Uniting DFARS and NIST SP 800-171: Synergizing Cybersecurity Standards

In our modern, interconnected era, the scope of cybersecurity transcends the boundaries of any single framework or regulation. This is particularly true for defense contractors, where understanding the interplay between different standards is crucial. The Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171 stand out as key elements in the United States' strategy to protect sensitive defense information. Their intentional alignment represents a concerted effort to forge a robust defense against cyber threats.

DFARS and NIST SP 800-171: A Harmonious Relationship

DFARS outlines regulations for safeguarding Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) in the defense sector. NIST SP 800-171, meanwhile, offers guidelines for non-federal entities, including defense contractors, on handling CUI. Their intersection forms a comprehensive cybersecurity framework essential for defense contractors to both remain compliant and secure defense contracts.

The Rationale and Methodology Behind Their Alignment

1 5 CMMC Alignment

The main objective of aligning DFARS with NIST SP 800-171 is national security, specifically securing the defense supply chain. Breaches in this domain can lead to significant consequences, necessitating strict standards.

DFARS requires defense contractors to fulfill NIST SP 800-171 security requirements to ensure the protection of CUI when processed, stored, or transmitted. In essence, meeting NIST SP 800-171 standards is a direct route to DFARS compliance.

Crucial Elements of This Alignment

1 5 CMMC Security Measures

  • Adequate Security Measures: The heart of NIST SP 800-171 is the concept of “adequate security,” echoed in DFARS. This means having robust controls to shield CUI against cyber threats, encompassing 14 categories of security requirements.
  • Incident Reporting: DFARS sets a 72-hour window for reporting cyber incidents, with NIST SP 800-171 detailing incident types and reporting procedures.
  • Flow-Down Requirements: DFARS mandates that prime contractors pass certain cybersecurity requirements to their subcontractors, for which NIST SP 800-171 provides the standard framework.

Embarking on the Compliance Path

  • Assessment and Documentation: Evaluating current cybersecurity practices against NIST SP 800-171 and documenting the findings is essential for both improvement and compliance.
  • System Security Plan (SSP): Developing an SSP, as necessitated by NIST SP 800-171 and aligned with DFARS, outlines the implementation of security controls.
  • Ongoing Monitoring and Enhancement: Both DFARS and NIST SP 800-171 advocate for continuous monitoring and updating of security measures, ensuring adaptability to evolving threats.

Realizing the Advantages

Adhering to these standards not only meets regulatory needs but also brings inherent benefits:

  • Boosted Cybersecurity Stance: Implementation strengthens overall cybersecurity, reducing data breach risks.
  • Competitive Advantage: Compliance can provide a competitive edge in the defense sector, signaling reliability.
  • Market Preparedness: As these standards become more widespread, compliance prepares businesses for a broader market.


The convergence of DFARS and NIST SP 800-171 forms a unified front in safeguarding CUI. For defense contractors, navigating this intersection is about playing a pivotal role in national security. Aligning with these standards positions your business as a reliable component of the defense supply chain.

As cybersecurity landscapes evolve, so will these frameworks. Keeping up with changes and understanding their impact is key to success in the defense industry. Defense contractors focusing on this alignment are not just preparing for the future; they are actively shaping it.

Backed by an award-winning cyber security and IT management team, On Call Compliance Solutions is the #1 source for CMMC, NIST SP 800-171 Compliance, DFARS and ITAR consulting. Give us a call now to schedule a free phone call with one of our compliance experts to see how we can help.

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