Leveraging Managed Security Service Providers for NIST 800-171 and CMMC Compliance in the Defense Supply Chain

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The complex relationships between government agencies, third-party vendors, and managed service providers form a challenging web of connections that comprise the DoD digital supply chain. Both NIST 800-171 and CMMC address these at various points, expecting providers to adhere to complex security requirements. These requirements can become so complex that they may turn to Managed Service Providers (especially those in the security space) to help them maintain compliance. 

This article will cover how an MSSP can help you streamline compliance across frameworks like NIST 800-171 and CMMC. 


The Compliance Challenge for Defense Suppliers

Any supplier of digital or cloud tools must, per the law, demonstrate strict adherence to NIST 800-171 and CMMC. These standards are closely related but not identical, and knowledge of both is required (and challenging). These two standards are key in protecting national security while safeguarding against APT or other complex cyber threats.

  • NIST 800-171: This document focuses on safeguarding and protecting CUI implemented in non-federal information systems and organizations by prescribing 110 security controls across 14 distinct control families.
  • CMMC: Built on NIST 800-171, CMMC adds maturity processes and practices for three different maturity levels. This structures compliance with requirements in NIST 800-171 within a maturity model that provides guidance based on the level of security needed. 

As with any compliance framework, adhering to either NIST 800-171 or CMMC introduces some significant challenges to an organization:

  • Resource Constraints: Most small and medium-sized businesses typically do not have enough human or financial resources to deploy and manage the needed cybersecurity measures, especially on the higher end of requirements.
  • Technical Complexities: The requirements set forth by NIST 800-171 and CMMC demand high expertise and experience to meet the technical specifications many organizations do not have.
  • Evolving Threat Environment: The threat environment in cyberspace keeps changing; thus, compliance is a never-ending process that requires full-time attention (and workforce). 


Filling the Compliance Gap with Managed Service Providers

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Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are critical to the defense supply chain because they allow agencies and other businesses to offload security, compliance, and technology management. 

MSPs provide customers with professional cybersecurity services that ensure the full compliance lifecycle, from initial assessment to ongoing management and monitoring of security controls. They employ in-house cybersecurity professionals who know defense- or military-related compliance standards and will always share general knowledge and unique advice on complying with requirements within each specific business. 

In this case, an MSP (or, more specifically, a Managed Security Services Provider, or MSSP) can assist any organization in rolling up the complexity surrounding NIST 800-171 and CMMC by rendering technical requirements for compliance into an action-oriented strategy.

Additionally, an MSP’s comprehensive solutions are usually geared toward the difficulties associated with maintaining security and compliance and giving a strategic direction for protected sensitive information (in this case, CUI) and strong defense from evolving cyber threats.

Some of the primary benefits that these providers offer, above and beyond direct compliance management, include:

  • Risk Assessment: MSPs perform rigorous risk assessment, greatly assisting in the identification of weaknesses in the IT infrastructure of an organization that cyber adversaries could compromise. They do this above and beyond what the organization can do independently.
  • Gap Analysis: MSSPs can perform gap analysis so that any laxity in adherence to the strict requirements of NIST 800-171 and CMMC can be easily pointed out between existing cybersecurity practices.
  • Customized Cyber Security Framework Implementation: The risk assessment and gap analysis results will inform a customized cybersecurity framework deemed most suitable for meeting the organization’s purpose while aligning with NIST 800-171 and CMMC standards.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Managing of Security Controls: An MSP brings to the client its 24/7 monitoring services that help detect cybersecurity threats in detail and respond immediately to them to keep defenses intact against the constant evolution of cyber threats.
  • Policy and Procedure Development: MSPs will assist in developing and documenting security policies and procedures required for compliance, a key component of NIST 800-171 and CMMC requirements. They will also provide guidance on best practices for information security management and control processes.
  • Security Awareness Training: Many MSPs will offer security awareness training for employees so that they can also adhere to compliance requirements.
  • Incident Response and Recovery Support: Typical services an MSSP will often include immediate responses to security incidents, assessing security incident impact, and minimizing downtime and disruption through speedy implementation of recovery services. 
  • Technical Support and Maintenance: Certain managed service providers will offer 24/7 technical support to address security issues and maintain the operational integrity of security controls and systems. They will also ensure the security infrastructure is up-to-date with the latest patches and updates, mitigating vulnerabilities.
  • Compliance Reporting and Documentation: CMMC calls for extensive compliance documentation during self-assessment and when working through a C3PAO. 
  • Vendor Management and Third-Party Assessment: The Defense supply chain is built on relationships between agencies, providers, and other support organizations. An MSSP would help a business or agency ensure those relationships are secure and compliant with CMMC requirements. 
  • Consultation and Advisory Services: Managed providers offer expert consultation on cybersecurity best practices and compliance strategies. They provide advisory services for strategic security planning and ongoing compliance management.

By leveraging the expertise and resources of MSPs, businesses can more effectively navigate the complexities of NIST 800-171 and CMMC compliance, ensuring they meet all requirements while maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture against evolving threats.

Note, however, that your MSSP cannot also serve as your C3PAO due to any conflicts of interest. It’s essential to separate your consulting and support services from assessment services. 


Put Your CMMC and NIST 800-171 Compliance Needs in Good Hands With Lazarus Alliance

Contact a team member to learn how we can help you streamline vendor security and management for NIST 800-171, CMMC, or other compliance frameworks.

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