NIST Special Publications (SPs)

What are the NIST Special Publications (SPs) 800 Series? 

Art Clomera

Vice President, Operations

The NIST Special Publication 800 series provides a comprehensive framework for managing the security of federal information systems and the private sector.   In federal agencies, these procedural frameworks serve as the very cornerstone of the nation’s cybersecurity, offering guidance to establishing baseline requirements for information security across all agency operations and assets.  Our company has automated the cybersecurity programs over a range of federal information systems. And since NIST SPs are standard requirements in most government contracts, we have journeyed with agencies through the Special Publications many times, overcoming the practical challenges of implementing these frameworks.   In this article, we’ll explore some of the most widely used NIST SPs, and why they’re crucial to preserving the security and reliability of information systems within federal agencies.   

Overview of the NIST Special Publications 800 Series (NIST SP) 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publications are widely used by organizations in the public and private sectors to improve their cybersecurity posture and ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.   NIST uses three subseries for publishing computer, cyber, and information security guidelines, recommendations, and reference materials.   They include: 
  • SP 800 Series (December 1990-present): 
    • NIST’s main channel for releasing computer, cyber, and information security guidelines, recommendations, and reference materials 
  • SP 800 Series (2015-present): 
    • A new subseries that complements SP 800 
    • Addresses specific cybersecurity challenges in public and private sectors 
    • Offers practical and user-friendly guides to facilitate the adoption of standards-based cybersecurity approaches.
  • SP 500 Series (January 1977-present): 
    • Before introducing the SP 800 subseries, NIST used the SP 500 subseries for computer security publications. 
  These publications are searchable at the NIST Research Library 

What are the most widely used NIST Special Publications by federal agencies? 

There are over 200 special publications in the NIST SP 800 series, but this number fluctuates as new publications are added and old ones are updated or retired. (Such as SP 800-1, released in 1990 when modem speeds were a blistering 14.4 kilobits per second.) Not all are How-To-Manuals. Some are annual reports of NIST’s cybersecurity activities.  

NIST SP 800-39 

“Managing Information Security Risk: Organization, Mission, and Information System View”  This publication provides direction for establishing a comprehensive, organization-wide program dedicated to the management of information security risks.  The program is designed to tackle risks associated with organizational operations, including mission, functions, image, and reputation, as well as risks to organizational assets, individuals, other entities, and the nation stemming from the operation and utilization of federal information systems.  The guidance on information security risk management is supplementary and can be integrated into a broader Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) initiative. Its intentional design is deliberately all-encompassing, focusing on information security risks primarily arising from the operation and utilization of information technologies.  First Published: Mar. 2011  Download 

NIST SP 800-53  

“Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations”   First published in 2005, NIST SP 800-53 has undergone several revisions in response to the evolving landscape.  A catalog of security and privacy controls is provided designed for federal information systems, excluding those pertaining to national security. These controls are indispensable for federal agencies, enabling the development and implementation of a risk-based approach to manage information security risks effectively.  It can meet the wide-ranging security requirements imposed on information systems and organizations. These controls are designed to be consistent with and complementary to other established information security standards.  Revision 5, released in September 2020, introduced substantial changes, including removing the term “federal,” extending the applicability of these regulations to all organizations. These controls can address diverse security requirements for information systems and organizations while aligning with established information security standards.  You can find out more here about how it’s used.  First Published: Feb. 2005  Download (Revision 5 Crosswalk)  Related Documentation: Mapping Document (XLSX) 

NIST SP 800-37  

“Guide for Applying the Risk Management Framework to Federal Information Systems”   This framework offers a methodical yet adaptable framework for overseeing information security the organization, mission/business process, and information system levels.  Its main objective is to offer a risk management framework that allows organizations to effectively assess and manage risks associated with their data security and privacy risks.   For our teams, NIST SP 800-37 provides guidelines for selecting appropriate security controls from NIST SP 800-53 based on the identified risk levels and the organization’s security requirements.  First Published: Feb. 2010  Download  Related Documentation: Mapping Document (XLSX) 


NIST SP 800-30 

“Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments,”  This publication is vital for organizations looking to comprehend and manage the risks associated with their information systems and data. It’s widely used by federal agencies and other organizations to assess and manage risks related to their information systems.  Based on concepts presented in NIST Special Publication 800-27, NIST SP 800-30 provides a structured approach to risk. assessment.  This publication offers a systematic risk assessment approach, encompassing the identification of threats, vulnerabilities, and potential impacts on information systems. Furthermore, it provides direction on prioritizing risks and choosing suitable risk mitigation strategies.   Read more about the NIST risk assessment report here.  First Published: Aug. 2008  Download 

NIST SP 800-146 

“Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendations”  The document targets a spectrum of information technology decision-makers, including chief information officers, information systems developers, system and network administrators, information system security officers, and systems owners. It simplifies the concept of cloud systems and offers recommendations tailored to these critical stakeholders in straightforward language.  It helps organizations looking to understand and implement cloud computing via a comprehensive overview of cloud computing, including its benefits, open issues, and managing the associated risks.   Specifically, it delves into the deployment methods of cloud systems, the array of available services, economic factors to consider, technical attributes such as performance and reliability, standard terms of service, and security concerns.  First Published: May 2012  Download 

NIST SP 800-60  

“Guide for Mapping Types of Information and Information Systems to Security Categories”  A crucial resource for organizations looking to categorize their information and information systems according to their security requirements. It provides comprehensive guidelines for understanding these requirements and managing the associated risks.  We utilize NIST SP 800-60 to assist agencies in categorizing impact levels related to information and information systems, aligning with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements.  First Published: Aug. 2008  Download   

NIST SP 800-137  

Information Security Continuous Monitoring (ISCM)   NIST SP 800-137 guides Information Security Continuous Monitoring (ISCM) for Federal Information Systems and Organizations. (Btw, ISCM is important because it functions as a risk management and decision support tool at every level of an organization.)   NIST SP 800-137 is designed to tackle risks associated with organizational operations. This includes mission, functions, image, and reputation. But also risks to organizational assets, individuals, other entities, and the nation stemming from the operation and utilization of federal information systems.   Why is it valuable? Where should we start? Superior and unbiased cybersecurity. Long-term cybersecurity and risk management. Earlier detection of vulnerabilities. Proactive response to incidents. Increased visibility and sustainable best practices within your organization’s cybersecurity program. Ripple effects across supply chains and vendor lists. Bridging the gap between technical and financial leaders. Best of all it’s tailorable to your organization’s needs.  First Published: Feb. 2011  Download   

NIST SP 800-207 

Zero Trust Architecture   ZTA is a strategic approach to cybersecurity. It’s built on one elegant protocol: trust no user or application by default. This simple rule is applied repeatedly, validating every step of a digital interaction.    NIST SP 800-207 provides enterprises with a high-level roadmap to migrate to and implement a ZTA approach. It prioritizes resource protection over network segments because enterprises, unlike many federal agencies, have numerous remote users and cloud-based assets that extend beyond their network boundaries.  ZTA is already present in current federal cybersecurity policies and programs. However, NIST SP 800-207 is still useful to agency cybersecurity managers and network administrators because it includes a gap analysis of areas where more research and standardization are needed to aid agencies in developing and implementing ZTA strategies.   ZTA isn’t meant to be a single deployment, but starting with a solid understanding of the organization’s business and data will result in a strong approach to zero trust.  First Published: Aug. 2020  Download (Final publication) 

The NIST Special Publications are a living body of knowledge  

As cybersecurity threats and technology evolve, NIST may release updated versions or new publications in the series to address emerging challenges.   Organizations often rely on the latest NIST guidance to keep their security practices current. You can find a complete list of NIST Special Publications on the NIST website. 

Wrapping Up NIST SP 

Understanding and implementing the NIST Special Publications, notably the 800 series, is crucial for organizations looking to enhance their cybersecurity posture. By following these guidelines and best practices, organizations can better protect their information systems and manage cybersecurity risks. 

Automate Your Cybersecurity Program with IPKeys 

IPKeys offers a range of automation tools designed to simplify implementing security controls and monitoring systems and ensure continuous compliance with NIST standards and NIST SP 800-53 empowered by the Open Security Controls Assessment Language (OSCAL). 

Advanced analytics 

The Cyber-Lab-as-a-Service (CLaaS) platform uses AI to identify weaknesses and address vulnerabilities in information systems. It identifies, calculates, and quantifies security risks and is fully configurable to an agency’s needs. 

OSCAL POA&M Model and OSCAL Control Layer: Catalog Model 

CLaaS also automatically generates Plans of Actions and Milestones (POA&Ms) and calculates the Rough Order of Magnitude to mitigate vulnerabilities. We utilize OSCAL, a collection of programming languages, and file formats that use a shared risk management vocabulary; to consolidate and simplify the process of evaluating risk within a system or organization. This allows us to generate swift and precise risk reports. 

Industry-driven, DoD-optimized 

Our solutions are tailored to meet the specific needs of the Federal Government and comply with NIST SP 800-30, 800-37, 800-39, 800-53A, 800-137, and other federal agency-relevant standards.  Curious about automating your cybersecurity program? Talk to our team.   

NIST Special Publications – Common FAQs 

What is the NIST 800 SP? 

The NIST 800 series special publications are a collection of guidelines and best practices developed by NIST to assist organizations in securing their information systems and managing cybersecurity risk. 

Why do we need the NIST SP 800 series?   

While the primary audience for the SP 800 Series is the U.S. Federal Government, entities outside of the U.S. Federal Government may voluntarily adopt NIST’s SP 800-series publications unless they are contractually obligated to do so. The widespread use of the NIST SP 800 Series demonstrates its value in helping organizations enhance their cybersecurity posture, better protect their information systems, and manage cybersecurity risk more effectively. 

What is the difference between NIST SP 800-37 and SP 800-53? 

NIST SP 800-37 offers guidance on implementing the Risk Management Framework for federal information systems, while NIST SP 800-53 supplies a comprehensive catalog of security and privacy controls tailored for use in federal information systems and organizations. 

What is the difference between NIST SP 800-30 and 800-37? 

NIST SP 800-30 provides guidelines for conducting risk assessments, while NIST SP 800-37 outlines the Risk Management Framework for federal information systems. 

Which NIST Special Publications deal with security controls? 

NIST Special Publication 800-53, titled “Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations,” focuses on security controls. It offers a comprehensive catalog of security and privacy controls designed for all U.S. federal information systems, excluding those associated with national security. 

How do NIST Special Publications help federal information systems? 

NIST Special Publications are directly connected to federal information systems, specifically crafted to cater to the security and privacy requirements of U.S. Federal Government information and information systems. NIST creates these publications as part of its statutory obligations outlined in the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) 2014. 

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