NIST SP 800-171 Compliance

Certain research projects sponsored by U.S. federal agencies, in particular the Department of Defense (DoD), are required to demonstrate compliance with the standards outlined in NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-171 (see Q&A and Related Links below for more information). The University of Memphis has developed the guidelines below to assist research teams with achieving and maintaining compliance. 
All research projects at the University of Memphis are expected to comply with IT Security Policies and Guidelines, including Data Storage Guidelines. For assistance in complying with these guidelines and policies, contact umtech@memphis.edu.


Steps to achieve NIST SP 800-171 compliance for sponsored projects

  1. Notify the Office of Sponsored Programs (osp@memphis.edu) of compliance needs at the time of project proposal.
  2. A folder in the ITS/OSP Security Framework section of Microsoft Teams will be created for documentation for the project(s).
  3. All team members must complete annual IT Security Awareness training.
  4. All team members must complete one-time DoD Mandatory Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) Training. Before closing the training window, each team member must download the completion certificate. The certificate will not be retrievable after the training window is closed. Upload the certificate for each team member to the Microsoft Teams folder designated for the project.
  5. At the time of proposal, complete a System Summary and upload to the Microsoft Teams folder designated for the project.
  6. Prior to final contract execution, complete System Security Plan (SSP) and upload to the Microsoft Teams folder designated for the project.
    Optionally, an SSP Control Checklist can be completed to assist in completing the System Security Plan.
  7. Completed SSP must be approved by IT Security team prior to executing contracts that require NIST SP 800-171 compliance. 

All required documents will have templates available in the Microsoft Teams project folder.

The System Summary and SSP are required to finalize contracts for sponsored projects with NIST SP 800-171 compliance needs.



What is NIST SP 800-171, and why is compliance required for my project?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed Special Publication (SP) 800-171 to establish guidelines for federal agencies when contracting with nonfederal organizations that store and share sensitive data not otherwise classified or protected by federal regulations. This data is referred to as Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). 
Failure to maintain compliance with CUI requirements where required could constitute a contractual violation, resulting in the potential loss of funding and jeopardizing future research grants.

Do compliance requirements need to be fulfilled before contract execution?

Yes. Any research project requiring NIST SP 800-171 compliance must fulfill the steps outlined above before funding is awarded.

Am I responsible for ensuring compliance with all NIST SP 800-171 requirements?

The lead researcher for each project is responsible for establishing and maintaining NIST SP 800-171 compliance throughout the duration of the project. However, many existing University of Memphis information security policies, guidelines and procedures address the security requirements described by NIST frameworks. UofM IT Security can provide guidance in addressing special data management needs while maintaining compliance.

What is a System Security Plan (SSP)?

A System Security Plan (SSP) is a formal document that provides an overview of the security requirements for an information system and describes the security controls in place or planned for meeting those requirements. In particular, the SSP describes the system boundary, the environment in which the system operates, how security requirements are implemented and the relationships with or connections to other systems.


NIST SP 800-223: Guidelines for High-Performance Computing (HPC)

NIST SP 800-223, published in February 2024, "provides guidance on standardizing and facilitating the sharing of HPC security postures." More information and the publication itself are available on the nist.gov website. The UofM has developed recommendations for meeting compliance standards when using our HPC environment:

High-Performance Computing Security at The University of Memphis | Implementation of NIST SP 800-223 (.pdf)

As with all research environments, the PI of a project is responsible for ensuring compliance. Use of HPC alone does not guarantee compliance with NIST standards. For assistance with configuring your HPC-involved systems to comply with NIST guidelines, or for more information, visit the UofM HPC website.


Related Links

CUI Resources (National Archives)

CUI Training (National Archives) Note: These videos are provided as an additional training resource and do not replace the required training listed in Steps 3 & 4 above.

What is NIST 800-171 and Who Needs to Follow It? (NIST Manufacturing Innovation Blog)

University of Memphis ITS Policies and Guidelines

University of Memphis ITS Data Storage Guidelines