that contractors and subcontractors of the Department of Defense must implement the security controls outlined in NIST SP 800-171.

Implementing the security controls outlined in NIST SP 800-171 can be a complex and time-consuming process for businesses, but it is essential for protecting CUI and maintaining compliance with federal regulations. Companies that handle CUI should start by conducting a thorough assessment of their current security posture. This should include identifying any gaps or vulnerabilities and developing a plan for implementing the necessary controls. It is also worthwhile to regularly monitor and assess the effectiveness of security controls and make updates and improvements as needed.

At the Kentucky APEX Accelerator, we assist our clients with understanding all NIST SP 800-171 requirements, and we provide both counseling and training focused on equipping you to effectively implement these security controls in your company and ensure you have consistent and comprehensive cybersecurity practices.

Please reach out to your KY APEX Accelerator procurement consultant today to request assistance with navigating NIST SP 800-171 requirements or any other topic related to government contracting. If you are not sure how to connect with your regional consultant, you can request assistance by contacting us at or by registering as a client on our website.


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