Understanding the Difference Between NIST 800-171 vs CMMC

employee working on laptop trying to be nist 800 171 compliant

Every business has a responsibility to protect the sensitive data it stores, processes, or transmits. And most are starting to realize it. However, for some companies, it is a requirement and if they don’t they reap the consequences of non-compliance with the laws and regulations that govern their particular industry.

But the scary first glance that the following acronyms bring can be broken down into digestible parts.

What is the NIST Framework?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 800-171 is a set of cybersecurity guidelines for nonfederal systems and organizations that process, store, or transmit Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) like:

  • Personal identifiable information (PII)
  • Intellectual property
  • Export data
  • Law enforcement data

This set of requirements is the result of the NIST releasing Special Publication 800-171. This provides basic security requirements for protecting CUI that is processed outside any federal agency. It’s a subset of the more comprehensive NIST 800-53, which is a set of security controls used in the federal sector. This framework consists of 14 families of security controls comprised of 110 individual controls.

What is CMMC?

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is an accreditation framework developed by the Department of Defense (DoD). It is designed to protect Federal Contract Information (FCI) and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), which both reside in contractor information systems.

The CMMC is comprised of 5 different security maturity levels, ranging from level 1 (basic) to level 5 (progressive). Each maturity level includes multiple practices and processes for protecting CUI. And without it, you risk losing contracts, facing exorbitant fines, and having a damaged reputation — three things we want to help you avoid.

What are the Biggest Differences?

The biggest difference between NIST 800-171 and CMMC is the scope of what they cover. NIST focuses more on technical controls, while CMMC has a stronger emphasis on organizational processes. For example, NIST 800-171 focuses on technical controls like encryption, data access control, and authentication. But CMMC looks beyond just that by focusing on the processes used to implement those controls like personnel training, awareness of threats, and the use of third-party audit firms.

Additionally, NIST 800-171 applies to anyone dealing with CUI, while CMMC is specifically for companies working with the DoD who need to protect FCI and CUI.

Is One More Secure Than the Other?

Both frameworks are designed to provide adequate security protection of CUI, however, CMMC is more stringent since it includes over 170 control guidelines compared to the 110 controls that NIST cybersecurity outlines like:

  • Data protection and system hardening
  • Availability of systems
  • Configuration management
  • System and communications protection
  • Auditing/logging
  • Personnel security
  • Incident response
  • Physical security

Who Do They Apply To?

It’s actually quite simple. Two categories align with each to help you understand if this applies to you:

  1. If dealing with a CIU, NIST is for you.
  2. If dealing with an FCI, CMMC is for you.

No matter which one applies to you, both frameworks are designed to provide adequate security protection of sensitive data. Understanding their differences and knowing which one pertains to your business can help ensure compliance and better protect your data.

Stay Compliant with Full Send Networks

Full Send Networks specializes in helping companies stay compliant with both NIST 800-171 and CMMC because your security shouldn’t be left to chance. Our team of experts have the knowledge and experience to help you identify gaps, create a plan of action, and mitigate risk.

Get started with us today to make non-compliance a thing of the past!