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Cybersecurity Frameworks – Data Security Best Practices and Relevance to Your Organization

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

In today's digital age, cybersecurity has become a top priority for organizations of all sizes. To ensure the safety of their sensitive data and systems, businesses need to implement robust cybersecurity frameworks. There are several cybersecurity frameworks available to organizations, including NIST, ISO, and CIS. In this article, we will compare the differences between these three and understand which would be preferable for an organization to implement.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity framework was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in response to Executive Order 13636, which called for the development of a voluntary cybersecurity framework for critical infrastructure. The NIST Framework is a comprehensive set of guidelines, standards, and best practices designed to help organizations manage and reduce cybersecurity risks.

The NIST framework has five core functions: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. The framework also includes a set of categories and subcategories that organizations can use to tailor their cybersecurity practices to their specific needs, allowing for more freedom when facilitating an organization’s priorities.

ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is an international standard for information security management systems (ISMS) developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The standard provides a framework for managing and protecting sensitive information, including personal data, financial information, and intellectual property.

Like the NIST framework, ISO 27001 also follows a risk-based approach. It requires organizations to identify their information security risks and implement appropriate controls to manage those risks. The standard also requires organizations to implement a continual improvement process to ensure that their information security management system remains effective over time.

CIS Controls

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls is a set of cybersecurity best practices developed by a global community of cybersecurity experts. The CIS Controls are divided into three categories: basic, foundational, and organizational. The basic controls are focused on cyber hygiene, while the foundational and organizational controls are designed to help organizations implement more advanced security measures.

The CIS Controls are regularly updated based on the latest threats and vulnerabilities, making them a flexible and dynamic framework that can adapt to changing cyber threats and risk environments.

Key Differences

The NIST CSF, ISO 27001, and CIS Controls are all valuable cybersecurity frameworks, but they have some key differences.

First, the NIST framework is a voluntary framework, while ISO 27001 is an international standard that organizations can choose to adopt and get certified against. The CIS Controls, on the other hand, are not a standard but a set of best practices.

Second, the NIST framework and CIS Controls are both focused on cybersecurity, while ISO 27001 is broader and covers information security management systems. This means that ISO 27001 is a more comprehensive framework that covers all aspects of an organization's information security, while the NIST CSF and CIS Controls are more focused on specific cybersecurity risks and threats.

Third, the NIST CSF and CIS Controls are both more prescriptive, providing specific guidance on the steps that organizations should take to manage cybersecurity risks. ISO 27001, on the other hand, is more flexible, allowing organizations to tailor their information security management system to their specific needs.

Which One To Choose?

The NIST framework, ISO 27001, and CIS Controls are all valuable cybersecurity frameworks that can help organizations manage and reduce cybersecurity risks. Each framework has its own strengths and weaknesses, and organizations would be keen to evaluate the state of their current data security measures as well as understand the potential threats that are and could potentially be present to understand more clearly the best direction to move forward. Organizations that are early in their data security implementation might view the NIST framework as more appealing, as it offers flexibility and execution that is focused on specific areas that are understood as higher threat priorities and areas of urgent risk. Organizations with mature data security management plans in place might view ISO 27001 as the next phase in their information security posture evolution, as ISO certification or being in the process of ISO certification can be outwardly viewed by partners and clients as a further sign the organization is serious about their data protections. Meanwhile, organizations that have specific areas in which protections are needed that affect broader organizational aspects of their business environment while maintaining flexibility and directed data protection measures to shore up vulnerabilities.

Cost is another important factor when implementing new security measures. Newer organizations might not have the budgetary means in which to implement every security measure that their organization might need. Frameworks like ISO 27001 are a long term process to attain compliance and certification, making it less accommodating to businesses that have urgent data protection needs that require shoring up as soon as possible. Understanding where an organization currently stands as well as where the most urgent threats to their data may originate from is key to choosing what protections to implement.

Ultimately, organizations should choose the framework that best fits their specific needs and risk profile. While the NIST CSF and CIS Controls are more prescriptive and focused on cybersecurity, ISO 27001 is broader and covers all aspects of an organization's information security management system.

Shane is a recent graduate of the University of Houston Downtown with a Masters in Security Management and Cybersecurity and lives in Houston, Texas.

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