What is a Compensating Control per NIST Standards?


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I’ve seen first-hand the damage that security breaches can cause to organizations of all sizes. That’s why I’m always looking for ways to prevent them from happening in the first place. One tool that I’ve come across in my efforts to strengthen security is the concept of Compensating Controls per NIST Standards. It may sound technical, but it’s actually a straightforward way to increase an organization’s security posture and minimize the risk of a breach. In this article, I’ll go over what exactly Compensating Controls are and how they can be used to keep your data and systems safe from cyber threats. So buckle up and get ready to learn about one of the most valuable tools in any cybersecurity arsenal.

What is a compensating control NIST?

A compensating control NIST is an alternative security measure that an organization can implement in the absence of the standard security controls outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-53. These compensating controls provide a comparable or equivalent level of security and privacy for the organization or system, ensuring that sensitive information and assets are protected.

Some examples of compensating controls NIST include:

  • Encryption
  • Encryption protects data by making it unreadable to unauthorized individuals. It is a key compensating control to protect against data breaches.
  • Access Control
  • Access control limits or restricts access to certain information assets to authorized personnel.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication
  • This involves using more than one form of authentication to access a system, generally a password along with a secondary authentication method like a fingerprint or security token.
  • Network Segmentation
  • This practice divides a network into smaller subnetworks, which helps to compartmentalize security threats and contain any damage caused by a potential breach.
  • While compensating controls can offer alternative security solutions to standard controls, it’s important for organizations to closely evaluate their effectiveness and ensure they are implemented in a way that meets their specific security needs. Additionally, compensating controls should only be used as a last resort when standard security controls are not feasible or cost-effective to implement.

    ???? Pro Tips:

    1. Understand the concept: A compensating control, as defined by NIST, is an alternative measure used to manage the risk of a particular security control. It is meant to compensate for the deficiency of a particular control.

    2. Conduct a risk assessment: A risk assessment should be conducted in order to identify areas with weak controls that need compensating controls. This will help you to understand the types of compensating controls that are required.

    3. Choose the right compensating control: Ensure that the compensating control chosen is appropriate for your specific situation and provides an equally effective level of security to the deficient control.

    4. Document your compensating controls: Documentation is key. Keep a detailed record of your compensating controls, ensuring that they are clearly explained and outlined in your policies and procedures.

    5. Test your compensating controls regularly: Regular testing of compensating controls will help you to identify any deficiencies or shortcomings in the implementation of the controls, allowing you to make necessary adjustments to maintain the desired level of security.

    Overview of Compensating Controls in NIST

    Compensating controls are an important part of any organization’s overall cybersecurity strategy. Compensating controls refer to the additional security and privacy measures that are implemented as an alternative to the standard security and privacy controls outlined in the NIST Special Publication 800-53. When certain security controls aren’t feasible for an organization, either because of technical or financial constraints, compensating controls can be used as a substitute to reduce the risk of a security breach.

    Compensating controls in NIST refer to any security or privacy control in an information system that offers comparable or equivalent safeguards. The objective of compensating controls is to provide an alternative means of satisfying a security requirement when standard security solutions are not feasible. The responsibility for selecting, implementing, assessing and monitoring compensating controls ultimately lies with the organization itself.

    How Compensating Controls Compare to Standard Controls

    Standard controls are the baseline security and privacy controls outlined in the NIST Special Publication 800-53. They are comprehensive security measures that should be implemented by any organization to reduce risk and comply with security and privacy compliance requirements. However, not every organization will have the same technical or financial capacity as others. In these cases, compensating controls can be used in place of standard controls.

    The main difference between compensating controls and standard controls is that compensating controls are alternative safeguards that are implemented as a substitute for standard security or privacy controls. While compensating controls may not be as comprehensive as standard controls, they offer a similar level of protection. In situations where an organization cannot implement certain standard controls, compensating controls can be used as an alternative.

    Examples of Compensating Controls in Practice

    Here are some of the compensating controls that are commonly used in practice:

    Developing policies and procedures: policies and procedures that outline how sensitive data should be handled, who has access to sensitive data, and what to do in the event of a breach can be an effective compensating control.

    Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems: Intrusion detection and prevention systems can serve as a compensating control to monitor traffic entering and leaving a network, preventing unauthorized access.

    Physical Controls: physical controls such as locked doors, surveillance cameras, and access control systems can provide an additional layer of security to compensate for the lack of technical controls.

    Why are Compensating Controls Important for Security?

    Compensating controls offer organizations an alternative way of mitigating risk and securing sensitive data. In situations where an organization is unable to implement certain technical controls due to limitations such as costs, resources, or technology, compensating controls can be used to reduce the risk of a breach. In many cases, compensating controls can offer a similar level of protection as standard security controls.

    Compensating controls are also important in meeting compliance goals. Organizations that are unable to implement certain controls outlined in compliance frameworks can use compensating controls to satisfy compliance requirements. This can be especially important for small organizations with limited resources and budgets.

    Best Practices for Developing Effective Compensating Controls

    Compensating controls can be difficult to develop, implement, assess, and monitor. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when developing effective compensating controls:

    Understand the risks: Before implementing compensating controls, it is essential to understand the risks they are intended to mitigate.

    Document and implement: Document compensating controls and implement them in a systematic manner.

    Continuously monitor and assess: Regular assessments and monitoring are essential to ensure that compensating controls are functioning properly and reducing risk.

    Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of compensating controls: Regular evaluations should be conducted to ensure that compensating controls are providing the intended level of protection.

    Challenges and Limitations of Compensating Controls

    Compensating controls are not a perfect solution and they do come with some limitations and challenges. One of the biggest challenges with compensating controls is ensuring that they provide an equivalent level of protection as standard controls. This can be difficult to achieve as compensating controls may not be as comprehensive or effective as standard controls.

    Another challenge is ensuring that compensating controls are implemented and monitored in a consistent manner. Inconsistencies in implementation or monitoring can lead to a false sense of security and put sensitive data at risk.

    Auditing and Monitoring Compensating Controls

    Auditing and monitoring compensating controls is essential to ensure that they are functioning as intended and reducing risk. Auditing can help identify weaknesses or gaps in the compensating controls, as well as provide insight into how effectively they are being implemented and monitored.

    Implementing compensating controls and monitoring them effectively requires constant efforts which requires time, financial and technical resources. Nonetheless, it is a necessity especially for organizations willing to meet legal, regulatory, and compliance requirements.