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Tyler Thepsiri

By: Tyler Thepsiri on April 25, 2024

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How Long Does NIST 800-171 Compliance Take? 4 Key Stages And Factors

Cybersecurity | Compliance

As a business leader you have a lot on your plate. If you are an organization that works with the government, you most likely are aware that you are required to meet standards and guidelines to ensure that data and records are protected.

In some cases, that information may be categorized as secret, top-secret or classified. But there is sensitive information that does not fall into those categories.

NIST 800-171 provides a framework for protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI), and with CMMC certification on the horizon, being compliant with NIST 800-171 is an essential steppingstone.

As Manager of Engineering Services at Kelser Corporation, I’ve seen organizations that embrace the ongoing nature of compliance and those that don’t. I understand the demands that business leaders face, and I also understand why ongoing compliance is a challenge but a necessity. 

Some of the most frequently asked questions I get asked regarding NIST 800-171 compliance are “How long does it take to achieve NIST compliance? What’s my timeline look like?”

The truth is it depends. I know this is not a cut and dry answer. NIST 800-171 compliance is unique for each organization and is affected by a range of factors.

In this article my goal is to help you understand what these factors are so you can gain a clearer picture of what may be required for your organization and how long it may take to become NIST compliant.

What Are The 4 Key Stages In Your NIST Compliance Timeline?

1. Understanding Your IT Environment

In order to prevent extra costs and save time on your compliance journey, it is important to understand your IT environment and security infrastructure.

To do so, conduct a gap analysis to help evaluate your current security posture and identify vulnerabilities and areas for improvement. This will help you understand and determine the specific NIST controls applicable to your organization.

2. Policy Development & Implementation

Develop actionable policies and procedures based on the NIST 800-171 framework. These policies usually are centered around data security, access controls, incident response and risk management.

Integrate these policies into your existing IT infrastructure and make sure to include an employee security awareness training program.

3. System & Control Implementation

This step is often one of the most time consuming as it depends on how robust your existing security infrastructure is. Implement the necessary controls from the NIST 800-171 Framework.

This will include making sure firewalls are properly configured, implementing a patch policy and monitoring tools, adopting multi-factor authentication and stronger data encryption methods.

4. Conduct Regular Assessments and Proactive Monitoring

Make sure to keep up with the latest cyber threats by conducting regular security assessments like penetration testing and vulnerability scans.

A proactive IT approach to monitoring will also make sure your infrastructure and devices are up to date with the latest patches and therefore neutralize potential cyber threats before they ever become evident.

Related Article: Continuous Compliance: 6 Steps To Stay Ahead (NIST & More)

What Factors Affect Your NIST Compliance Timeline?

Now that you know the 4 keys stages in your NIST journey, let’s talk about what factors influence the overall timeline. Several factors play a role.

  • Organizational Size and Complexity

If you have a large organization with a complex IT infrastructure, this will require more time for implementation compared to smaller businesses.

  • Existing Cybersecurity Program & Policies

Organizations that have a strong cybersecurity program and foundation in place will find it easier and get the jump on those starting from scratch.

  • IT Personnel

If you have a dedicated internal IT team, with cybersecurity expertise that can focus on compliance without impacting your internal IT support needs, this will have a direct effect on how quickly you can implement policies and procedures aligned with the NIST 800-171 framework.

  • Budget Allocation

A well-defined budget will allow you to implement controls more effectively by doing research on tools beforehand.

  • External Contractual & Industry Requirements

If you are in a highly regulated industry and have more stringent industry specific requirements or contract stipulations, this may add additional layers of complexity and potentially increase the time it takes to achieve NIST compliance.

Related Article: NIST 800-171 vs CMMC:What’s The Difference? How Do They Work Together?

NIST 800-171 Is Complex, But You Don’t Have To Go It Alone.

After reading this article, you now have a thorough understanding of what the key stages are involved in achieving NIST 800-171 compliance and factors that can affect your timeline. The path toward NIST compliance is unique for all organizations, but the goal remains the same: a more secure organization and more importantly, preparing for CMMC certification.

Related Article: Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification In 2024: What You Need To Know

NIST compliance can seem overwhelming and complex. It doesn’t have to be. At Kelser, a managed IT services provider, we help businesses navigate their compliance journey every day. We believe that no matter where you are in your compliance journey, it’s a good idea to adopt a continuous improvement mentality.

If you have a large internal IT staff, you may have all the resources you need to ensure that your organization can successfully prepare and implement the necessary policies and procedures for NIST Compliance.

If you don’t have a full in-house IT team or a team that has little compliance experience, you may want to explore working with an external IT provider who has compliance expertise and staff to guide and advise you.

Managed IT services help organizations like yours adopt many of the requirements outlined in NIST 800-171 and ultimately prepare for the next step, CMMC certification, which is mandatory for government contractors and subcontractors. 

We know managed IT support isn’t right for every organization. We publish articles like this one so that business leaders like you have the information you need to keep your data and infrastructure safe and understand how to move forward whether you choose to work with us or not.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and just want to talk to a human, we get it too! The button below will connect you to a simple form. Provide your name and email and one of our IT compliance experts will reach out to schedule a 15-minute call to learn about your current technology situation, pain points, and compliance goals. (No sales pitch; just a conversation.)

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About Tyler Thepsiri

With more than 10 years in the IT industry, Tyler is able to adapt quickly to almost any technological issue. He understands how systems should work, and specializes in security and compliance.

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