NIST SP 800-39 Front Matter

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NIST Special Publication 800-39
Managing Information Security Risk:

Organization, Mission, and Information System View







  Computer Security Division
  Information Technology Laboratory
  National Institute of Standards and Technology
  Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8930
  March 2011
  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 800-39, 88 pages
(March 2011)

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

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
Teresa M. Takai Adolpho Tarasiuk Jr.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/DoD Chief Information Officer (Acting) Assistant Director of National Intelligence and Intelligence Community Chief Information Officer
Gus Guissanie Charlene P. Leubecker
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Acting) Deputy Intelligence Community Chief Information Officer
Dominic Cussatt Mark J. Morrison
Senior Policy Advisor Director, Intelligence Community Information Assurance
Barbara Fleming Roger Caslow
Senior Policy Advisor Chief, Risk Management and Information Security Programs Division
National Institute of Standards and Technology Committee on National Security Systems
Cita M.Furlani Teresa M. Takai
Director, Information Technology Laboratory Acting Chair, CNSS
William C. Barker Eustace D. King
Cyber Security Advisor, Information Technology Laboratory CNSS Subcommittee Co-Chair
Donna Dodson Peter Gouldmann
Chief, Computer Security Division CNSS Subcommittee Co-Chair
Ron Ross Lance Dubsky
FISMA Implementation Project Leader CNSS Subcommittee Co-Chair

Joint Task Force Transformation Initiative Interagency Working Group
Ron Ross Gary Stoneburner Jennifer Fabius-Greene Kelley Dempsey
NIST, JTF Leader Johns Hopkins APL The MITRE Corporation NIST
Deborah Bodeau Cheri Caddy Peter Gouldmann Arnold Johnson
The MITRE Corporation Intelligence Community Department of State NIST
Peter Williams Karen Quigg Richard Graubart Christian Enloe
Booz Allen Hamilton The MITRE Corporation The MITRE Corporation NIST

In addition to the above acknowledgments, a special note of thanks goes to Peggy Himes and Elizabeth Lennon for their superb technical editing and administrative support and to Bennett Hodge, Cassandra Kelly, Marshall Abrams, Marianne Swanson, Patricia Toth, Kevin Stine, and Matt Scholl for their valuable insights and contributions. The authors also gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the significant contributions from individuals and organizations in the public and private sectors, both nationally and internationally, whose thoughtful and constructive comments improved the overall quality, thoroughness, 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 assessment results and facilitate information sharing. NIST is also working with public and private sector entities to establish mappings and relationships between the security standards and guidelines developed by NIST and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).


The guidance provided in this publication is intended to address only the management of information security-related risk derived from or associated with the operation and use of information systems or the environments in which those systems operate. The guidance is not intended to replace or subsume other risk-related activities, programs, processes, or approaches that organizations have implemented or intend to implement addressing areas of risk management covered by other legislation, directives, policies, programmatic initiatives, or mission/business requirements. Rather, the information security risk management guidance described herein is complementary to and should be used as part of a more comprehensive Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) program.


  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.