NIST Cybersecurity Framework 2

Safeguarding sensitive data, protecting intellectual property, and keeping critical IT infrastructure up and running is no longer solely the concern of large organizations.

Cyberattacks are on the rise globally and are increasingly targeting small and medium-sized enterprises which are generally less well-equipped to fend off sophisticated cybercriminals.

For such organizations, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is an invaluable risk management tool.

NIST CSF was developed with the protection of the Department of Defense and US critical infrastructure in mind, but its content applies to any organization that handles sensitive information and relies on IT infrastructure to operate.

In this guide, we detail the most important aspects of NIST CSF to help you improve upon or get started with implementing some of the core standards into your organization’s cybersecurity program.

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The cybersecurity framework (CSF) is a project of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that was first published in 2014 and has quickly become a cybersecurity gold standard across industry sectors.

Indeed, that was NIST’s goal; to create a shared set of standards, objectives and language to help organizations prevent and recover from cyberattacks.

As with the use of standard measurements of size, weight and time, this common methodology aids understanding and cooperation and promotes improved decision-making among actors with broadly similar challenges and objectives.

NIST CSF is written so that even those without extensive knowledge of IT security can learn from it and, hopefully, implement some of its standards into their organization’s approach to cybersecurity.

Still, the subject matter is inevitably complex and detailed but, in brief, NIST CSF consists of three components:

  1. Framework Core
  2. Framework Implementation Tiers
  3. Framework Profiles

These components are broken up into the following five key functions of cybersecurity:

  1. Identify
  2. Protect
  3. Detect
  4. Respond
  5. Recover

Taken and applied together, each of these components and functions ensures a comprehensive and proactive approach to cybersecurity that persists over time.

Which industries does the NIST Cybersecurity Framework apply to?

NIST CSF compliance is mandatory for all federal government agencies, as well as contractors and subcontractors charged with handling federal government data.

The full scope of NIST CSF compliance depends on which federal government agency is concerned and the types of goods and services that are provided.

For all other organizations, compliance with the NIST cybersecurity framework is voluntary. Nonetheless, it has been widely adopted by private enterprises, non-government organizations, academic institutions, and local government agencies as an accepted best practice for cybersecurity.

Many organizations tout their NIST CSF compliance in marketing materials or during contract negotiations to demonstrate that they can be trusted with sensitive data.

What are the components of the NIST Framework?

The components of the NIST Framework are as follows:

Framework Core

The Framework Core is defined by NIST CSF as “a set of desired cybersecurity activities and outcomes using common language that is easy to understand.”

It is intended to help organizations manage and reduce their exposure to cybersecurity risks in ways that can be integrated into the organization’s existing cybersecurity protocols.

Framework Implementation Tiers

Framework Implementation Tiers provide context regarding an organization’s approach to cybersecurity risk management. Namely, to what degree has the NIST Framework been implemented by the organization?

  • Tier 1—Partial
  • Tier 2—Risk-informed
  • Tier 3—Repeatable
  • Tier 4—Adaptive

It is likely not necessary or appropriate for all organizations to implement the NIST Framework in full across their entire IT operations. These four tier levels allow organizations to identify the optimal level of rigor for specific cybersecurity processes.

Framework Profiles

NIST CSF defines Framework Profiles as “an organization’s unique alignment of their organizational requirements and objectives, risk appetite, and resources against the desired outcomes of the Framework Core.”

It is intended, primarily, to help identify and prioritize actions that may improve an organization’s cybersecurity.

What are the five functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The Framework Core includes the five functions of NIST CSF. In total, these functions comprise a further 23 categories which, in turn, yield 108 subcategories outlining various requirements and controls to be achieved.

As noted though, NIST CSF is not a one-size-fits-all model. Non-federally aligned organizations are free to decide their levels of engagement with the various functions, categories and subcategories.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework 5 Functions

Here are the five functions in full, alongside the main actions that each entails.

1. Identify

The first step is to foster an understanding of how to manage cybersecurity risks to systems, assets, data, and capabilities.

Identify critical processes and assets

What are your core activities that must be maintained for your organization to function? What assets does your organization hold that, if compromised, would lead to significant damages?

Identify threats, vulnerabilities, and risks

Put risk management processes in place that identify, assess, and document internal and external threats in risk registers.

Document information flows

As well as understanding what data your organization holds, you also need to know where it is located, how it is used, and whether (and how) it is shared.

Maintain inventory of software and hardware

Computers and software are often the entry points of cybercriminals so it is crucial to keep track of this inventory.

Establish cybersecurity policies with roles and responsibilities

These cybersecurity policies should outline how they will protect your IT systems in the event of an attack or malfunction, how your organization’s critical functions will be maintained, and how they align with other organizational risk considerations, such as financial and reputational.

2. Protect

This function is about developing and implementing the necessary safeguards to ensure the organization’s delivery of services.

Managed access

Employees should only have access to assets and information required to carry out their job. Each should have a unique account and they must be authenticated every time they seek access to information, applications, and computers.

Protect sensitive data

Sensitive data must be encrypted while stored and when transmitted to third parties. It should also be destroyed when no longer required.

Protect devices

Install host-based firewalls and endpoint security products. Disable any services or features that are superfluous for the device’s purpose, and ensure that broken devices are disposed of securely.

Conduct regular backups

Most operating systems and applications have an automated backup process but this must be verified. Consider keeping one set of backed-up data offline so it is not vulnerable to a ransomware attack.

Train users

All employees should be trained regularly on the organization’s broad cybersecurity policies and protocols, as well as the cybersecurity practices particularly relevant to their role.

3. Detect

This function works to ensure that a cybersecurity incident is detected as early as possible.

Test and update detection processes

This includes the detection of unauthorized actors in the network as well as in the physical environment.

Maintain and monitor logs

Logs are an effective tool for identifying anomalies within your organization’s use of IT infrastructure. All changes and activity in the system are recorded and, with the help of software tools, this data can be aggregated to look for suspicious activity.

Understand your organization’s expected data flows

To detect an abnormal data flow, you need to know what your likely data flows are. Deviations from this norm could indicate that sensitive information is being exported from a server.

Understand cybersecurity event impacts

Once an incident is detected, it is imperative to understand the breadth and depth of the breach and to then communicate this with relevant stakeholders.

4. Respond

The response function concerns the development and implementation of actions concerning a detected cybersecurity event.

Test response plans

Testing a response plan ensures cybersecurity protocols function well but are even more valuable for making sure that each employee knows their respective roles and responsibilities.

Update response plans

A response plan test will invariably throw up areas for improvement. These should be acted upon and the response plan updated accordingly.

Internal and external stakeholder coordination

Response plan tests and updates are a matter for all concerned stakeholders, whether they work directly in your organization or not. Ensure all stakeholders are engaged and can contribute towards improving the response plan.

5. Recover

This function concerns the development and implementation of actions to maintain resilience and restore capabilities in the event of a cybersecurity incident.

Internal and external stakeholder communication

Again, communicating with all concerned stakeholders is crucial to the recovery process as this is how you discover all the details of what happened.

Update recovery plans

Based on these experiences and testimonies, the next step is to update recovery plans with lessons learned.

Manage organizational reputation

Part of developing a recovery plan is protecting your organization’s reputation. Consider how you will communicate the cybersecurity incident so that it is accurate and complete, and inspires confidence that issues have been, or are in the process of being, addressed.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework compliance with Vertikal 6

The capacity of many small-to-midsize organizations to manage cybersecurity threats has not kept pace with the risks faced.

NIST CSF is a great tool for protecting against cybersecurity threats but it is not necessarily an easy one to implement for smaller organizations that are already stretched.

With Vertikal 6, we can help to assess your cybersecurity and make your organization NIST CSF compliant concerning the services and goods you provide.

Our cutting-edge security technologies and vigilant monitoring go beyond NIST CSF best practices, so you can be confident your organization has the most robust cybersecurity measures in place.

Get in touch with one of our expert advisors to book a free strategy consultation to discuss your organization’s cybersecurity needs.

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