Expanded Definition: NIST Cybersecurity Framework

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

Established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and developed in collaboration across the private and public sectors, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is a comprehensive tool that was designed to help organizations adhere to cybersecurity best practices. The framework was released in February 2014 in response to an executive order that called for “a set of standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks.”

Today, the NIST CSF serves as a benchmark for suitable cybersecurity preparedness across many different regions and industries: More than 20 states currently use the framework to manage cybersecurity risks, and usage is highly encouraged across the 16 critical infrastructure sectors defined by the U.S. government. These critical sectors include financial services, food and agriculture, healthcare, emergency services, and information technology.

There is no mandate today for private sector compliance regarding the NIST CSF, which means organizations are free to adopt the framework on a voluntary basis. However, NIST CSF compliance is required for federal agencies and the vast majority of government contractors, and the

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework includes five pillars that form the foundation of an effective cybersecurity program. They are:

  • Identify – Pinpoint the organization's critical functions and the cybersecurity risks that could disrupt them.
  • Protect – Determine the potential impact of a cybersecurity breach and develop a plan to minimize the damage done.
  • Detect – Enable timely discovery of cybersecurity incidents and how to determine that a breach has occurred.
  • Respond – Prepare for rapid response to any cybersecurity incidents in order to keep them from spreading.
  • Recover – Restore any data or capabilities that were affected by a cybersecurity incident so that the organization can return to business as usual.

The MSP role in using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

While implementation of the NIST CSF is optional for private organizations, MSPs still have a duty to 1) protect their own systems and data, and 2) serve as a trusted IT partner and advisor for their clients. This can mean leveraging the NIST CSF as a tool to improve cybersecurity awareness and management.

Adhere to cybersecurity best practices

Before MSPs can start offering cybersecurity support and making recommendations to clients, they should first look inward to gauge the health of their own cybersecurity program. We recommend that MSPs start with a self-assessment to determine where they fall on the cybersecurity spectrum and what steps could be taken to remedy any weak spots.

For those that are ready to commit to becoming a security-first MSP, the NIST CSF is incorporated as part of the

Conduct risk assessments

Once an MSP has an approximate idea of their own level of cybersecurity maturity, it’s smart to get a professional evaluation in the form of a cybersecurity risk assessment. For example, our risk assessment tool leverages the NIST CSF to provide actionable recommendations that MSPs can use to identify, detect, and respond to security risks within their own businesses.

That same tool can also be used to conduct risk assessments for clients, which is often one of the first steps involved in having the “security conversation” that can lead to opportunities for increased business value and revenue. Customer-friendly risk assessment reports use easy-to-understand language for increased clarity — this allows key stakeholders to comprehend the principles and takeaways of frameworks such as the NIST CSF without having to learn all of the technical terminology.

Offer cybersecurity training

Another way that MSPs can make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to cybersecurity is by offering training to clients. After all, over half of SMBs do not have specific cybersecurity experts to provide guidance within their organization. MSPs might consider offering multiple training sessions covering topics such as phishing awareness, mobile device security, and effective password protection . If a client has a specific paint point or recurring issue, such as cyber threat response, they might require more in-depth training to help them understand the topic and move toward a higher level of cybersecurity maturity.

Did you know?

Only 20% of U.S. organizations are categorized as having mature cybersecurity leadership.

2020 AT&T and ESG Study

Additional Resources

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