NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: Which Compliance Standard Should You Choose?


Modern companies rely on compliance standards to ensure that products, services, and processes fulfill predetermined requirements, ensuring safety, quality, and compatibility in a rapidly evolving digital world. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are two of the most influential agencies that set and maintain these standards, making substantial contributions to the advancement of numerous sectors worldwide.

The compliance frameworks developed by these two esteemed organizations are vital to improving an organization’s security posture by establishing data security controls and procedures. They prevent a business from capsizing to the numerous cyber threats circling it. But which set of standards should you choose and implement for your company? In this blog, we will delve into what NIST CSF and ISO 27001 frameworks are used for, their pros and cons, and try to help you select the best one for your organization.

What is NIST CSF?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed its Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) as a voluntary standard to allow businesses to establish information security, risk management, and control programs. The CSF was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory governmental organization in the United States that is part of the Department of Commerce. 

NIST standards are now used in industries ranging from nanotechnology to cybersecurity, and they even have specific guidelines tailored to the industry. Through an executive order in 2013, NIST was charged with designing a Cybersecurity Framework, and version 1.0 of the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity was published in February 2014. It was further amended and modified into Version 1.1, released in April 2018.

The CSF is presented in a 48-page document that covers several cybersecurity actions and intended outcomes that organizations can use to assess their cybersecurity risk, risk maturity, and information security architecture.

What is NIST CSF Used For?

The CSF contains three primary components: the framework core, implementation tiers, and profiles—all designed to help you measure your organization’s risk maturity and prioritize activities to improve it. Let’s understand each of these in detail.

Core Framework

The core framework has five functions: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. While the CSF focuses on cybersecurity issues, these tasks are common in most risk management systems. The functions are subdivided into 23 categories that address the fundamentals of developing a cybersecurity program.  

Implementation Tiers

NIST CSF uses a rating system on a scale of 0-4 to generate a final number that can be used to benchmark an organization’s level of risk maturity for each of these five functions. 


The profile is based on the tier and allows an organization to determine its current level of risk tolerance and prioritize security policies and risk mitigation tactics. This section is intended to assist an organization in growing by comparing its existing profile to target profiles, thereby helping you determine how to devote budget and personnel resources to improve cybersecurity practices over time. 

What is ISO 27001?

ISO is a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Geneva, Switzerland, that has published over 22,600 standards across a wide range of industries since its foundation in 1954. One of their most prominent standards is the 27000 family, which covers many IT security risk management controls. ISO 27001 establishes a framework for designing and implementing information security management systems (ISMS). The ISO/IEC 27000 family was first introduced in 2005, was significantly upgraded in 2013, and, like the NIST CSF, was most recently updated in 2018, and the latest version is the 2022 version. The ISO 27000 family of standards for Quality Management Systems (QMS) is frequently combined with the ISO 9000 family of standards.

What is ISO 27001 Used For?

ISO 27001 is intended to assist organizations in systematizing cybersecurity measures to address specific scenarios or compliance requirements into full-fledged information security management systems (ISMS). A third-party auditor can also help you obtain official ISO 27001 accreditation. ISO 27001, like NIST CSF, does not endorse specific processes or solutions. Still, its framework provides greater detail on security controls than NIST, working with the 2019 ISO/IEC TS 27008 updates on new cybersecurity risks. 

Now that you know about the basics of NIST CSF and ISO 27001, let’s delve into the similarities, followed by their differences.

Similarities Between NIST CSF and ISO 27001

Both the NIST CSF and ISO 27001 are complementary frameworks that necessitate top management support, an ongoing improvement process, and a risk-based strategy. 

Both the NIST and ISO risk management frameworks are also similar and involve the following three steps:

  • Assess the data threats
  • Implement risk-appropriate controls
  • Keep an eye on their performance

Organizations wishing to become ISO 27001 compliant and adopt the NIST CSF framework will find them simple to integrate. Their control measures are comparable, and their definitions and codes are fairly interchangeable between frameworks. Both frameworks provide a basic vocabulary that enables easy communication about cybersecurity challenges across heterogeneous teams and with external stakeholders. Most organizations must realize this and save time and money on unnecessary compliance processes. Truthfully, when you accomplish your ISO 27001, you’ve completed 50% of the NIST CSF! What’s more, if you’ve already adopted NIST CSFs, you’re already 80% of the way to ISO 27001.

Differences Between NIST CSF and ISO 27001

Risk Maturity

The age and maturity of your company’s security system will help you decide between NIST CSF and ISO 27001. If you’re new to security or are in the early stages of developing one, getting a NIST CSF system is preferable. ISO 27001 will be the way for those with a more mature system who want certification. This is because it is more effective at assisting organizations in mitigating risks such as data leaks.


If you wish to certify your cybersecurity system, you should use the ISO 27001 framework. There are numerous ways to gain certification, and there are numerous reasons why you might desire to do so. It will deplete your budget, but it will demonstrate to stakeholders that you take cybersecurity seriously. NIST CSF does not provide certification. 

Costs of Adherence

This is important, especially if you are a fresh new firm or start-up. Because the NIST CSF is free, new businesses can utilize it to get up and running. In contrast, ISO 27001 will charge you to view their documentation. That might get expensive, so you should start with NIST and progress to ISO when ready. 

Here are some more differences between NIST CSF and ISO 27001 at a glance.

NIST CSF is to be implemented by federal organizations and their contractors and sub-contractors.ISO 27001 applies to organizations on an international level trying to maintain a secure information management system.
NIST CSF has many control categories.ISO 27001:2022 has Annexe A, with 93 controls over four categories – organizational, physical, people, and technological. 
NIST CSF does not depend on audits and certifications.ISO 27001 requires independent audits and certifications.
NIST has five functions to help you customize your cybersecurity framework to your business needs.ISO 27001 has ten standard clauses to help your business improve its ISMS.

NIST CSF And ISO 27001 Compliance Readiness with Akitra!

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and compliance certification fills that need.

Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our compliance automation platform and service help our customers prepare readiness for both the NIST CSF and the ISO 27001 compliance standards, along with other security frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, FedRAMP, CCPA, CMMC, and more such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s Risk Management product for overall risk management for your company, Trust Center, and AI-based Automated Questionnaire Response product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently. 

The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings, including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.

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