Doc:NIST SP 800-53Ar1 FPD Front Matter

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NIST Special Publication 800-53A

Revision 1

Guide for Assessing the Security

Controls in Federal Information
Systems and Organizations
Building Effective Security Assessment Plans






Consistent with NIST SP 800-53, Revision 3

  Computer Security Division
  Information Technology Laboratory
  National Institute of Standards and Technology
  Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8930
  May 2010
  U.S. Department of Commerce
  Gary Locke, Secretary
  National Institute of Standards and Technology
  Patrick D. Gallagher, Director

Reports on Computer Systems Technology

The Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) promotes the U.S. economy and public welfare by providing technical leadership for the nation's measurement and standards infrastructure. ITL develops tests, test methods, reference data, proof of concept implementations, and technical analyses to advance the development and productive use of information technology. ITL's responsibilities include the development of management, administrative, technical, and physical standards and guidelines for the cost-effective security and privacy of other than national security-related information in federal information systems. The Special Publication 800-series reports on ITL's research, guidelines, and outreach efforts in information system security, and its collaborative activities with industry, government, and academic organizations.


This publication has been developed by NIST to further its statutory responsibilities under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), Public Law (P.L.) 107-347. NIST is responsible for developing information security standards and guidelines, including minimum requirements for federal information systems, but such standards and guidelines shall not apply to national security systems without the express approval of appropriate federal officials exercising policy authority over such systems. This guideline is consistent with the requirements of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130, Section 8b(3), Securing Agency Information Systems, as analyzed in Circular A-130, Appendix IV: Analysis of Key Sections. Supplemental information is provided in Circular A-130, Appendix III, Security of Federal Automated Information Resources.

Nothing in this publication should be taken to contradict the standards and guidelines made mandatory and binding on federal agencies by the Secretary of Commerce under statutory authority. Nor should these guidelines be interpreted as altering or superseding the existing authorities of the Secretary of Commerce, Director of the OMB, or any other federal official. This publication may be used by nongovernmental organizations on a voluntary basis and is not subject to copyright in the United States. Attribution would, however, be appreciated by NIST.

NIST Special Publication 800-53A, Revision 1, 399 pages
(May 2010)

Certain commercial entities, equipment, or materials may be identified in this document in order to describe an experimental procedure or concept adequately. Such identification is not intended to imply recommendation or endorsement by NIST, nor is it intended to imply that the entities, materials, or equipment are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

There may be references in this publication to other publications currently under development by NIST in accordance with its assigned statutory responsibilities. The information in this publication, including concepts and methodologies, may be used by federal agencies even before the completion of such companion publications. Thus, until each publication is completed, current requirements, guidelines, and procedures, where they exist, remain operative. For planning and transition purposes, federal agencies may wish to closely follow the development of these new publications by NIST.
Organizations are encouraged to review all draft publications during public comment periods and provide feedback to NIST. All NIST publications, other than the ones noted above, are available at

Public comment period: May 6 through June 4, 2010

National Institute of Standards and Technology
Attn: Computer Security Division, Information Technology Laboratory
100 Bureau Drive (Mail Stop 8930) Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8930
Electronic mail:

Compliance with NIST Standards and Guidelines

In accordance with the provisions of FISMA,[1] the Secretary of Commerce shall, on the basis of standards and guidelines developed by NIST, prescribe standards and guidelines pertaining to federal information systems. The Secretary shall make standards compulsory and binding to the extent determined necessary by the Secretary to improve the efficiency of operation or security of federal information systems. Standards prescribed shall include information security standards that provide minimum information security requirements and are otherwise necessary to improve the security of federal information and information systems.

  • Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) are approved by the Secretary of Commerce and issued by NIST in accordance with FISMA. FIPS are compulsory and binding for federal agencies.[2] FISMA requires that federal agencies comply with these standards, and therefore, agencies may not waive their use.
  • Special Publications (SPs) are developed and issued by NIST as recommendations and guidance documents. For other than national security programs and systems, federal agencies must follow those NIST Special Publications mandated in a Federal Information Processing Standard. FIPS 200 mandates the use of Special Publication 800-53, as amended. In addition, OMB policies (including OMB Reporting Instructions for FISMA and Agency Privacy Management) state that for other than national security programs and systems, federal agencies must follow certain specific NIST Special Publications.[3]
  • Other security-related publications, including interagency reports (NISTIRs) and ITL Bulletins, provide technical and other information about NIST's activities. These publications are mandatory only when specified by OMB.
  • Compliance schedules for NIST security standards and guidelines are established by OMB in policies, directives, or memoranda (e.g., annual FISMA Reporting Guidance).[4]


This publication was developed by the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative Interagency Working Group with representatives from the Civil, Defense, and Intelligence Communities in an ongoing effort to produce a unified information security framework for the federal government. The National Institute of Standards and Technology wishes to acknowledge and thank the senior leaders from the Departments of Commerce and Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Committee on National Security Systems, and the members of the interagency technical working group whose dedicated efforts contributed significantly to the publication. The senior leaders, interagency working group members, and their organizational affiliations include:

U.S. Department of Defense Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Cheryl J. Roby

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/Chief Information Officer

Honorable Priscilla Guthrie

Intelligence Community Chief Information Officer

Gus Guissanie

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber, Identity, and Information Assurance

Sherrill Nicely

Deputy Intelligence Community Chief Information Officer

Dominic Cussatt

Senior Policy Advisor

Mark J. Morrison

Deputy Associate Director of National Intelligence for IC Information Assurance

  Roger Caslow

Lead, C&A Transformation

National Institute of Standards and Technology Committee on National Security Systems
Cita M. Furlani

Director, Information Technology Laboratory

Dave Wennergren

Acting Chair, CNSS

William C. Barker

Cyber Security Advisor, Information Technology Laboratory

Eustace D. King

CNSS Subcommittee Co-Chair (DoD)

Donna Dodson

Chief, Computer Security Division

Peter Gouldmann

CNSS Subcommittee Co-Chair (DoS)

Ron Ross

FISMA Implementation Project Leader

Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative Interagency Working Group
Ron Ross Gary Stoneburner Terry Sherald Kelley Dempsey
NIST, JTF Leader Johns Hopkins APL Department of Defense NIST
Patricia Toth Esten Porter Peter Gouldmann Arnold Johnson
NIST The MITRE Corporation Department of State NIST
Bennett Hodge Karen Quigg Jonathan Chiu Christian Enloe
Booz Allen Hamilton The MITRE Corporation Booz Allen Hamilton NIST

In addition to the above acknowledgments, a special note of thanks goes to Peggy Himes and Elizabeth Lennon of NIST for their superb technical editing and administrative support. The authors also wish to recognize Jennifer Fabius Greene, James Govekar, Terrance Hazelwood, Austin Hershey, Laurie Hestor, Jason Mackanick, Timothy Potter, Jennifer Puma, Matthew Scholl, Julie Trei, Gail Tryon, Ricki Vanetesse, Cynthia Whitmer, and Peter Williams for their exceptional contributions in helping to improve the content of the publication. And finally, the authors gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the significant contributions from individuals and organizations in the public and private sectors, nationally and internationally, whose thoughtful and constructive comments improved the overall quality and usefulness of this publication.


In developing standards and guidelines required by FISMA, NIST consults with other federal agencies and offices as well as the private sector to improve information security, avoid unnecessary and costly duplication of effort, and ensure that NIST publications are complementary with the standards and guidelines employed for the protection of national security systems. In addition to its comprehensive public review and vetting process, NIST is collaborating with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS) to establish a common foundation for information security across the federal government. A common foundation for information security will provide the Intelligence, Defense, and Civil sectors of the federal government and their contractors, more uniform and consistent ways to manage the risk to organizational operations and assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation that results from the operation and use of information systems. A common foundation for information security will also provide a strong basis for reciprocal acceptance of security authorization decisions and facilitate information sharing. NIST is also working with public and private sector entities to establish specific mappings and relationships between the security standards and guidelines developed by NIST and the International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC) 27001, Information Security Management System (ISMS).

Notes to Reviewers

The final draft of Special Publication 800-53A, Revision 1, developed by the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative Working Group is part of the ongoing initiative to develop a unified information security framework for the federal government and its contractors. The updated security assessment guideline incorporates best practices in information security from the United States Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, and Civil agencies and includes security control assessment procedures for both national security and non national security systems. The guideline for developing security assessment plans is intended to support a wide variety of assessment activities in all phases of the system development life cycle including development, implementation, and operation.

Special Publication 800-53A, Revision 1, contains the following significant changes:

  • Updated assessment procedures for all security controls and control enhancements in Special Publication 800-53, Revision 3 (including the Program Management family controls);
  • Elimination of the Extended Assessment Procedure;
  • Simplification of and common nomenclature for depth and coverage attributes;
  • Elimination of the L, M, and H designators in the assessment procedures catalog, providing organizations with greater flexibility in selecting appropriate assessment methods for conducting various types of assessments (e.g., assessments supporting information system development, initial and ongoing security authorizations, and continuous monitoring);

The important changes described in Special Publication 800-53A, Revision 1, are part of a larger strategic initiative to focus on enterprise-wide, near real-time risk management; that is, managing risks from information systems in dynamic environments of operation that can adversely affect organizational operations and assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation. The increased flexibility in the selection of assessment methods, assessment objects, and depth and coverage attribute values empowers organizations to place the appropriate emphasis on the assessment process at every stage in the system development life cycle. For example, carrying out an increased level of assessment early in the system development life cycle can provide significant benefits by identifying weaknesses and deficiencies in the information system early and facilitate more cost-effective solutions. Alternatively, allowing organizations to customize their assessment activities during continuous monitoring can place the right emphasis on the assessment of those security controls providing the greatest return on investment. As always, communities of interest may establish certain floors or ceilings on the level of assessment activities based on mission/business needs.

Upon final publication, NIST in coordination with its partners in the Joint Task Force, plan to update the web-based Assessment Cases described in Appendix H, providing organizations and assessors with additional detail in conducting specific assessments of federal information systems.

Your feedback to us, as always, is important. We appreciate each and every contribution from our reviewers. The very insightful comments from both the public and private sectors continue to help shape our publications and ensure that they are meeting the needs of our customers.



  1. 1 The E-Government Act (P.L. 107-347) recognizes the importance of information security to the economic and national security interests of the United States. Title III of the E-Government Act, entitled the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), emphasizes the need for organizations to develop, document, and implement an organization-wide program to provide security for the information systems that support its operations and assets.
  2. 2 The term agency is used in this publication in lieu of the more general term organization only in those circumstances where its usage is directly related to other source documents such as federal legislation or policy.
  3. 3 While federal agencies are required to follow certain specific NIST Special Publications in accordance with OMB policy, there is flexibility in how agencies apply the guidance. Federal agencies apply the security concepts and principles articulated in the NIST Special Publications in accordance with and in the context of the agency's missions, business functions, and environment of operation. Consequently, the application of NIST guidance by federal agencies can result in different security solutions that are equally acceptable, compliant with the guidance, and meet the OMB definition of adequate security for federal information systems. Given the high priority of information sharing and transparency within the federal government, agencies also consider reciprocity in developing their information security solutions. When assessing federal agency compliance with NIST Special Publications, Inspectors General, evaluators, auditors, and assessors consider the intent of the security concepts and principles articulated within the specific guidance document and how the agency applied the guidance in the context of its mission/business responsibilities, operational environment, and unique organizational conditions.
  4. 4 Unless otherwise stated, all references to NIST publications in this document (i.e., Federal Information Processing Standards and Special Publications) are to the most recent version of the publication.