A Guide to NIST 800-86

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is responsible for developing and promoting cybersecurity standards in the United States. One of the key publications by NIST is the NIST Special Publication 800-86 (NIST 800-86) – an essential guide for incident handling and response. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the intricacies of NIST 800-86, its importance in cybersecurity, key components, compliance requirements, comparisons with other NIST standards, implementation strategies, and the future of this vital framework.

Understanding NIST 800-86

NIST 800-86 serves as a comprehensive resource for organizations to improve their incident handling and response capabilities. By following the guidelines provided within NIST 800-86, organizations can effectively detect, analyze, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity incidents.

Definition and Purpose of NIST 800-86

NIST 800-86 defines incident handling as the process of detecting, analyzing, and responding to security incidents and events. It outlines a systematic approach to incident response, emphasizing the need for organizations to establish incident response capabilities that align with their specific needs.

Incident handling involves various stages, including preparation, detection and analysis, containment, eradication, recovery, and post-incident activities. Each stage is crucial in minimizing the impact of security incidents and ensuring a swift return to normal operations.

The purpose of NIST 800-86 is to provide organizations with a structured framework for incident handling and response. It outlines best practices to help organizations effectively manage cyber incidents and reduce the impact of security breaches. The document covers a wide range of topics, including incident categorization, incident handling roles and responsibilities, and incident reporting and documentation.

The Importance of NIST 800-86 in Cybersecurity

With the ever-increasing number and complexity of cyber threats, having a well-defined incident handling and response strategy is crucial for organizations. NIST 800-86 plays a vital role in ensuring that organizations can effectively address security incidents, minimize damage, and recover quickly.

For example, in 2019, a major healthcare organization suffered a ransomware attack that resulted in the compromise of sensitive patient data. By following the incident handling principles outlined in NIST 800-86, the organization was able to quickly contain the attack, mitigate further damage, and restore their systems, minimizing the impact on patient care and their reputation.

Furthermore, NIST 800-86 provides organizations with valuable guidance on incident detection and analysis. It emphasizes the importance of establishing robust monitoring systems and implementing effective threat intelligence practices. By leveraging these strategies, organizations can proactively identify and respond to potential security incidents, preventing them from escalating into major breaches.

Additionally, NIST 800-86 highlights the significance of collaboration and information sharing in incident response. It encourages organizations to establish relationships with external entities such as law enforcement agencies, industry-specific Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), and other relevant organizations. Organizations can benefit from shared knowledge, resources, and expertise by fostering these partnerships, enhancing their incident response capabilities.

Key Components of NIST 800-86

The cornerstone of NIST 800-86 is its focus on the incident response life cycle and incident handling methodology. Let’s explore these components in detail:

Incident Response Life Cycle

The incident response life cycle provides a structured approach to handling security incidents. It consists of four phases: preparation, detection and analysis, containment, eradication and recovery. Each phase outlines specific activities to be performed by incident response teams, ensuring a coordinated and effective response.

During the preparation phase, organizations should establish incident response policies, procedures, and training programs. This proactive approach allows teams to be better prepared to respond swiftly when an incident occurs. It also involves conducting risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and implementing appropriate controls to mitigate those risks.

In the detection and analysis phase, incident response teams use various tools and techniques to identify and assess security incidents. This includes monitoring network traffic, analyzing system logs, and conducting forensic investigations. By carefully analyzing the incident, teams can determine the scope and impact of the incident, as well as the root cause.

Once an incident has been detected and analyzed, the containment phase focuses on isolating and minimizing the impact of the incident. This may involve disconnecting affected systems from the network, implementing temporary workarounds, or deploying additional security controls to prevent further spread of the incident.

The eradication and recovery phase involves removing the root cause of the incident and restoring affected systems to their normal state. This may include patching vulnerabilities, removing malware, or restoring data from backups. It is crucial to document all actions taken during this phase for future reference and to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

Incident Handling Methodology

The incident handling methodology detailed in NIST 800-86 provides guidance on executing the incident response life cycle. It highlights best practices for incident detection, analysis, containment, eradication, and recovery, helping organizations develop robust incident response strategies tailored to their unique environment and risk profile.

For instance, a financial institution faced a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that disrupted their online banking services. By following the incident handling methodology outlined in NIST 800-86, the organization was able to quickly identify the source of the attack, implement appropriate controls to mitigate the threat, and restore their services within a short timeframe.

Furthermore, the incident handling methodology emphasizes the importance of collaboration and communication within incident response teams and with external stakeholders. This ensures that all relevant parties are kept informed throughout the incident response process, facilitating a coordinated and effective response.

Additionally, the methodology encourages organizations to continuously evaluate and improve their incident response capabilities. This includes conducting post-incident reviews to identify lessons learned and implementing necessary changes to enhance future incident response efforts. By adopting a proactive and iterative approach, organizations can stay ahead of emerging threats and minimize the impact of security incidents.

NIST 800-86 Compliance

Complying with NIST 800-86 is essential for organizations to establish a strong incident handling and response capability. Let’s take a closer look at the steps involved in achieving and maintaining compliance:

Steps to Achieve NIST 800-86 Compliance

1. Assess Current Capabilities: Conduct a thorough assessment of existing incident handling processes, procedures, and technical controls to identify gaps.

2. Develop an Incident Response Plan: Create a comprehensive incident response plan that aligns with the recommendations outlined in NIST 800-86.

3. Establish Incident Response Teams: Designate and train incident response teams responsible for executing the incident response plan.

4. Implement Monitoring and Detection Systems: Deploy appropriate tools and technologies to detect and analyze security incidents in real-time.

5. Conduct Regular Exercises and Training: Regularly test the effectiveness of incident response plans through simulated exercises and provide ongoing training to incident response teams.

Maintaining Ongoing Compliance

Compliance with NIST 800-86 is an ongoing effort and requires continuous monitoring and improvement. Periodic reviews of incident response plans, training programs, and technologies should be conducted to ensure they remain aligned with the evolving threat landscape.

For example, a multinational retail company successfully achieved NIST 800-86 compliance by conducting annual reviews of their incident response capabilities. Through this process, they identified areas for improvement, such as enhancing their incident detection capabilities, leading to an overall increase in their cybersecurity posture.

Moreover, it is crucial for organizations to stay up-to-date with the latest industry standards and best practices. By actively participating in cybersecurity conferences and engaging with industry experts, organizations can gain valuable insights into emerging threats and innovative incident handling techniques.

Additionally, organizations can leverage threat intelligence feeds and information sharing platforms to enhance their incident response capabilities. These platforms provide real-time updates on the latest cyber threats, enabling organizations to proactively identify and mitigate potential risks.

Furthermore, establishing strong partnerships with external entities, such as government agencies and cybersecurity vendors, can greatly contribute to maintaining NIST 800-86 compliance. Collaborating with these entities allows organizations to access specialized resources and expertise, ensuring a robust incident response framework.

NIST 800-86 vs Other NIST Standards

While NIST 800-86 is specific to incident handling and response, it is essential to understand how it relates to other NIST standards. Let’s examine two notable comparisons:

Comparing NIST 800-86 and NIST 800-53

NIST 800-53 provides comprehensive guidelines for selecting and implementing security controls. NIST 800-86 complements NIST 800-53 by focusing specifically on incident handling and response, helping organizations effectively utilize security controls in the context of managing cybersecurity incidents.

For instance, a government agency implemented both NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-86 to strengthen their cybersecurity posture. The agency leveraged NIST 800-53 to establish security controls and used NIST 800-86 to develop incident handling procedures tailored to their unique environment.

Understanding the synergy between NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-86 is crucial for organizations looking to build a robust cybersecurity framework. By integrating the guidance from both standards, entities can create a comprehensive security strategy that not only establishes preventive measures but also ensures a swift and effective response to potential security incidents.

Differences Between NIST 800-86 and NIST 800-171

NIST 800-171 provides guidelines for protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI) in non-federal systems. While NIST 800-86 focuses on incident handling and response, NIST 800-171 primarily addresses safeguarding CUI.

For instance, a defense contractor adhered to both NIST 800-86 and NIST 800-171 to protect sensitive information. NIST 800-86 helped them establish incident response capabilities, while NIST 800-171 guided their efforts in safeguarding CUI, ensuring compliance with contractual requirements.

It is important for organizations dealing with sensitive information to recognize the distinct but complementary nature of NIST 800-86 and NIST 800-171. While NIST 800-86 equips them with the necessary tools to respond to cybersecurity incidents promptly, NIST 800-171 focuses on the specific requirements for safeguarding CUI, ensuring that data protection measures are in place to mitigate risks effectively.

Implementing NIST 800-86 in Your Organization

Implementing NIST 800-86 requires careful planning and consideration. Let’s explore how your organization can successfully adopt this framework:

Section Image

Ensuring compliance with NIST 800-86 is not just a one-time project but an ongoing commitment to enhancing your organization’s incident handling capabilities. By following best practices and staying proactive, you can effectively mitigate cybersecurity risks and respond to incidents promptly and effectively.

Preparing Your Organization for NIST 800-86

1. Gain Leadership Support: Secure executive buy-in for implementing NIST 800-86 and allocate necessary resources for its successful adoption. Executive support is crucial in driving organizational change and prioritizing cybersecurity initiatives.

2. Conduct Gap Analysis: Evaluate your organization’s current incident handling capabilities and identify gaps in relation to the recommendations provided in NIST 800-86. This analysis will serve as the foundation for developing a targeted improvement plan.

3. Develop a Roadmap: Create a phased implementation roadmap to systematically address identified gaps and prioritize necessary improvements. A well-defined roadmap will help you track progress, allocate resources efficiently, and set realistic timelines for achieving compliance.

Establishing a culture of continuous improvement and learning is essential for long-term success in implementing NIST 800-86. Encouraging feedback, conducting regular training sessions, and fostering a mindset of adaptability will help your organization stay agile in the face of evolving cybersecurity threats.

Best Practices for NIST 800-86 Implementation

1. Foster Collaboration: Establish cross-functional collaboration between IT, security, legal, and other relevant teams to ensure a coordinated and effective incident response. By breaking down silos and promoting information sharing, you can enhance the overall resilience of your organization.

2. Automate Incident Handling Processes: Leverage automation tools and technologies to streamline incident response, enhance efficiency, and reduce response times. Automation can help standardize processes, minimize human error, and free up valuable resources to focus on strategic security initiatives.

3. Regularly Review and Update: Regularly review and update incident response plans, procedures, and technologies to account for emerging threats and changes in your organization’s environment. Staying proactive in updating your incident response framework will ensure its relevance and effectiveness in mitigating new and evolving cybersecurity risks.

The Future of NIST 800-86

NIST 800-86 continues to evolve to address emerging cybersecurity challenges. Let’s explore the upcoming changes and its role in the evolving cybersecurity landscape:

With the rapid advancement of technology and the increasing interconnectedness of digital systems, NIST 800-86 is set to undergo significant updates to ensure its relevance and effectiveness in combating modern cyber threats. These changes will encompass a wide range of areas, from enhancing incident response protocols to incorporating new methodologies for threat intelligence gathering and analysis.

Upcoming Changes to NIST 800-86

NIST periodically updates its publications to reflect new technologies, threats, and best practices in the industry. Stay informed about updates to NIST 800-86 to ensure ongoing compliance with the latest guidelines.

Furthermore, the upcoming revisions to NIST 800-86 are expected to place a stronger emphasis on proactive measures for threat prevention, such as implementing robust security controls and conducting regular security assessments. By integrating these proactive elements into the framework, organizations can better fortify their defenses against evolving cyber threats.

The Role of NIST 800-86 in Evolving Cybersecurity Landscape

As cyber threats become more sophisticated and organizations face increasing challenges in detecting and responding to incidents, NIST 800-86 plays a critical role in providing a standardized framework for incident handling and response. Compliance with NIST 800-86 will remain a fundamental aspect of organizations’ efforts to protect their assets from the ever-changing threat landscape.

Moreover, in the evolving cybersecurity landscape, NIST 800-86 serves as a cornerstone for fostering collaboration and information sharing among industry stakeholders. By adhering to the guidelines outlined in NIST 800-86, organizations can establish a common language and approach to incident response, facilitating smoother coordination during cyber crises and enhancing overall resilience in the face of cyber threats.


NIST 800-86 serves as a comprehensive guide for organizations to develop and enhance their incident handling and response capabilities. By following the principles outlined in this framework, organizations can effectively detect, analyze, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity incidents. Compliance with NIST 800-86 ensures that organizations have the necessary tools, processes, and expertise to mitigate the impact of security breaches and safeguard their valuable assets. As the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve and threats become increasingly sophisticated, NIST 800-86 will remain a vital resource for organizations seeking to strengthen their incident handling and response capabilities.

Section Image

Ready to elevate your organization’s incident handling and response strategy? Blue Goat Cyber, a Veteran-Owned business, is your trusted partner in cybersecurity. Specializing in medical device cybersecurity, HIPAA, FDA Compliance, and a range of penetration testing services, we are dedicated to securing your business against sophisticated threats. Contact us today for cybersecurity help and ensure your compliance with NIST 800-86 and beyond.

Blog Search

Social Media