Research Security

Controlled Unclassified Information


Controlled unclassified information, CUI, is defined in Executive Order 13556 as information held by or generated for the Federal Government that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls pursuant to and consistent with applicable law, regulations and government-wide policies that isn’t classified under Executive Order 13526 or the Atomic Energy Act, as amended.

A few important points about CUI:

  • Research data and other project information that a research team receives, possesses, or creates during the performance of federally funded research may be CUI.
  • The obligation to determine whether an award will involve CUI belongs to the federal sponsor; award documents should specifically identify CUI and applicable security requirements.
  • CUI safeguarding requirements are only applicable to UGA and UGA information systems when mandated by a federal agency in a contract, grant, or other agreement.
  • The security requirements apply to the components of nonfederal systems that process, store, or transmit CUI, or that provide security protection for such components.

The CUI Registry is the online repository for all information, guidance, policy, and requirements on handling CUI, including everything issued by the CUI Executive Agent other than 32 CFR Part 2002. Among other information, the CUI Registry identifies all approved CUI categories and subcategories, provides general descriptions for each, identifies the basis for controls, establishes markings, and includes guidance on handling procedures.

What assistance is available?

UGA does not currently have an off-the-shelf CUI compliant environment. As such, Principal Investigator’s will have to work closely with their department and college IT, as well as EITS, which has developed a template System Security Plan. PIs’ should begin this process by reaching out to the Office of Research Security and Export Control.

Due to the nature of the controls, there may be significant cost, effort, and time necessary for implementation.  Before considering developing a one-off solution, researchers should carefully consider NIST SP 800-171 and NIST SP 800-171A Assessing Security Requirements for CUI.

Will UGA meet the requirements of Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) Program 2.0?

Once CMMC is fully implemented, certain DoD contractors that handle sensitive unclassified DoD information will be required to achieve a particular CMMC level as a condition of contract award. Otherwise, UGA will not be able to compete for certain DOD contracts.

Additional Information

More information about the CMMC program and implementation is available from Cyber AB (training and accreditation of assessors; and marketplace for CMMC service providers) and the OUSD(A&S) CMMC (CMMC model, assessment guides and FAQs) websites.

The CUI Program is implemented through 32 CFR 2002 Controlled Unclassified Information which specifies National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publications (SP) 800-171 Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations (NIST SP 800-171) for safeguarding requirements applicable to non-federal information systems that store, process, or transmit CUI.

NIST SP 800-171 identifies 110 unique requirements that apply to University information systems that process, store, or transmit CUI. The requirements are organized into the following 14 families: access control (22 controls); awareness and training (3 controls); audit and accountability (9 controls); configuration management (9 controls); identification and authentication (11 controls); incident response (3 controls); maintenance (6 controls); media protection (9 controls); personnel security (2 controls); physical security (6 controls); risk assessment (3 controls); security assessment (4 controls); system and communications protection (16 controls); and system and information integrity (7 controls).

The Department of Defense (DoD) is the only agency that uses the terms covered defense information (CDI) and controlled technical information (CTI) which it defines in Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS) 252.204-7012.  However, in order to understand scope of control, you also need to understand how DoD uses the term covered contractor information system, also defined in DFARS 252.204-7012.

  • Controlled Technical Information (CTI) means technical information with military or space application that is subject to controls on the access, use, reproduction, modification, performance, display, release, disclosure, or dissemination. Controlled technical information would meet the criteria, if disseminated, for distribution statements B through F using the criteria set forth in DoD Instruction 5230.24, Distribution Statements on Technical Documents. The term does not include information that is lawfully publicly available without restrictions.
  • Covered Contractor Information System means an unclassified information system that is owned, or operated by or for, a contractor and that processes, stores, or transmits CDI.
  • Covered Defense Information (CDI) means unclassified CTI or other information, as described in the CUI Registry, that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls pursuant to and consistent with law, regulations, and Governmentwide policies, and is—
    1. Marked or otherwise identified in the contract, task order, or delivery order and provided to the contractor by or on behalf of DoD in support of the performance of the contract; or
    2. Collected, developed, received, transmitted, used, or stored by or on behalf of the contractor in support of the performance of the contract.

Essentially, CTI is a specific category of CUI (listed on the CUI Registry as part of the Defense organizational index grouping) while CDI is a DoD term that encompasses all categories of CUI plus any other information DoD has not approved for public release. DFARS 252.204-7012 is the DoD contract clause that requires covered contractor information systems be subject to the security requirements in NIST SP 800-171. It also includes DoD-specific cyber incident reporting requirements.

DoD funded research involving CDI must include DFARS 252.204-7012 and will almost certainly include DFARS 252.204-7000 which requires DoD prior approval for any publication or other public release.

On 9/29/20, DoD released an interim rule in the Federal Register to amend the DFARS, in part, to add 252.204-7019 (notice) and 252.204-7020 (contracts) which specify NIST SP 800-171 assessment requirements for DoD contracts involving CDI; these clauses became effective 11/30/20. Specifically, a recent assessment (< 3 years old) at the level required by the contract must be on file in the Supplier Performance Risk System (SPRS) for the covered contractor information system before the contracting officer can issue the award the contract. Contracts will be assigned one of three levels of assessment are identified: Basic (self-assessment), Medium (DoD review) and High (DoD review and inspection). The requirement applies to the prime and all subcontractors whose work will involve CDI.

  • Note 1: These new clauses do not apply to previously issued contracts unless added through a contract modification.
  • Note 2: In the same Federal Register Notice adding DFARS 252.204-7019 and 252.204-7020, DoD released DFARS 252.204-7021 which implements the requirements of the new safeguarding program DoD will roll out in phases through 10/1/2025. This new program is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program, which is discussed as a separate topic on this page.

What is the CMMC Program?

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program is designed to protect sensitive unclassified information that is shared by the Department with its contractors and subcontractors. The program incorporates a set of cybersecurity requirements into acquisition programs and provides the Department increased assurance that contractors and subcontractors are meeting these requirements.

The framework has three key features:

  • Tiered Model: CMMC requires that companies entrusted with national security information implement cybersecurity standards at progressively advanced levels, depending on the type and sensitivity of the information. The program also sets forward the process for information flow down to subcontractors.
  • Assessment Requirement: CMMC assessments allow the Department to verify the implementation of clear cybersecurity standards.
  • Implementation through Contracts: Once CMMC is fully implemented, certain DoD contractors that handle sensitive unclassified DoD information will be required to achieve a particular CMMC level as a condition of contract award.

What CMMC Level is required for Covered Defense Information (CDI)?

CMMC Level 2 will be the base requirement for contracts involving CDI but higher levels may be required, i.e. to address advanced persistent threats. CMMC Level 2 consists of the 110 requirements specified in NIST SP 800-171.

How will I know what CMMC Level is required?

In November 2020, DoD issued a new DFARS clause implementing CMMC requirements to support the issuance of the acquisition activities piloting the CMMC Model. As part of the same Federal Register Notice, DoD issued new DFARS clauses to support an interim cybersecurity program that will remain in place until the CMMC Model is fully implemented. The new DFARS clauses and brief descriptions are provided below:

  • DFARS 252.204-7019 Notice of NIST SP 800-171 DoD Assessment Requirements. This is a notice clause for use in all solicitations, including solicitations using FAR part 12 procedures for the acquisition of commercial items, except for solicitations solely for the acquisition of commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) items. 
    • It states that in order to be considered for an award, if the Offeror is required to implement NIST SP 800-171, the Offeror shall have a current assessment (i.e., not more than 3 years old unless a lesser time is specified in the solicitation) (see 252.204-7020) for each covered contractor information system that is relevant to the offer, contract, task order, or delivery order. The Basic, Medium, and High NIST SP 800-171 DoD Assessments are described in the NIST SP 800-171 DoD Assessment Methodology.
  • DFARS 252.204-7020 NIST SP 800-171 DoD Assessment Requirements. This is the clause that will be used in contracts involving CDI to implement the Basic, Medium, and High assessment requirements.
    • These are the same requirements listed in DFARS 252.204-7019 but expanded descriptions are provided for the processes around the conduct and reporting of Medium and High assessments by DoD.
  • DFARS 252.204-7021 Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Requirements. This is the clause that will be used in the phased rollout of the CMMC Model requirements.
    • This requires that the Contractor have a current (i.e. not older than 3 years) CMMC certificate at the CMMC level required by this contract and maintain the CMMC certificate at the required level for the duration of the contract.
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