The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a continuously updated framework published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is a useful framework that organizations can design and follow to improve their security.
In this article, we'll look at the key aspects of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, why you might want to use it, and how to start implementing it in your business.
How businesses can benefit from using NIST
The NIST framework consists of best guidance, principles, procedures, and practices that take direction from a government executive order designed to improve cybersecurity for various companies. Organizations can benefit from NIST in the following ways:
- Guidance: You will have a detailed analysis of security principles and priorities.
- Range of coverage: Provides the organization with tools and capabilities to protect itself.
- Accessibility: You'll have instructions that apply to every organization, whether you've already implemented a framework or not.
- Flexibility: All businesses, large, small, new or old, are considered in the framework.
- Cost effective: The application is designed to prioritize cost-effective actions as part of the framework.
The basic functions of the NIST Framework
The NIST framework consists of five functions that lay the foundation for risk management and appropriate protection of the organization.
The framework also lists the kinds of tools and processes that make up the component, so you can identify any gaps that may exist in your organization.
It's about understanding your organization's cybersecurity needs, identifying aspects of your environment and organization (such as assets, partners, devices, software), and identifying the parties, software, and departments involved in managing cybersecurity risk of your company.
From there, you can begin to identify the key threats that pose the greatest risk to your organization based on your environment and potential vulnerabilities.
Tools for this component include asset visibility and management as well as potential threat intelligence.
The processes and policies that make up this component include a documented risk tolerance framework, third-party risk management, and clear lines of communication about who is responsible for each aspect of cybersecurity.
The protection component is what is considered traditional cybersecurity defense and protection, where organizations prioritize which elements need protection through identity management, authentication enforcement, and restricting rights and access.
Additional steps include participating in security training, leveraging network segmentation, and having a data protection policy in place to prevent leaks, misconfigurations, or accidental exposures.
This is where the framework can really help, covering key steps and providing guidance beyond simple prevention. At this point, you should prioritize tools and processes that will detect any unwanted intrusions or anomalous behavior.
This is best achieved by leveraging continuous monitoring and detection tools across various aspects of your organization, such as endpoints, email, and your network. The most useful tools should highlight known threats while also detecting whether an authorized person has entered your network or whether an insider is acting suspiciously.
This is where you should prioritize communications, mitigation, analysis and analysis as part of an overall response plan in the event of a breach or successful attack.
Planning ahead will help you stay proactive and identify the required steps that can help you react faster and reduce the damage an attack can have on your network.
This may include bringing in an external response and remediation team to perform the necessary forensic analysis so that you are able to understand how the breach occurred in order to reduce the risk of it happening again.
This phase can almost be considered an extension or a conjunction of the response phase, as you take the knowledge, information and analysis from this phase to inform your recovery strategy and process.
Recovery incorporates internal and external communications (such as managing PR, customer and other stakeholder communications), working to restore full functionality to anything affected by the attack, and identifying domains in the event that part of your network has been seriously affected .
Elements of the NIST Framework
There are three elements to the NIST framework that help ensure that as many organizations as possible can adopt it.
The NIST core covers the functions we detailed above, as well as categories, subcategories, and informational references. These operations must be performed simultaneously and continuously. It is a checklist and offers guidance for achieving cybersecurity outcomes and goals.
Implementation tiers define how an organization views cybersecurity risk and how it should respond accordingly. It does not reflect the maturity of an organization, but rather the business and organizational need to manage cybersecurity risks and the resources that can reasonably be allocated.
The elements that make up the scale are as follows:
- Risk management process
- Comprehensive risk management program
- External participation.
Level 1: Partial scale
This tier deals with cyber security on a case-by-case basis and, for the most part, is not very aware of many of the risks that threaten their organization. This is largely a reactive position that considers cyber security only when there is an active need for it.
Level 2: Aware of the risks
There is a higher degree of awareness of cyber security risks and resources dedicated to it based on the needs of the company, however, it is not standardized, has few processes and assessments remain largely internal. This means that third-party risk management is still not taken into account.
Level 3: Repeated scale
An organization at this level has more standardized policies and practices and is constantly updated based on new information and changing priorities in risk management.
The executive team participates in these discussions, and external parties (such as vendors and partners) are considered as part of the overall cyber security strategy, ensuring that controls and policies are in place to address third-party risk.
Level 4: Adaptability
Organizations in this tier are constantly researching and discovering new threats, vulnerabilities and exploits and reacting accordingly by investing in new tools, solutions and products that can protect them against new threats.
Risk tolerance is generally low and cyber risk management is an integral part of the organization as a whole, driving decision-making throughout the company.
The profile essentially marries core and tiers together, aligning functionality within core with your company's tier-based cybersecurity business needs and goals.
By combining the two, you should be able to create a roadmap that leads to your cybersecurity goals, taking into account what your organization can handle and what risk tolerance your company needs to adopt.
How to implement the NIST Framework
It can seem daunting and intimidating to implement this framework, given all the different components involved, but it's important to understand that this framework was built with flexibility and convenience in mind.
NIST provides a step-by-step guide to implementing any kind of cybersecurity framework.
Prioritization and scope
You should identify what goals your business needs to achieve and what kind of priorities require resources and investment. This will help you get a good understanding of what you can really go for when it comes to cyber security.
This step will help you identify the processes, assets, requirements, and approaches needed to update the scope of your cybersecurity program. You will be able to properly assess what threats and vulnerabilities your organization may be exposed to.
Create a profile
Creating a profile according to the categories and subcategories found in the NIST framework functions will give you a baseline to measure your progress and success.
Understanding your organization's risk tolerance, business need for risk management, and available resources can help you understand where you fall and what goals and outcomes you can realistically aim for.
Create a target profile
As part of your goals, you should have a profile in mind, with the relevant categories as a goal, to help give direction to your program.
Identify, analyze and prioritize gaps
By comparing your current profile and your target profile, you can identify the gaps, steps, and actions needed to reach your goal. This will also help you find resources and suitable suppliers and solutions.
Action plan implementation
By now, you should have a good understanding of what steps are required, who you need to talk to, and how to go about implementing your plan. All that's left to do is move towards achieving your goals.
NIST Principles in Various Frameworks
The NIST framework can be used by any organization and its principles can be leveraged even if you adopt a different framework or implement a different cybersecurity program.
Basics like conducting a risk assessment and setting goals can help you streamline and prioritize your actions.
This will also help when onboarding key cybersecurity partners who can best assist you if you have defined goals and a good understanding of your organizational capabilities.