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    Cybersecurity Frameworks: NIST, CIS, ISO, and More

    In today's digital age, cybersecurity has become a critical concern for businesses worldwide. A recent study by Insight revealed that more than 70% of corporate executives lack confidence in their organizations' ability to fend off potential cyber threats. In response to these concerns and to ensure the protection of sensitive data, mitigate risks, and comply with regulatory requirements, organizations must adopt robust cybersecurity frameworks.

    What is a cybersecurity framework?

    In essence, a cybersecurity framework comprises a set of standards, guidelines, and optimal methods for handling potential threats in the digital realm. Generally, these frameworks align security goals, such as preventing unauthorized access to systems, with protective measures like mandating a username and password.

    A cybersecurity framework offers a universal terminology and a collection of guidelines for security professionals across countries and sectors to understand their security stances as well as their suppliers. Implementing a framework significantly simplifies the process of establishing the necessary methods and protocols for your organization to evaluate, oversee, and alleviate cybersecurity threats.

    Why are cybersecurity frameworks needed?

    Cybersecurity frameworks provide organizations with guidelines and best practices to follow to safeguard their systems, networks, and data. By utilizing these frameworks, organizations can foster a secure environment and minimize the chances of data violations and cyber intrusions.

    Additionally, the adoption of cybersecurity frameworks assists businesses in recognizing and controlling risks, detecting and reacting to digital threats, and recovering from cyber-related occurrences. By adopting such security measures, companies can establish credibility with customers and stakeholders, showcasing their dedication to ensuring the safety of confidential data, while meeting the requirements of relevant legislation and regulations.

    Types of cybersecurity frameworks

    There are three types of frameworks:

    1.    Control framework

    Control frameworks supply particular controls or safety precautions that businesses can apply to safeguard their information systems and data. These frameworks present a series of recommendations for organizations to adhere to to minimize the threat of cyber attacks.

    2.    Program framework

    Program frameworks refer to a specific category of cybersecurity frameworks that concentrate on creating and administering cybersecurity programs. These frameworks offer guidance and optimal methods for establishing, executing, and sustaining a customized cybersecurity program suitable for an organization's requirements. Tasks involved consist of evaluating risks, formulating policies, providing training, raising awareness, planning for incident responses, and continuous observation and enhancement. 

    3.    Risk frameworks

    Risk frameworks play a crucial role for businesses in detecting, evaluating, and controlling cybersecurity hazards. These vital instruments offer an organized method for handling risks, enabling companies to recognize and prioritize possible dangers, determine the probability and consequences of such threats, and devise plans to minimize or oversee these risks. The primary purpose of risk frameworks is to assist organizations in upholding a robust cybersecurity stance and safeguarding their systems and information against cyber threats.

    Cybersecurity frameworks

    As there are different cybersecurity frameworks available, organizations need to consider carefully the framework that best fits their specific needs and requirements. Each cybersecurity framework is designed to address different cybersecurity challenges, risks, and compliance requirements.

    NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF):

    The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) is a widely recognized and highly regarded framework developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States. Its primary objective is to provide organizations with a structured approach to managing and improving their cybersecurity risk management practices. The framework offers a comprehensive set of guidelines, best practices, and recommendations and has become the gold standard for assessing cybersecurity maturity, identifying security gaps, and meeting cybersecurity regulations.

    NIST is built upon five core functions, each representing a distinct aspect of cybersecurity risk management:

    1. Identify: aims to comprehend and manage an organization's specific cybersecurity risks. This includes creating an inventory of crucial assets, recognizing their significance and vulnerabilities, and pinpointing internal and external threats. Through an in-depth evaluation of systems, networks, and data, businesses can grasp their cybersecurity stance, enabling informed decisions on resource distribution and risk reduction tactics.
    2. Protect: focuses on implementing safeguards for identified risks, including policies, procedures, and technologies to defend critical infrastructure, systems, and data. Key measures involve access controls, encryption, secure configurations, training programs, and a solid incident response plan, all aimed at preventing or minimizing cybersecurity incidents' impact.
    3. Detect: emphasizes early identification of cybersecurity incidents through monitoring systems, threat intelligence, and continuous detection processes. This enables organizations to rapidly respond and mitigate threats, reducing operational damage and impact.
    4. Respond: details how organizations should handle cybersecurity incidents, including creating an incident response plan, assigning roles, and setting up communication channels. This approach aims to quickly manage and recover from incidents, reducing damage and disruption to business operations.
    5. Recover: aims to restore systems, services, and data impacted by cybersecurity incidents. It includes creating and executing recovery plans for system, data, and business continuity, allowing organizations to swiftly resume normal operations post-incident, reducing the effect on business and stakeholders. 

    ISO 27001

    ISO 27001 is the internationally recognized standard for cybersecurity and aims to assist organizations with protecting their information assets while also complying with relevant legal and regulatory requirements.

    The framework defines the requirements for establishing, implementing, and managing an information security management system (ISMS). The framework enables organizations to adopt an ongoing risk management process, identify and assess information security risks and implement appropriate controls to mitigate them. ISO 27001 bolsters organizational resilience against security incidents, maintaining operations by encouraging incident response and business continuity plans for prompt recovery and minimal disruptions.

    SOC2 (Service Organization Control 2):

    The Service Organization Control (SOC) Type 2, a security framework and audit standard rooted in trust, was established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to ensure the secure handling of client information by vendors and partners.

    The SOC2 standard outlines over 60 regulatory obligations and rigorous examination procedures for external systems and controls. The auditing period can last up to a year, after which a report is released, confirming the vendors' cybersecurity stance. Due to its extensive nature, SOC2 is among the most challenging frameworks to put into practice, particularly for financial and banking institutions that must adhere to a more stringent compliance level compared to other industries.

    SOC2 compliance provides independent validation of an organization's commitment to security and privacy. It assures customers that their data is handled with the utmost care and that the necessary controls are in place to protect it. SOC2 also aligns with various regulatory requirements, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Compliance with SOC2 can help organizations meet their legal and regulatory obligations.

    SOC2 assessments provide organizations with insights into their security and privacy controls. By identifying areas for improvement, businesses can enhance their risk management practices and strengthen their overall security posture. For organizations that rely on third-party service providers, SOC2 compliance serves as a valuable tool for evaluating potential vendors. It provides assurance that the service provider has implemented appropriate controls to protect customer data.

    Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

    The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a framework that offers universally recognized and implemented guidelines to increase the security of debit, credit, and cash card transactions. Its primary objective is to safeguard cardholders' personal information and prevent any fraudulent activities.

    PCI compliance requires businesses to adhere to two critical rules: safeguarding cardholder data during transmission and storage, and verifying customer information for transaction processing. These rules are essential for every business to follow. The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council is responsible for managing the standard, which is mandatory for card brands to enforce.


    The North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC-CIP) framework comprises cybersecurity standards tailored for North America's electric utility industry, promoting security and reliability in the bulk power system.

    The framework demands that companies recognize and mitigate third-party cyber threats within their supply chain. NERC-CIP compliance entails implementing access controls, incident response plans, and periodic security assessments to safeguard critical infrastructure. Utilities undergo audits to ensure standard adherence, with non-compliance leading to penalties and sanctions.

    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

    HIPAA acts as a cybersecurity framework mandating healthcare institutions to establish measures for safeguarding and preserving the confidentiality of digital health data. According to HIPAA, besides proving adherence to cyber risk management best practices, like employee training, businesses in the industry also need to carry out risk evaluations to control and detect emerging threats.

    The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

    In 2016, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented to enhance data security measures and practices for European Union (EU) citizens. This regulation affects all organizations situated in the EU or any enterprise that gathers and retains private information of EU citizens, encompassing U.S. businesses as well.

    The framework consists of 99 provisions related to a firm's obligations to adhere to compliance, such as the rights of consumers to access their data, policies and processes for safeguarding data, mandatory data breach notifications (e.g. organizations must inform their national regulatory authority within 72 hours after detecting a breach), among other aspects.

    The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

    The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) serves as an all-encompassing cybersecurity structure that safeguards federal government data and systems from cyber dangers. Additionally, FISMA encompasses third parties and contractors working for federal agencies. 

    Closely adhering to NIST standards, the FISMA structure mandates that agencies and third parties keep a record of their digital resources and recognize any connections between networks and systems. Critical data must be classified based on risk, and security measures have to adhere to minimum security criteria as outlined by FIPS and NIST 800 guidelines. Affected organizations are also required to carry out cybersecurity risk evaluations, yearly security audits, and consistently oversee their IT framework.

    Final thoughts

    Cybersecurity frameworks offer a valuable (and frequently required) basis for incorporating cybersecurity risk control into your security performance administration and external risk management approach. Utilizing a framework as your reference point, you'll acquire a crucial understanding of your most significant security risks and be assured of conveying to the rest of the organization your dedication to security excellence. Need help understanding your organization’s security risk profile? Talk to the ThreatAdvice managed security services professionals today.