In the realm of cybersecurity compliance, two prominent frameworks stand out: the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171 and the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). While both frameworks aim to enhance cybersecurity practices and protect sensitive information, they differ in scope, implementation, and enforcement. Since these cybersecurity standards are crucial for a business’s success, one must hire CMMC consultant Virginia Beach.

In this blog, we’ll explore the key differences between NIST 800-171 and CMMC and examine how they can work together to strengthen cybersecurity posture.

NIST 800-171:

NIST 800-171, also known as “Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations,” was initially published in 2015 to provide guidance for protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI) in nonfederal systems and organizations. The framework consists of 14 families of security requirements, encompassing a total of 110 controls, aimed at safeguarding sensitive information from unauthorized access, disclosure, and exploitation.

Organizations subject to NIST 800-171 compliance requirements include federal contractors and subcontractors that process CUI as part of their contractual obligations with the federal government. Compliance with NIST 800-171 involves implementing the specified security controls and documenting adherence to the framework’s requirements through self-assessment or third-party assessment.


In response to growing cybersecurity threats and the need for stronger protections of CUI, the Department of Defense (DoD) introduced the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) framework. Unlike NIST 800-171, which relies on self-assessment, CMMC introduces a tiered certification model ranging from Level 1 to Level 5, with each level representing a different level of maturity in cybersecurity practices and controls.

CMMC incorporates elements from various cybersecurity frameworks, including NIST 800-171, as well as additional requirements tailored to the defense industrial base (DIB). The framework includes 17 domains and 171 practices, addressing cybersecurity capabilities such as access control, incident response, and security awareness training. To achieve CMMC certification, IT staffing services organizations must undergo a third-party assessment conducted by certified assessors.

Key Differences:

Scope and Applicability:

NIST 800-171 focuses specifically on protecting CUI in nonfederal systems and organizations, primarily targeting federal contractors and subcontractors.

CMMC extends beyond CUI protection to encompass all sensitive defense information (SDI) and introduces a tiered certification model applicable to organizations throughout the defense supply chain.

Certification Process:

NIST 800-171 relies on self-assessment by organizations to demonstrate compliance with the framework’s requirements.

CMMC mandates third-party assessment by certified assessors to verify compliance and issue certification at the appropriate maturity level.

Maturity Levels:

NIST 800-171 does not include maturity levels, providing a set of baseline security controls for organizations to implement.

CMMC introduces maturity levels ranging from Level 1 (basic cybersecurity hygiene) to Level 5 (advanced cybersecurity capabilities), allowing organizations to demonstrate varying levels of cybersecurity maturity.

Working Together:

While NIST 800-171 and CMMC serve different purposes and have distinct requirements, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, CMMC builds upon the foundation established by NIST 800-171, incorporating many of its controls and practices into higher maturity levels. Organizations that have already implemented NIST 800-171 controls will find themselves well-positioned to pursue CMMC certification, as they have already addressed many of the foundational cybersecurity requirements.

In summary, while NIST 800-171 and CMMC differ in scope, implementation, and certification process, they share a common goal of enhancing cybersecurity practices and protecting sensitive information. By understanding the differences between these frameworks and how they complement each other, organizations can effectively navigate the complex landscape of cybersecurity compliance and strengthen their overall security posture.