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What is NIST CSF?

by Juliana de Groot on Thursday August 12, 2021

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Cybersecurity Framework is designed to help organizations manage their security risk; in this blog we'll go over its requirements, penalties for failing to comply with it, and best practices.

NIST CSF, or the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework, is a set of guidelines and recommendations that combine industry standards and best practices to help organizations manage their cybersecurity risks. It was developed in 2014 and consists of a framework of policies that describe how an organization can improve its ability to detect, respond, and prevent a cyber attack. This framework offers a complete system of methods for detecting and managing cyber risks.

Requirements of NIST CSF

Achieving NIST compliance can be a long process. To comply with NIST, a business might need to buy some software products and re-configure its existing systems. It also might have to implement strong physical security and change some internal processes to be more security-intensive.

CSF is the most widely used cybersecurity framework in the United States. The CSF outlines a series of action steps to guide companies through the process of evaluating their security controls, including: 

  • Identify and Isolate: Identify the regions that contain protected data. Proprietary data should be separate from NIST compliant data.
  • Establish Controls: With the right controls in place, you’ll prevent sensitive data from unauthorized access.
  • Encryption Control: Encrypt all data whether it’s at rest or in motion. There should be policies that discuss the use of personal devices by employees and how that data should be secured.
  • Monitor the Data: Data should be carefully monitored, and each data access should come with a stamp so it’s easy to detect who is responsible for a possible data breach if it happens.
  • Regular Training and Audits: With regular training, employees will have a better understanding of the company’s security policies and systems. Also, regular security assessments will ensure that the risk is minimized.
  • Assess System Integrity: When you regularly monitory company access points, you protect the system from bad actors and improve system integrity.
  • Respond and Recover: If there is a data breach, there should be policies regarding the steps to be taken. This includes detection and remediation.

Penalties for NIST Non-Compliance

If a company doesn’t comply with NIST, it might not be able to bid on government projects or contracts. Non-compliance can be damaging to a company’s reputation, as well. If you’re already in business with a government organization and you fail to maintain compliance, it can result in a termination of the contract and even result in legal issues.

Since NIST is a non-regulatory agency, you will not have auditors storming your premises to check your company’s compliance status. But non-compliance will put your valuable business contracts at risk. If an auditing agency becomes aware that you’re not adequately meeting compliance standards, your company could lose valuable certifications, which can hinder your ability to partner with other organizations and qualify for contracts.

Best Practices for NIST CRF Compliance

Here’s a look at some essential best practices for maintaining compliance with the NIST CSF.

  • Maintain Security: Build your processes with data security in mind. Do not collect customer personal information that you don’t need. Only hold on to the information that’s required for you to carry out your business. Your service providers should also implement all necessary security measures. All third-party software tools used by the company should be updated and patched. Make sure all sensitive files are stored securely. Protect the devices that process important information.
  • Identify: Understand your systems and the data they collect. Identify the possible vulnerabilities in the company systems and the risks associated with loopholes. When these points are clearly understood by an organization, it’s easier to prioritize the cybersecurity tasks according to business requirements.
  • Secure: Implement the right safeguards for your infrastructure. This includes training the employees regarding cybersecurity risks, limiting access to critical systems and data, and having the right cybersecurity procedures and policies in place. Non-public information should be guarded with administrative access. Use secure passwords and leverage multi-factor authentication. Protect your data when it’s stored and also during transit.
  • Detect: It’s important to develop and implement the right monitoring solutions and processes to identify the occurrence of a cybersecurity event. To do so, all information systems need to be monitored and processes have to be tested regularly to detect unusual activity. An intrusion detection system might be helpful here. Also, assess whether your applications are vulnerable to an SQL injection attack.
  • Respond: You must have a strategy to follow if there’s a cybersecurity event. This includes coordinating and communicating with stakeholders and law enforcement agencies, controlling the cybersecurity event in time, and rechecking the processes of the organization to incorporate what you’ve learned from the event.
  • Recover: Develop a strategy that will help you resume your business activities after the cybersecurity incident. The goal is to recover in the minimum possible time. There should also be ways to minimize the impact of the incident on all stakeholders.

The NIST CSF is a widely used cybersecurity framework that combines standards and best practices to create a unified set of guidelines, standards, and rules across organizations. Complying with the NIST CSF provides companies with greater assurance that they’re following industry best practices and guidelines for ensuring the security of their sensitive data. While there’s no mandate that requires companies to comply with NIST CSF, it’s a worthy endeavor that can protect your business from the significant losses that result from a cyber attack.

Tags: Data Protection 101, Compliance

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Juliana de Groot

Juliana is the Sr. Marketing Operations Specialist at Digital Guardian. She has been in the cybersecurity space for a combined three years. Prior to joining DG, she worked at Dell and CarGurus.