NIST Cybersecurity Framework

Author: Kelley Donald - MarCom/Wednesday, October 12, 2022/Categories: Business Internet

As data breaches and other cybersecurity events continue to become more frequent and damaging, taking protective measures to manage cybersecurity risk is a top priority among business owners and executives in all industries. One excellent way for a company to secure its critical infrastructure services is to adopt a proven cybersecurity framework. While there are a number of great options to choose from, few are as well regarded as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, including what this framework is and how it helps mitigate cybersecurity risks, the five core functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and how to decide if this cybersecurity program is the right choice for your organization.

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an institution that was founded by the United States government in 1901 and is today part of the US Department of Commerce. Since being founded, NIST's mission has been to "promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life."

One such measure that this national institute has taken to enhance economic security is developing a risk management strategy for organizations of all sizes and across all industries known as the "NIST Cybersecurity Framework" - a set of guidelines published and routinely updated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that provides organizations with actionable steps they can take to mitigate cybersecurity risk.

Version 1 of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework was published in 2014 and was originally intended specifically for operators of critical infrastructure. In 2018, version 1.1 of the framework was published and made available to the public, broadening the framework's scope so that it is applicable to all types of organizations.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework includes a broad range of instructions designed to support operational risk decisions, including instructions regarding supply chain risk management, guidance on how to perform self-assessments, guidance on how to securely interact with internal and external stakeholders, and a large number of other technical security solutions.

At the heart of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, though, are five core functions. These functions outline the steps that organizations can take to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from a cybersecurity incident.

5 Core Functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

Along with serving as a form of cybersecurity awareness education, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework exists to guide an organization's risk strategy and provide a roadmap for both preventing and responding to cybersecurity risk. To this end, the framework's five core functions outline the steps that organizations should follow.

The five core functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework include:

1) Identify

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework dictates that organizations should start by identifying all of the assets in their IT infrastructure, including hardware devices such as PCs, laptops, smartphones, and point-of-sale devices as well as all of the software installed on those devices. The next step is to then identify the cybersecurity risks posed to those organizational assets. Once all assets and risks have been identified, organizations should then create a cybersecurity policy that outlines all assets and potential risks and includes a risk management strategy that details the roles and responsibilities for employees, vendors, and anyone else who has access to the organization's sensitive data.

2) Protect

Once you have identified all of the IT assets that your organization relies on as well as how these assets could be impacted by a cybersecurity incident, the next step is to implement measures designed to protect those assets. The exact measures that make up an organization's risk strategy can vary from organization to organization but include things such as controlling who is able to access your network and data, protecting data with security software, conducting routine data backups, and training employees in proper cybersecurity practices.

3) Detect

Security continuous monitoring is an essential part of any organization's risk strategy. In order to detect cybersecurity incidents while there is still time to respond and before too much damage occurs, you will need to implement a system for continuously monitoring who accesses your organization's network, devices, and data.

4) Respond

The best way to mitigate cybersecurity risk is to prevent a cybersecurity incident from ever occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, this is not always feasible, making it vital for organizations to implement a plan for responding to various cybersecurity events. This plan should include elements such as:

  • How your organization will notify customers, employees, and other parties that might be at risk
  • How you will keep critical business operations up and running
  • How your organization will report the incident to law enforcement agencies
  • How your organization will go about investigating and containing a cybersecurity incident
  • How to prepare for and respond to an inadvertent cybersecurity event that might put your organization's data at risk such as natural disasters

Along with creating a plan for responding to cybersecurity risks and ensuring that everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities, it is also a good idea to test your plan regularly. Roleplaying various events is one way to go about this. Hiring a cybersecurity services firm to perform penetration testing is another excellent way to test how effective your plan will be if and when a true disaster strikes.

5) Recover

The final core function of the NIST framework is to support recovery activities. The days following a cybersecurity incident are vital and can make or break both your organization's reputation and its bottom line. This makes it essential to formulate a plan for repairing or restoring any equipment or parts of your network that might have been impacted, a plan for putting data backups into action in order to keep your critical organizational operations online, and a plan for keeping customers and other parties informed regarding your response and recovery activities.

Who Uses the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is available for public use and is an excellent framework for any organization that wants to both better identify cybersecurity events as well as meet legal and regulatory requirements. According to NIST.gov, The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is used by organizations in 16 different critical infrastructure sectors, is available in 15 different international translations and adaptations, and has been downloaded a total of 1.7+ million times.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework might be an ideal solution for your organization if it is struggling with any of the following issues:

Identifying Risks

Today, cybersecurity risk can come in a wide variety of forms. Since each individual threat necessities its own preventive measures, it is essential for organizations to pinpoint the threats that pose the greatest risks so that they can focus their resources on those threats. If this is something you are struggling to do, the NIST framework may be able to help.

Supply Chain Risk Management

Determining the best way to manage supply chain risks is often especially challenging since modern supply chains are made up of many independent systems, processes, and entities. Thankfully, NIST Cybersecurity Framework is designed to help bolster organizational understanding of supply chain risks and to help organizations improve the security of their supply chains.

Choosing the Right Cybersecurity Tools

From antivirus software to network firewalls to data encryption tools, organizations have no shortage of options to choose from when it comes to selecting and implementing cybersecurity tools. Having so many options available, though, can also make choosing the appropriate safeguards for your organization a real challenge. If this is an issue that your organization struggles with, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework will be able to help you identify the tools that are best suited for each specific cybersecurity risk your organization faces.

Communicating Roles and Responsibilities

One common issue that organizations struggle with is the fact that employees outside of the security team often do not understand their individual roles and responsibilities regarding cybersecurity. However, responding to a cybersecurity event is something that often requires a company-wide effort, and the security measures to prevent such an event from happening are likewise often dependent on an organization's employees understanding proper computer security practices. If you would like to better inform cybersecurity roles for employees at all levels of your organization, the NIST framework is a great resource to utilize.

Meeting Regulatory Requirements

Adopting the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is voluntary for all organizations in the private sector. However, there is a broad range of other cybersecurity regulations and requirements that organizations are required to meet, and utilizing the NIST framework is a great starting point to ensure that all of those requirements are met. US federal government agencies, meanwhile, are required by law to implement the NIST Cybersecurity Framework under Executive Order 13800.

Conclusion

Adopting a new cybersecurity program can often amount to a large expense and hassle. However, the cost of such cybersecurity investments is certainly much lower than the potential cost of a serious data security event.

According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2021 was $4.24 million - marking the highest average total cost in the 17 years since IBM started releasing its "Cost of Data Breach Report". For even the largest and most profitable organizations, a single data breach can amount to a serious financial blow. Of course, this does not even take into account the secondary consequences of a data breach such as reputational damage and loss of customers/partnerships.

While adopting the NIST Cybersecurity Framework might not guarantee that your organization never incurs a data breach or other cybersecurity incident, it can go a long way toward mitigating your risk. By providing guidelines for identifying and detecting threats, implementing effective security measures, training employees in proper cybersecurity practices, and responding to events in a way that is designed to mitigate the damage that they cause, the NIST framework serves as an exceptional resource for bolstering any organization's security.

According to Markets Insider, cyberattacks are 300 times more likely to hit financial firms than companies from any other industry. If you would like to ensure that your financial institution is not the next victim of cybercrime, implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is an excellent option to consider.

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