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NIST Special Publication 800 Series: Definition & Purpose

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

What if cybersecurity came with an instruction manual? Thanks to NIST, it does! This series of special publications is used as the framework for many security policies and programs. Learn more about that in this lesson.

All The Instructions

If you've ever had a baby (and even if you haven't), you know there are lots of things you have to learn. Especially with your first one, it can be tricky to know what they want and want to do. Does that cry mean they're hungry or they need a diaper change? Are they too warm or too cold? When are they going to sleep all night? When are YOU going to sleep all night? How do you know when they're sick/bored/tired?


Too bad babies do not come with instructions like cybersecurity does!
instructions, NIST, special, publication, 800, series, guidance, cybersecurity


If only babies came with instructions! You've probably heard a new parent or two utter that same statement. Yes, a one-stop resource for answering every question about your new little one would be insanely useful.

No, this lesson isn't about babies so if you're looking for any answers, sorry to disappoint! It it, however, about another type of critical ''instruction manual'' of sorts - one for IT and security professionals that offers guidance on virtually all aspects of cybersecurity. Let's look more closely at this special publication with instructions for cybersecurity.

NIST 800 Series

The National Institutes of Standards and Technology, otherwise known as NIST, is the organization behind this cybersecurity playbook. Falling under the U.S. Department of Commerce, this non-regulatory body first created standards and guidelines for the federal government. Today, many industries and private organizations utilize a great number of these standards without even realizing it. For example, the way you manage your company's digital assets is likely influenced by one - or many - of the voluntary NIST standards in circulation.

Specifically, the NIST 800 series was designed as an ''instruction manual'' for how the U.S. government's cybersecurity policies and procedures should be set up. And yes, despite it being for the U.S. government, it is also publicly available and used by many outside companies as the rulebook they follow.

In the 800 series, you can learn about topics like:

  • How to assess cybersecurity threats
  • How to recognize security vulnerabilities
  • Ways to document security incidents
  • How to enact security measures to protect your assets and your business
  • Ways to minimize the risk cybersecurity events can present
  • How to enforce security rules in your organization
  • Ways to respond to litigation matters when security issues arise
  • How to enhance your existing security strategies
  • How to relate security performance to overall business performance

As you can see, the NIST 800 series offers a comprehensive overview, as well as specific guidance, for all areas where cybersecurity is a concern. Inside of the NIST 800 series, however, is one particularly well-known publication.

NIST 800-53

One of the most popular of the NIST 800 Series publications is the one known as NIST 800-53. But, it also has a name: ''Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations''. It has been revised and appended five times and will likely continue to undergo revisions as new technologies are introduced.

In short, this publication focuses on security controls that are needed for information systems. That means, it outlines the need organizations have to establish an information security framework and security policy inside its walls.

In the third revision of the publication, for example, a risk management framework is outlined. The following revision includes a section on how to manage the more recent introduction of social networking and cloud computing. The fifth revision deals with a lot of next generation security matters, such as edge computing and ''clarifying the relationship between security and privacy'', as mentioned in the publication.

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