NIST Cybersecurity Framework: Guidance on Implementation & Adoption

October 11, 2022 | By IANS Research

With an increasingly complex and pervasive threat landscape, security teams should rely on established frameworks to help ensure their programs are meeting certain standards.  

This piece outlines the benefits of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) along with best practices for implementation.  

5 Pillars of the CSF 

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF), is the ‘gold standard’ guide of best practices to help organizations strengthen their cybersecurity posture. Widely adopted across industries, the CSF framework is based on 5 pillars.  

  • Identify: Understand and identify your organization’s critical assets and the potential security risks associated with them. 
  • Protect: Prioritize your security posture of critical assets and critical systems to minimize the impact of potential cybersecurity incidents. 
  • Detect: Ensure continuous threat detection is in place to identify security incidents quickly. 
  • Respond: Address detected cybersecurity incidents and implement security measures to minimize damage. 
  • Recover: Restore and repair services damaged as a result of a cybersecurity incident and communicate status to the organization.  

READ: A Guide to NIST Standards and Frameworks

Benefits of Implementing the NIST CSF 

The NIST CSF represents the collective experience of thousands of information security professionals. The benefits of implementation include, but are not limited to: 

  • Promoting long-term risk management. Many organizations make the mistake of following minimum cybersecurity practices and doing one-off audits only when they are required. The NIST CSF promotes continuous compliance, which is much more adaptive and responsive and promotes long-term risk management. 
  • Improving communication and decision-making. Following a reputable framework like CSF means that your organization’s security budgets will be better allocated. It also provides a common reference for business and technical stakeholders to share, which improves communication and decision-making.   
  • Tailoring to organizations. Given that it is designed to be adopted across a wide range of industries, the CSF is highly customizable, and the scope of the implementation is voluntary. This means that it can be adopted and understood quickly.  
  • Strengthening customer relationships. It is becoming increasingly common for potential customers to question organizations about their cybersecurity practices. Using the NIST CSF framework reassures customers that the organization takes security practices seriously, which helps to build trust and improve relationships between the customer and the organization.  

Challenges of Implementing the CSF 

NIST is not a catch-all solution for security programs and launching a NIST framework is a commitment. The key benefit of CSF flexibility can be one of your biggest challenges. Given that adoption is voluntary, organizations can choose to only implement a small amount of the framework –and may not provide enough coverage against security risks.   

In addition, because the CSF has been adapted for use across a wide range of organizations, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. As a result, teams may find it challenging to fully operationalize due to insufficient resources, lack of in-house experience or competing priorities.  

Tips to Get Started in the CSF  

Implementing the NIST CSF within your organization should be thought of as a long-term, iterative process that is implemented gradually. Here is a brief outline to get started: 

  1. Identify your organization’s objectives, priorities, and critical systems and assets.  
  2. Identify the threats and vulnerabilities that are associated with these systems and assets.  
  3. Develop an updated security profile that outlines existing security controls and the corresponding outcomes. 
  4. Carry out a risk assessment to identify the likelihood of cybersecurity incidents and the potential impact they could have. 
  5. Create a target profile that outlines the desired state of your cybersecurity program.  
  6. Identify the gaps between your current security profile and your target profile and determine the resources that will be required to address these gaps.  
  7. Carry out the steps that are necessary to address these gaps. This may involve adjusting existing security systems and processes or implementing new ones entirely.  

READ: 4 Steps to Customize a Risk Framework 

Best Practices to Adopt the NIST Cybersecurity Framework   

An increasing number of organizations are adopting NIST standards to promote risk management and improve decision-making between stakeholders. While it can be challenging to build a new security framework within your organization, the CSF is a worthwhile investment, as it can significantly bolster the security maturity of your organization, regardless of stage. Many of the following best practices apply to any security program change, and below are some especially helpful for the NIST CSF. 

Win key stakeholder support: Ensure that a variety of stakeholders are involved in the framework process from end to end. Make sure to include those who develop training and awareness programs, internal and external audits and operational compliance owners (ensuring all compliance requirements continue to be met). 

Build an organizational timeline:  A new security program framework can involve policy and procedure changes that need to be reviewed and approved by leadership. These groups will need a long time to accomplish this, so consider developing a roadmap that sets out specific milestones.  

Gain leadership adoption: One of the most critical steps to take when making major changes to a security program is establishing leadership support, ideally up to the board level. Cite industry shifts towards NIST-based standards and the benefits of strong framework standards. Following a commonly used framework allows leadership to better assess vendor security posture, merger or acquisition target security programs and benchmarks with other organizations. 

Map/align policies: The NIST CSF is designed to be a risk assessment framework compatible with a wide variety of standards. Focus on the CSF categories to organize policies and controls in line with each category of your existing standards. Then perform a mapping exercise to both outline your policy/procedure and define a specific control activity for your organization. You should consider keeping a strong and direct linkage in naming and numbering conventions to the NIST CSF standard, to makes long-term maintenance and support easier.   

Although reasonable efforts will be made to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the information contained in our blog posts, no liability can be accepted by IANS or our Faculty members for the results of any actions taken by individuals or firms in connection with such information, opinions, or advice. 

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