The NIST Cybersecurity Framework Cybersecurity (NIST CSF), developed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is a set of best practices and standards designed to help organizations improve and manage their cybersecurity posture. It was developed in response to Executive Order 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” issued by President Barack Obama.
The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is a flexible, comprehensive approach to managing cybersecurity risks. It benefits sectors with critical infrastructure, such as energy and healthcare, finance, and transportation. However, it can be used by organizations in any industry. The framework is built around three key components.
- Core Functions: These activities are fundamental to managing cybersecurity risk. The core functions can be divided into five categories -identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Each category represents various activities and controls that organizations can tailor according to their needs and risk profiles.
- Framework Profile: A framework profile is a customized list of functions, categories, and subcategories an organization selects based on its specific needs, risk tolerance, and business objectives. It helps organizations define both their current and desired cybersecurity posture.
- Implementation Tiers: The framework includes a tiered approach to describe an organization’s level of maturity in cybersecurity. These tiers, ranging from Tier 1 to Tier 4, reflect the organization’s ability to manage and respond effectively to cybersecurity risks.
Organizations can use the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to:
- Assess their current cybersecurity practices and improve them.
- Develop a common language to discuss and manage cybersecurity within the organization.
- Align cybersecurity efforts with their business goals and risk management strategy.
- Communicate cybersecurity needs to partners, stakeholders, and regulators.
- Measure and improve their cybersecurity posture continuously.
The NIST Cybersecurity Framework has become a highly respected and widely used resource in the field. Although it was initially developed for critical infrastructure sectors, many organizations from various industries have adopted it and adapted it to enhance their cybersecurity.
Five Core Functions of The NIST Cybersecurity Framework
The NIST CSF consists of five core functions. Each represents a different aspect of managing and improving a company’s cybersecurity posture. These functions are listed below, along with the activities and controls that go with them.
Identify: The “Identify” function focuses on understanding the assets, data, and business processes of an organization, as well as the cybersecurity risks associated with them. It is the foundation of effective cybersecurity risk management. Key activities include:
- Asset Management: Identifying, managing, and preserving information and technology assets.
- Business Environment: Understanding the business context of an organization and how it relates to cybersecurity.
- Governance: Establishing roles, responsibilities, and compliance requirements.
- Risk Assessment: Identify cybersecurity risks and assess them.
- Risk Management Strategy: Develop and implement an effective risk management strategy.
Protect: The “Protect” function involves implementing safeguards to protect the organization’s assets, data, and systems. It includes strategies and methods to reduce the impact of potential cybersecurity events. Key activities include:
- Access Control: Limiting and controlling access to critical systems or data.
- Training and Awareness: Educating employees and stakeholders on cybersecurity.
- Data Security: Ensure the security and privacy of sensitive data.
- Information Protection Processes and Procedures: Develop and implement secure policies and procedures.
- Maintenance: Maintaining systems, hardware, and software and updating them regularly.
Detect: The “Detection” function involves establishing methods to identify and detect cybersecurity incidents quickly, allowing for rapid response to threats and mitigation. Key activities include:
- Anomalies & Events: Monitoring of unusual activities and security incidents.
- Security Continuous Monitor: Monitoring of systems and networks continuously.
- Detection processes: Establish and maintain a process for identifying incidents.
- Event Data: Collection and analysis of data to detect incidents.
- Security Information and Event Management Tools (SIEM): Implementing tools to monitor and respond to security events.
Respond: The “Respond” function is responsible for effectively developing and implementing plans to reduce an incident’s impact on cybersecurity. It’s about taking action when faced with a threat. Key activities include:
- Response planning: Develop and maintain an incident response plan.
- Communication: Establishing, maintaining, and improving internal and external communication channels.
- Analysis: Analyzing incidents in depth to understand the scope of the incident.
- Mitigation: Immediate actions are taken to prevent an incident from spreading.
- Improvements: Implementing changes to enhance incident response capability.
Recover: The “Recovery” function ensures that the organization can recover from a cyber incident and resume normal operations. It involves planning for business continuity and resilience. Key activities include:
- Recovery planning: Develop and maintain business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans.
- Improvements: Incorporating the lessons learned from incidents in recovery plans.
- Communication: Ensure effective communication throughout the recovery process.
- Service continuity: Ensure essential services are restored as soon as possible.
- Recovery and reconstitution: Recovering systems and data.
These five core functions and associated activities and controls provide a flexible and structured framework for organizations to assess and improve their cybersecurity practices, align their efforts with business goals, and enhance their overall cybersecurity posture. These functions can be tailored to the needs and risks of an organization, allowing a customized approach to cybersecurity risk.
NIST CSF Implementation Tiers
The NIST Cybersecurity Framework implementation tiers are four maturity levels that help organizations assess their cybersecurity risk management practices and communicate them. These tiers allow organizations to determine their current cybersecurity maturity level and ability to manage and respond to cybersecurity risks effectively. The Implementation Levels are:
Tier 1: Partial
- Organizations in Tier 1 are not aware of cybersecurity risks and do not have formalized cybersecurity programs. Cybersecurity activities are sporadic, and more coordination is needed within the organization.
- Characteristics: Limited understanding of cybersecurity, no formalized program. Reactive rather than proactive practices.
Tier 2: Risk Informed
- Organizations in Tier 2 are aware of cybersecurity risks and have begun to formalize their cybersecurity program. They may have identified critical resources and begun cybersecurity risk management efforts.
- Characteristics: The beginning of formalizing cybersecurity efforts, asset identification, initial risk-management practices, and improved coordination.
Tier 3: Repeatable
- Organizations in Tier 3 have an organized and well-managed cyber security program. They have identified critical assets, established risk management processes, and actively managed cybersecurity threats. The organization has improved coordination and communication and is proactive in its approach.
- Characteristics: A well-defined program, systematic risk management, proactive practices, and continuous improvement.
Tier 4: Adaptive
- Organizations in Tier 4 have a mature, adaptive cybersecurity program. They adapt their cybersecurity practices to changing threats and business requirements. They prioritize cybersecurity within the organization and understand their risk environments well.
- Characteristics: A mature and flexible program with dynamic risk management, integration of cybersecurity into business processes, and continuous improvement.
You must understand that the Implementation Tiers do not represent a model for everyone. As organizations improve and mature, they can move up the tiers. The flexible and adaptable framework allows organizations to assess their state and set improvement goals.
The choice of a cybersecurity tier is based on the maturity of an organization, its risk tolerance, the nature of its business, and its commitment to managing and enhancing cybersecurity. Organizations can align their cybersecurity efforts to their specific needs and goals by selecting the appropriate tier. The goal is to progress towards higher tiers and improve their cybersecurity posture.
The NIST Cybersecurity Framework Evolved
Since its initial release in 2014, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework has matured. The framework has undergone several changes and developments since its initial release in 2014.
- Updates and revisions: NIST regularly updates and revises the framework to ensure it remains relevant and effective when addressing evolving cybersecurity challenges and threats. These updates include feedback from industry stakeholders, cybersecurity experts, and the user community.
- Integration with Other Standards: NIST has worked hard to harmonize this framework with other cybersecurity standards and guidelines, as well as best practices and guidelines, to make it more versatile and interoperable. This includes alignment with NIST Special Publication 80053, ISO 27001, and other relevant cybersecurity standard.
- International Adoption: The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is widely recognized and adopted worldwide. Many countries and international organizations have integrated or synchronized their cybersecurity guidelines and regulations with the framework.
- Sector-Specific Guideline: NIST has developed sector-specific guidance and roadmaps that help critical infrastructure sectors such as healthcare, financial services, and energy tailor the framework to meet their unique needs and regulations.
- Case Studies and Implementation Guides: NIST has published several case studies and guides that show how organizations have successfully implemented the framework.
- Framework for Improving Cybersecurity of Critical Infrastructure, Version 1.1: This update, released in April 2018, refined and clarified the key concepts, added a section on self-assessment, and introduced a comprehensive focus on supply-chain risk management.
- Collaboration and Outreach: NIST has collaborated extensively with industry, government agencies, and other stakeholders to promote the adoption and use of the framework. They have also held workshops, webinars, public consultations, and gathered input.
- Privacy Considerations: NIST has recognized that privacy is becoming increasingly important in cybersecurity. While the framework primarily focuses on cybersecurity risk, NIST has begun to guide how to integrate privacy concerns into an organization’s security program.
- Measurement and Metrics: NIST has updated its guidance on measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of cybersecurity. It helps organizations develop key performance metrics and indicators to assess their cybersecurity posture.
- Online Resources: NIST created an online repository with resources, case studies, and tools that can assist organizations in implementing this framework effectively. This includes the “Cybersecurity Frame Online Informative Referencing (OLIR)” database.
- Threat Intelligence sharing: NIST has recognized that sharing threat intelligence is essential for improving cybersecurity. They have worked on integrating threat intelligence concepts into their framework.
- NIST’s focus on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: NIST has developed guidance and resources to help SMEs implement the framework successfully despite their limited resources and expertise.
The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a widely accepted and recognized resource for organizations that want to improve their cybersecurity posture and effectively manage cyber risks. Its evolution reflects the dynamic nature and the need for adaptable, practical guidance to address new threats and challenges.