February 1, 2023

    6 Steps for Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

    Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is one of the best ways to mitigate the risk of a data breach in your organization. If you want to keep your sensitive files protected from nefarious parties roaming the net, the best thing to do is to use this framework in your daily operations. Learn more about the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and how it can help you keep your data protected.

    What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

    The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a set of best practices organizations can use to keep their data secure. Created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the framework was designed to make cost-effective data security possible for organizations of any size. While the implementation of the framework is voluntary, it’s wise for your organization to implement these processes and work towards ongoing alignment. Doing so mitigates the risk of a cybersecurity breach.

    Who Is Impacted by the NIST Framework?

    It’s easy to think that NIST compliance and data security only really apply to IT departments. In reality, every single person in your organization with a computer or access to your computer plays a role in maintaining cybersecurity standards. Because the framework is a voluntary cybersecurity measure, it’s easy for employees to feel like it’s not their problem. That is decidedly not the case.

    For example, one email sent from a public Wi-Fi connection at a coffee shop could have serious consequences. So, you need everyone on board with your security efforts. While it is imperative that your IT team be familiar with and be actively aligning with the NIST framework, it’s wise for everyone in your organization to be aware of it and the role individuals play in maintaining standards.

    5 Functions of the Cybersecurity Framework

    What is the goal of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework? Broadly, it is to ensure your data is protected. However, more specifically, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework performs five different functions that all work together to keep data protected. Here are the five functions and the roles they play in maintaining cybersecurity.

    1. Identify

    The first function, Identify, is focused on how you evaluate and identify risk in your business and IT systems. This requires a detailed look at your current data practices. The following actions fall under Identify:

    • Asset Management
    • Business Environment
    • Governance
    • Risk Assessment
    • Risk Management Strategy
    • Supply Chain Risk Management

    2. Protect

    How can you protect your organization against a cybersecurity breach? To maintain control over who is accessing your data, you should implement the following mandates that fall under the Protect function:

    • Identity Management and Access Control
    • Awareness and Training
    • Data Security
    • Information Protection Processes and Procedures
    • Maintenance
    • Protective Technology

    3. Detect

    To ensure that data security incidents are kept to a minimum, you need ways to detect events when they occur. The Detect function includes the following steps:

    • Anomalies and Events
    • Security Continuous Monitoring
    • Detection Processes

    4. Respond

    When a data breach occurs, every second counts. With each passing minute, countless valuable files could be compromised. Thus, you need to respond rapidly to any sign of a breach by taking the following actions:

    • Response Planning
    • Communications
    • Analysis
    • Mitigation
    • Improvements

    5. Recover

    Finally, the last steps you take in the cybersecurity framework are focused on how to recover data that’s been lost or compromised. Use these steps to ensure your data is easily recovered and protected in the future:

    • Recovery Planning
    • Improvements
    • Communications

    6 Steps for Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

    1. Set Your Goals

    The first thing you should do before implementing the NIST Framework is to set your own organizational goals regarding your data security. What level of risk are you comfortable with? What areas of your business need protection the most? Setting goals allows you to organize your actions, establish a scope for your security efforts, and prioritize where steps are the most important ones and should be taken first. Plus, it also allows everyone in your organization to get on the same page.

    2. Create a Detailed Profile

    Not every business has identical cybersecurity needs. Although the NIST framework is billed as a voluntary set of guidelines applicable to numerous industries, its application in your business may look different from that of your peers.

    The Framework Implementation Tiers help you identify where your business needs to improve and the steps that must be taken to make those improvements a reality. The tiers are listed below:

    • Tier 1: Partial - This means your cybersecurity practices are generally reactive to whatever cybersecurity event is occurring.
    • Tier 2: Risk-Informed - This tier describes companies that may be aware of some risk and are regularly making plans for how to respond to that risk.
    • Tier 3: Repeatable - The Repeatable tier applies to companies that have clearly outlined and regularly repeatable cybersecurity processes.
    • Tier 4: Adaptive - Adaptive companies are proactive in terms of cybersecurity measures, preventing events instead of reacting to them.

    It’s not essential that you move from Tier 1 to Tier 4 as quickly as possible. In contrast, progression through the tiers should happen when it’s the smartest decision from a cost and security standpoint for your company.

    3. Determine Your Current Position

    Conduct an independent risk assessment so you can determine your current data security position. A risk assessment of your current efforts reveals what’s working and what steps you need to take to get your other security efforts up to NIST standards.

    One way to determine your current position is to use software tools capable of scoring your security efforts. Train staff members on how to use these tools or partner with a third-party vendor to conduct the assessment. Make sure that the parties performing the assessment have no foreknowledge of your target scores, preventing any bias in scoring.

    4. Analyze Any Gaps and Identify the Actions Needed

    Once scores are collected, they can be presented to key stakeholders in your business. With this knowledge, you are equipped to identify areas of risk and create a strategy that can close the cybersecurity gaps.

    Using these scores also makes it easier to prioritize where you need to focus your efforts. Addressing areas where there is a large disparity between your actual scores and your target scores should be your first priority. With this essential knowledge, you can create a strategic plan for how to implement the NIST Framework.

    5. Implement Your Plan

    Once you have a plan in place, it is now time to implement it. Using the knowledge you have about the current state of your cybersecurity efforts, you can begin to remedy the areas vulnerable to risk. It’s also important to remember that your cybersecurity plan is not simply a box to be checked and forgotten about. Instead, you need to view this as an ongoing effort that needs to be updated and reassessed as your business and security features change.

    As you implement your plan, you should also take this opportunity to document all the processes associated with your cybersecurity efforts and create training materials based on those processes.

    6. Take Advantage of NIST Resources

    Finally, be sure to look at all of the resources that NIST has to offer. These guides will help you navigate the framework implementation process, and determine the best course of action for your business. The resources, broken down by function, are particularly helpful for understanding the exact application of these security efforts in your business.

    Using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a smart way to mitigate the risk of a data breach. One way to easily align with the NIST cybersecurity standards is by adopting a secure file sharing solution. With built-in security measures, you can save time by adopting a single solution with multiple security functionalities. With the right strategy in place and a secure file sharing solution implemented in your organization, you’ll know that your data is adequately protected.


    Martin Horan

    Martin, Sharetru's Founder, brings deep expertise in secure file transfer and IT, driving market niche success through quality IT services.

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