NIST SP 800-37r1dF Chapter 1

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Organizations[1] depend on information technology and the information systems[2] that are developed from that technology to successfully carry out their missions and business functions. Information systems can include a range of diverse computing platforms from high-end supercomputers to personal digital assistants and cellular telephones. Information systems can also include very specialized systems and devices (e.g., telecommunications systems, industrial/process control systems, testing and calibration devices, weapons systems, command and control systems, and environmental control systems). Federal information systems[3] are subject to serious threats that can have adverse impacts[4] on organizational operations (including mission, functions, image, and reputation), organizational assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation by compromising the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of information being processed, stored, or transmitted by those systems. Threats to information systems include environmental disruptions, human or machine errors, and purposeful attacks. Cyber attacks on information systems today are often aggressive, disciplined, well-organized, well-funded, and in a growing number of documented cases, very sophisticated. Successful attacks on public and private sector information systems can result in great harm to the national and economic security interests of the United States. Given the significant and growing danger of these threats, it is imperative that leaders at all levels understand their responsibilities for achieving adequate information security[5] and for managing information system-related security risks.[6]


NIST in partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS), is developing a common information security framework for the federal government and its support contractors. This publication represents the second in a series of publications developed by the Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative. The initial publication produced by the joint task force, NIST Special Publication 800-53, Revision 3, created a unified security control catalog reflecting the information security requirements of both the national security community and the nonnational security community. NIST Special Publication 800-37, Revision 1, continues the evolution to a unified framework by transforming the traditional Certification and Accreditation (C&A) process into the six-step Risk Management Framework (RMF). The revised process emphasizes: (i) building information security capabilities into federal information systems through the application of state-of-the-practice management, operational, and technical security controls; (ii) maintaining awareness of the security state of information systems on an ongoing basis though enhanced monitoring processes; and (iii) providing essential information to senior leaders to facilitate credible decisions regarding the acceptance of risk to organizational operations and assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation arising from the operation and use of information systems.

The RMF-based process has the following characteristics:

  • Promotes the concept of near real-time risk management and ongoing information system authorization through the implementation of robust continuous monitoring processes;
  • Encourages the use of automation and automated support tools to provide senior leaders the necessary information to take credible, risk-based decisions with regard to the organizational information systems supporting their core missions and business functions;
  • Integrates information security more closely into the enterprise architecture and system development life cycle;
  • Provides equal emphasis on the selection, implementation, assessment, and monitoring of security controls, and the authorization of information systems;
  • Links risk management processes at the information system level to risk management processes at the organization level through a risk executive (function); and
  • Establishes responsibility and accountability for security controls deployed within organizational information systems and inherited by those systems (i.e., common controls).

The risk management process described in this publication and in other supporting NIST publications changes the traditional focus from the stove-pipe, organization-centric, static-based approaches to C&A and provides the capability to more effectively manage information system-related security risks in highly dynamic environments of complex and sophisticated cyber threats, ever increasing system vulnerabilities, and rapidly changing missions.


The purpose of this publication is to provide guidelines for applying the Risk Management Framework to federal information systems to include conducting the activities of security categorization,[7] security control selection and implementation, security control assessment, information system authorization,[8] and security control monitoring. The guidelines have been developed:

  • To ensure that managing risk from the operation and use of federal information systems is consistent with the organization's mission/business objectives and overall risk strategy established by the senior leadership through the risk executive (function);
  • To ensure that information security requirements, including necessary security controls, are integrated into the organization's enterprise architecture and system development life cycle processes;
  • To support consistent, well-informed, and ongoing security authorization decisions (through continuous monitoring), transparency of security and risk-related information, and reciprocity of authorization results;[9] and
  • To achieve more secure information and information systems within the federal government through the implementation of appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

This publication satisfies the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and meets or exceeds the information security requirements established for executive agencies[10] by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Circular A-130, Appendix III, Security of Federal Automated Information Resources. The guidelines in this publication are applicable to all federal information systems[11] other than those systems designated as national security systems as defined in 44 U.S.C., Section 3542. The guidelines have been broadly developed from a technical perspective to complement similar guidelines for national security systems and may be used for such systems with the approval of appropriate federal officials exercising policy authority over such systems. State, local, and tribal governments, as well as private sector organizations are encouraged to consider using these guidelines, as appropriate.[12]


This publication serves individuals associated with the design, development, implementation, operation, maintenance, and disposition of federal information systems including:

  • Individuals with mission/business ownership responsibilities or fiduciary responsibilities (e.g., heads of federal agencies, chief executive officers, chief financial officers);
  • Individuals with information system development and integration responsibilities (e.g., program managers, information technology product developers, information system developers, information systems integrators, enterprise architects, information security architects);
  • Individuals with information system and/or security management/oversight responsibilities (e.g., senior leaders, risk executives, authorizing officials, chief information officers, senior information security officers[13]);
  • Individuals with information system and security control assessment and monitoring responsibilities (e.g., system evaluators, assessors/assessment teams, independent verification and validation assessors, auditors, or information system owners); and
  • Individuals with information security implementation and operational responsibilities (e.g., information system owners, common control providers, information owners/stewards, mission/business owners, information security architects, information system security engineers/officers).


The remainder of this special publication is organized as follows:


  1. The term organization is used in this publication to describe an entity of any size, complexity, or positioning within an organizational structure (e.g., a federal agency or, as appropriate, any of its operational elements).
  2. An information system is a discrete set of information resources organized for the collection, processing, maintenance, use, sharing, dissemination, or disposition of information.
  3. A federal information system is defined as an information system used or operated by a federal agency, or by a contractor of a federal agency or by another organization on behalf of a federal agency.
  4. Adverse impacts to the Nation include, for example, compromises to information systems that support critical infrastructure applications or are paramount to government continuity of operations as defined by the Department of Homeland Security.
  5. OMB Circular A-130, Appendix III, describes adequate security as security commensurate with risk. This risk includes both the likelihood and magnitude of harm resulting from the loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to or modification of information.
  6. Risk is a measure of the extent to which an entity is threatened by a potential circumstance or event, and is typically a function of the likelihood of the circumstance or event occurring and of the resulting adverse impacts.
  7. Security categorization methodologies are described in CNSS Instruction 1253 for national security systems and in FIPS 199 for other than national security systems.
  8. Security authorization is the official management decision given by a senior organizational official to authorize operation of an information system and to explicitly accept the risk to organizational operations and assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation based on the implementation of an agreed-upon set of security controls.
  9. Reciprocity of security authorization results is the mutual agreement among participating organizations to accept each other's security assessments in order to reuse information system resources and/or to accept each other's assessed security posture in order to share information. Reciprocity is best achieved by promoting the concept of transparency (i.e., making sufficient evidence regarding the security state of an information system available, so that an authorizing official from another organization can use that evidence to make credible, risk-based decisions regarding the operation and use of that system or the information it processes, stores, or transmits).
  10. An executive agency is: (i) an executive department specified in 5 U.S.C., Section 101; (ii) a military department specified in 5 U.S.C., Section 102; (iii) an independent establishment as defined in 5 U.S.C., Section 104(1); and (iv) a wholly owned government corporation fully subject to the provisions of 31 U.S.C., Chapter 91. In this publication, the term executive agency is synonymous with the term federal agency.
  11. A federal information system is an information system used or operated by an executive agency, by a contractor of an executive agency, or by another organization on behalf of an executive agency.
  12. Interconnection of federal information systems with information systems operated by state, local, and/or tribal governments requires the application of the information security standards and guidelines described in this publication. Information security requirements and the terms and conditions of the system interconnections, are expressed in the Memorandums of Understanding and Interconnection Security Agreements established by participating organizations.
  13. At the agency level, this position is known as the Senior Agency Information Security Officer. Organizations may also refer to this position as the Chief Information Security Officer.