NIST Cybersecurity Framework Explained

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NIST Cybersecurity Framework Explained

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

In a world where cyber threats are rapidly evolving and data volumes are increasing exponentially, many organizations struggle to ensure proper security. It is important to put in place a solid Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) to protect your company. NIST’s cybersecurity framework is an effective method for organizing and improving the security of your organization.

To help organizations build and improve their cybersecurity posture, it offers guidelines and best practices. In addition to offering recommendations and standards to enable organizations to better prepare for spotting and identifying cyber-attacks the framework also provides guidelines on how to respond, prevent, and recover after a cyber incident. 

By developing the cybersecurity framework, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) sought to address the lack of standards related to cybersecurity and provide a uniform set of rules, guidelines, and standards that organizations across many industries can use.

The NIST Cyber security Framework (NIST CSF) helps to build cyber security programs. The framework helps to assess cyber security risk throughout the organization regardless of whether you’re just starting with a cyber security program or have a very mature program. 

NIST Cybersecurity Framework: Its Purpose and Benefits 

As a framework for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks, the NIST Framework provides guidance for organizations. Understanding that it isn’t a set of rules, controls, or tools is important. Rather, it presents a set of processes that can assist organizations in assessing the maturity of their existing cybersecurity and risk management processes and identifying steps that can improve them. 

Implementing the NIST cybersecurity framework is voluntary, however, it can be extremely valuable to organizations of all sizes in both the public and private sectors owing to several factors: 

  • It is easy to use and understand. 
  • Customization Functions for every organization, Allows to prioritize activities that can improve security systems.
  • Organizations use it to determine which assets are most at risk and then take steps to protect them. 

In addition to developing guidelines for companies, NIST is also responsible for coordinating compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). The purpose of these standards was to provide the most effective security for data as well as be cost-effective in order to ensure companies don’t overspend to keep their data safe.   

In addition to developing guidelines for companies, NIST is also responsible for coordinating compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). The purpose of these standards was to provide the most effective security for data as well as be cost-effective in order to ensure companies don’t overspend to keep their data safe. 

Government agencies, government contractors, and subcontractors can all benefit from FISMA guidelines, and can be applied to almost any organization in the public and private sectors.

As a matter of fact, 30 percent of U.S. companies use the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as their data protection standard, and expected to rise to more in upcoming years. 

Why should You use The NIST Cybersecurity Framework? 

Firstly, let’s take stock of the top cybersecurity concerns that are probably on your mind. 

  • The risk and vulnerability of the unknown worry you. 
  • Detailed inventory of all assets which require protection is lacking. 
  • You want your team to focus on real risks, but often they chase items that will not have an impact
  • You’d like to know how to address risk items based on your current tools and what’s available in the market 
  • In the absence of an understanding of cyber risk, colleagues outside of the security team are unable to assume responsibility for key mitigation tasks
  • As you have been implementing your cybersecurity plan, your board is asking for quantification of risk reduction outcomes. “Do we comply with NIST?”. 

NIST provides a framework for addressing them. As a result, you will be able to learn from others who have tackled similar problems successfully. 

 This framework aims to enable priority setting for cybersecurity decisions and investments. It provides a framework for discussing your program’s maturity with stakeholders such as senior management and board members. 

Introduction To NIST Cybersecurity Framework
Overview of NIST Cybersecurity Framework

NIST Cybersecurity Framework: 5 Core Functions 

The Framework Core has divided into several categories based on the five functions. Categories under each Function correspond to specific activities, for instance, “Asset Management” and “Identity Management & Access Control”. Further, these Categories are divided into Subcategories focusing on specific activities that contribute to achieving the desired outcome. 

Using non-technical language to facilitate communication between different teams, outlines high-level cybersecurity objectives. The highest level consists of five functions: 


The NIST Framework begins with Identify, which is the underlying foundation for all the other activities. In order to perform this Function, companies must identify all software solutions and systems that are part of their critical infrastructure. Furthermore, Identify function manages to prioritize the actions that are most critical to system protection by being transparent about the solutions used.

NIST-identity In terms of transparency, a common problem that organizations face is shadow IT devices. Your company doesn’t supply or approve certain devices but they are still in use. Employees may use their own personal mobile devices or laptops to access their e-mail account, rather than using the tools that their employers provide. 

It might be nearly impossible to protect the data stored, accessed, or transferred by these devices as long as you don’t know specifically which devices are being used and for what purpose. If an unauthorized device is used, a hacker could gain access to your data.

Organizations can identify and prioritize which systems to be protected first from the Identify Function. It is possible to start by analyzing all company systems and locating where the company’s secure data is located

Businesses often disregard data protection due to a lack of resources or time. Prioritization, therefore, is crucial. Organizations should at least ensure that the most sensitive data is protected when all data cannot be protected at all times. 

The following categories fall under the Identify: 

  • Asset Management 
  • Business Environment 
  • Governance 
  • Risk Assessment 
  • Risk Management Strategy 
  • Supply Chain Risk Management  


Protect is the next Framework Function. The purpose of this functionality is to mitigate the risk of cybersecurity incidents within your organization and minimize their impact if any happens. Despite being aware of the need to protect data, many companies may not know what steps to take. With the Protect Function, you can take a number of actions to increase your data security. 

Companies should carefully examine the risks of data breaches. The disruption of your organization’s operations will not only cause severe damage to your credibility, but it may also disrupt its operations. In the event that a customer trusts you with sensitive financial information, for example, but that information is stolen during a data breach, you can understand why that customer might be hesitant to trust you again.

Complying with regulatory obligations can be at risk if solutions and systems not protected. Several of the recommendations found in the NIST Cybersecurity Framework overlap with government compliance measures, such as HIPAA or ITAR. If you fail to protect your data, you may not only lose business, but you may also be subject to fines or even jail time if you fail to comply with government regulations. 
The Protect Function includes the following categories of data protection: 

  • Identity Management and Access Control 
  • Awareness and Training Data Security 
  • Information Protection Processes and Procedures
  • Maintenance
  • Protective
  • Technology 


You can still experience a data breach despite your best efforts. A common cause of cybersecurity incidents are human errors or highly sophisticated hackers. The Detect Function explains how to develop and implement measures that will allow you to detect cybersecurity events, regardless of their cause. 

As important as it is to be able to detect a cybersecurity threat, it is just as crucial to detect these threats in a timely manner. The longer a cyber attack goes unnoticed, the greater the threat to your company. 

It might seem as if a data breach happens like in a movie or on television, with red alerts and sirens. The detection of data breaches can take weeks or even years. In 2016, more than 25% of data breaches went undetected for more than a month, and 10% of breaches went undetected for more than a year. 

You can imagine the information hackers gained during those stretches of time. In addition to existing data, all newly received data was also at risk from a breach. 

Detect Function Activities:

  • Anomalies and Events 
  • Security Continuous Monitoring 
  • Detection Processes 


Detecting cyber security events is important, but it’s equally important to respond to them rapidly and effectively. Respond, the fourth function offers guidelines on developing and implementing processes to follow when a cyber security event detected. 

Your company should be able to address and contain any attack within these procedures within a short period of time. While the other preceding Functions – Identify, Protect, and Detect – all seek to mitigate the risk of a cyber security event, the Respond Function has a huge impact on the outcome of an event should one occur. Effective response protocols can minimize the amount of damage caused by an event. You might take serious risks for your organization if your response protocol is ineffective. 

When you develop a response plan, you will communicate it to your team members. This will ensure that those responding to incidents, such as employees opening a virus-laden e-mail or an undesired IP address trying to access your systems, will know what to do. 

Companies can develop their response plan using the Respond Function’s five categories: 

  • Response Planning 
  • Communications 
  • Analysis 
  • Mitigation  
  • Improvements 


The final function, Recover, consists of the steps your company should take after experiencing a cybersecurity incident. The recovery process consists of implementing a plan of resilience and restoring any compromised systems or solutions.

Successful recovery following a data breach depends on rapid response, just as in previous Functions. Think about a scenario in which your data storage server has been compromised. When your business depends primarily on the files on a server, all operations could halt, negatively affecting productivity and the bottom line.

The Recover Function aims to return your business to normal operations while minimizing the amount of time and data lost as a result of the cybersecurity event. In spite of the frustration and potential harm caused by a data breach, with an effective recovery plan, your operations will be back to normal in no time. 

The following are the three categories under Recover. Following a breach, each of these factors plays an important role in restoring normal operations. 

  • Recovery Planning 
  • Improvements 
  • Communications 
NIST Cybersecurity Framework Implementation Tiers Diagram
NIST Cybersecurity Framework Implementation Tiers

NIST Cybersecurity Implementation Tiers 

The NIST CSF has four implementation tiers that describe the maturity of an organization’s risk management practices. Additionally, they help you assess whether current cybersecurity activities fit your budget, regulatory requirements, and desired risk level. Tiers are as follows: 

Tier 1 : Partial 

Those in Tier 1 are just getting started with cybersecurity. The organization may have informal data security practices, but many employees and stakeholders are not aware of them. To combat potential breaches, there is no formal cybersecurity coordination in the organization. 

Tier 2 : Risk Informed 

There has been a formalization of cybersecurity efforts at Tier 2 organizations. While management may have approved processes and prioritization, an organization-wide coordinated effort has yet to be launched. While your stakeholders are aware of potential threats, they don’t know exactly how to deal with them and are only exchanging information and coordinating efforts informally. Although adequate resources have been allocated to the efforts, they have not yet been put into action. 

Tier 3 : Repeatable 

Those companies within the Repeatable Tier have formal policies that define risk management, and they have implemented practices to address cybersecurity risks. In the event of a breach, your processes are regularly reviewed and updated. You have earned buy-in from your entire organization, and you have established regular, formal coordination to put cybersecurity best practices into action. 

Tier 4 : Adaptive 

Those organizations that have reached Tier 4 have mastered the art of cybersecurity management through adaptive approaches. They regularly adapt their practices based on past experiences and predictions for the future. All stakeholders are actively working toward achieving better security outcomes and integrating cybersecurity best practices into the organization’s culture. 

NIST CSF Profiles 

Essentially, profiles are a snapshot of the cybersecurity status of your organization at a given point in time. A NIST CSF organization usually implements multiple profiles as part of its implementation. Including a replica of their initial state as well as what their targets are. Assessing cybersecurity risk, evaluating progress can be done through these profiles. 

The profiles take into account the core elements you consider important (functions, categories, and subcategories) as well as your organization’s business requirements, risk tolerance, and resources. Nevertheless, profiles not meant to be rigid; you may have to add or remove categories and subcategories or revise your risk tolerance or resources in a new version of a profile. 

Getting Started With NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST CFS comes with an Excel spreadsheet that helps to get started. The spreadsheet can seem daunting at first. It is possible to work around it by adding columns for Tiers and Priorities. Based on the 1–4 scale described earlier, assess the current maturity level of each subcategory for the organization in the Tier column. Cyber security priorities can be identified by the Priority column ; for instance, you might rate each subcategory as Low, Medium, or High. 

Refrain from overcomplicating things as you progress. Doing everything at once often leads to little progress. The CSF is a guide to help you focus your efforts. so don’t be afraid to make it your own.  

You should also keep in mind that cybersecurity is a journey, not a destination, so your work will continue. Therefore, after implementing these lessons learned, the organization will have a much stronger cybersecurity posture.

Infosec Mates will be happy to assist businesses by conducting a risk audit, identify gaps, come up with the plan, and implement relevant procedures based on the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

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