Everything You Need To Know About NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF)

Everything You Need To Know About NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF)

Every organization is concerned about cybersecurity and privacy. Keeping sensitive data private, intellectual property proprietary and vital business systems operational in the face of continuous and ever-increasingly sophisticated cybercrime attacks and breach attempts might appear practically impossible. 

Ransomware attacks have increased significantly globally in the last few years, especially in the United States. In fact, the USA had 759% more victims of cybercrime per million internet users, compared to the next highest country, Canada, in 2021.

In such a scenario, every company must have a plan of protection against cybercrime attacks, be it ransomware, malware, or phishing. This is where NIST CSF can come in handy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology came up with the Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) as a protective measure for US critical infrastructure and Department of Defense (DoD) operations—however, it is now accessible by any organization. 

Complying with this framework is a voluntary choice, but the NIST CSF more than makes up for your investment with a common outline of best practices for companies of all sizes to better understand, manage and identify weak links and strengthen their network and data against unprecedented breaches.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is the gold standard in cybersecurity risk management tools. It is helpful for your company whether you are just launching your cybersecurity program and have one running reasonably well. But implementing this security standard can be quite a challenge.

You can need help with questions like who needs NIST CSF, how much time it could take to attain certification, or the costs involved in achieving compliance. This is why we, your friendly compliance experts at Akitra, have curated this blog to enlighten you about the basics of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. The objective of this article is to help you better understand the nuances of this relatively new security standard and help you implement it at your company with confidence.

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF)?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology created the Cybersecurity Framework to improve its security posture for critical infrastructure and Department of Defence (DoD) operations. The purpose of NIST was to provide a unified set of standards, goals, and vocabulary to improve information security and clean up cyberattack consequences. A standard language helps develop a similar practice across businesses, which is highly important when eradicating cyberattacks such as phishing scams and ransomware.

NIST CSF, released in 2014 as a result of an executive order from President Barack Obama and revised in 2018, has become a useful risk management resource for private sector organizations and government agencies. A 2017 executive order mandated NIST CSF compliance for federal government agencies and businesses in their supply chain.  

The framework proposes a series of rules and recommendations to help companies better prepare for identifying and detecting cyber-attacks and practices for responding to, preventing, and recovering from cyber disasters. The framework comprises the Core, the Implementation Tiers, and the Profiles. Let’s see what these stand for.

  • The Framework Core is a collection of activities and references, made up of five functions that are further broken into 22 categories (groups of cybersecurity outcomes) and 98 subcategories (security controls).
  • Framework Implementation Tiers are used by organizations to describe for themselves and their partners how they view cybersecurity risk and the level of sophistication of their management approach.
  • The Framework Profile is a collection of outcomes chosen by an organization from the categories and subcategories based on its business needs and individual risk assessments that further refine approaches to strengthen cybersecurity measures.

Should You Use the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) at Your Organization?

The US Secretary of Commerce recommended NIST CSF implementation in every organization wanting to stay ahead in addressing its cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Before you decide whether to invest in getting NIST CSF compliance certified, you should list the top cybersecurity challenges at your organization.

  • You do not have an accurate account of all assets that need to be secured.
  • You are concerned about cybersecurity vulnerabilities at your company.
  • Your staff expends significant effort on issues with no future impact, but they don’t have any guidelines telling them what genuine danger they should focus on.
  • You want to know how to deal with risk issues, given your present tools and what is available in the market.
  • Your coworkers outside the security team need to be more familiar with cyber risks and perform essential regulation and elimination duties.
  • Your board has begun to inquire about quantifying the risk reduction outcomes of the strategic cybersecurity plan that your team already has in place.

When you implement the NIST CSF standard along with your existing cybersecurity measures, you can streamline their functionality and ensure data protection corresponding to the maturity of your program. It also makes you more accountable to key stakeholders, such as the Board of Directors or senior management executives.

What are the Five Functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF)?

The framework divides all cyber defense capabilities, initiatives, operations, and everyday tasks into these five essential functions: 

  1. Identify

The Identify function lays the foundation for a successful cybersecurity program, contributing to developing an organizational understanding of cybersecurity risk to systems, people, assets, data, and capabilities. This function emphasizes the importance of understanding the business context, the resources that support critical functions, and the associated cybersecurity risks to enable an organization to focus and prioritize its efforts according to its risk management strategy and business needs. The essential activities outlined here include: 

  • Recognizing physical and software assets as the foundation for an asset management program;
  • Assessing the business environment of the enterprise, particularly its role in the supply chain;
  • Defining established cybersecurity policies to determine the governance program, as well as legal and regulatory requirements for the organization’s cybersecurity capabilities;
  • Detecting asset vulnerabilities, threats to internal and external organizational resources, and risk response operations;
  • Developing a risk management approach, which includes determining risk tolerance; and,
  • Developing a supply chain risk management plan that includes priorities, limitations, risk tolerances, and assumptions used to support risk decisions related to supply chain risk management.
  1. Protect

The Protect function describes necessary protections to guarantee critical infrastructure services are delivered and supports the capacity to restrict or control the consequences of a potential cybersecurity event. The essential activities outlined here include:

  • Implementing identity management and access control safeguards inside the enterprise, including physical and remote access;
  • Enabling staff empowerment through security awareness training, which provides for role-based and privileged user training;
  • Establishing data security protection in accordance with the organization’s risk strategy to secure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information;
  • Installing processes and procedures to maintain and manage information systems and asset safeguards;
  • Maintaining organizational resources, including remote maintenance duties; and,
  • Managing technology setups to ensure system security and resilience in accordance with organizational policies, procedures, and agreements.
  1. Detect

The Detect function is vital to recognize potential cybersecurity issues, and this function defines the appropriate activities to detect the occurrence of a cybersecurity event promptly. The essential activities outlined here include:

  • Making sure that anomalies and occurrences are discovered and that their potential impact is understood; and,
  • Implementing continuous monitoring capabilities to monitor cybersecurity events and validate the efficiency of defensive measures such as network and physical activities.
  1. Respond

The Respond function focuses on appropriate activities to take action in the event of a detected cybersecurity incident and helps to limit the effect of a potential cybersecurity incident. The essential activities outlined here include:

  • Ensuring that the response planning procedure is followed both during and after an occurrence;
  • Managing internal and external stakeholder communications during and after an event;
  • Analyzing the incident to ensure an efficient reaction and supporting recovery operations such as forensic analysis and incident impact;
  • Executing mitigation efforts to prevent an occurrence from spreading and to resolve the situation; and,
  • Improving detection and response activities by leveraging lessons learned from prior and present detection and response activities.
  1. Recover

The Recover function identifies relevant activities to renew and maintain resilience plans and restore capabilities and services that have been compromised due to a cybersecurity incident. The Respond function identifies relevant activities to renew and maintain resilience plans and restore capabilities and services that have been compromised.

  • Ensuring that the organization has recovery planning processes and procedures in place to restore systems and assets affected by cybersecurity events;
  • Improving existing techniques and implementing enhancements based on lessons learned; and,
  • Assessing if Internal and external communications are handled properly during and after a cybersecurity event.

Who Needs to Comply With the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF)?

The NIST CSF benefits all private organizations seeking to strengthen their cybersecurity. However, it was initially designed to protect the country’s “critical infrastructure”, defined as assets, systems, and services deemed crucial to the United States. According to the President Policy Directive/PPD-21: Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, there are 16 critical infrastructure sectors:

  • Chemical plants
  • Communications
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Commercial facilities
  • Dams 
  • Industrial bases for defense
  • Emergency services
  • Financial services
  • Energy (including utilities)
  • Agriculture and food production
  • Government infrastructure 
  • Healthcare organizations and public health
  • Nuclear power plants, materials, and waste
  • Information technology
  • Transportation networks
  • Water and wastewater treatment systems

The NIST CSF standard benefits any organization looking to assess risks and tighten its security in the face of cybercrime.

Though it was earlier primarily used in companies having exclusive deals with the government, the NIST CSF, as well as the more extensive NIST Special Publication 800-171, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Groups, is gaining popularity among non-government public bodies such as universities and research organizations, which is a welcome change at this time.

How Long Does Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) Take?

The cybersecurity resources, capabilities, and needs of each organization are unique. As a result, the time required to adopt the Framework will vary for every company, usually ranging from a few weeks to several years. The hierarchical design of the Framework Core enables businesses to allocate steps between the present state and the desired state in a way that is suited to their resources, capabilities, and needs. This allows companies to create a realistic action plan for achieving Framework results in a reasonable amount of time, and then build on that accomplishment in succeeding actions.

NIST CSF Compliance 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 the organizations they work with are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk. 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 service helps customers become certified for NIST CSF along with other frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, HIPPA, GDPR, PCI DSS, FedRAMP, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, CMMC, and other specific frameworks such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. Our compliance and security experts will also provide the customized guidance you need 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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