The NIST Cybersecurity Framework: a complete guide

Lukas Grigas
Cybersecurity Content Writer
what is nist cybersecurity framework

As the digital world becomes ever more intertwined with our daily lives and businesses, the need for a strong cybersecurity posture has become glaringly obvious. With the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks on the rise, a comprehensive and effective approach to managing cybersecurity risks is quickly becoming a top priority for many businesses. But what’s the approach to a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy?

Well, that’s where the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) comes in, with its NIST Cybersecurity Framework. Let’s have an in-depth look at what the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is, why it’s important, and what steps you can follow to mitigate organizational cybersecurity risks.

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

You can think of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as a map and compass for navigating the complexities of cybersecurity. Essentially, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a set of guidelines and standards that provides a common language and systematic approach to managing and reducing cybersecurity risks at an organizational level.

The framework is versatile, adaptable and can be applied by organizations of any size, in any industry. Developed in response to the Executive Order 13636 Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, the framework is built on the solid foundation of existing standards, guidelines, and practices.

Why is the Cybersecurity Framework important?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is important for a couple of reasons.

First, it provides a common understanding of what cybersecurity is and how it can be managed. This is important for organizations that want to assess their own cybersecurity posture and identify areas for improvement.

Second, the framework provides a comprehensive and flexible approach to cybersecurity that can be customized to meet the unique needs of each organization allowing them to prioritize their efforts and focus on the most important risks.

Finally, the framework provides a baseline security approach for organizations which can help them comply with regulations and standards, including those related to privacy and data protection.

Five core functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

core functions of cybersecurity framework

At the heart of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework are five core functions, each one serving as a building block for an effective approach to managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. These core functions are:

  1. Identify. The first function of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is all about knowledge as it focuses on understanding the organization's assets, systems, and data, and the threats and vulnerabilities that could impact them. This includes conducting risk assessments, mapping the organization's critical assets and systems, and identifying the types of data that need to be protected.

  2. Protect. This function sets out guidelines on implementing security controls and other measures to protect the organization's assets, systems, and data from a variety of cyber threats. The second function of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework focuses on implementing firewalls and access controls, as well as protecting against social engineering and other types of attacks.

  3. Detect. The detect function defies appropriate approaches for identifying and responding to cyber threats and incidents in a timely manner. This includes implementing intrusion detection systems, monitoring logs and alerts, and having comprehensive incident response plans in place.

  4. Respond. The fourth NIST Cybersecurity Framework function is about responding to cyber threats and incidents. It sets out guidelines for minimizing the impact of a cyber incident and ensuring the organization is able to continue operating.

  5. Recover. The final function of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework focuses on recovering from cyber threats and incidents, ensuring that the organization is able to return to normal operations as quickly as possible. This includes backup and recovery planning, testing recovery plans, and creating as well as maintaining business continuity plans.

NIST Framework implementation tiers

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework offers a tiered approach to implementation, allowing organizations to prioritize their efforts and focus on the most important risks depending on their industry and specific needs. The four implementation tiers are:

  1. Tier 1: Partial. Organizations at this tier have basic cybersecurity measures in place, but have not yet implemented a comprehensive cybersecurity program.

  2. Tier 2: Risk Informed. Organizations at this tier have a comprehensive cybersecurity program in place and are using risk management processes to prioritize their efforts.

  3. Tier 3: Repeatable. Organizations at this tier have a well-established and mature cybersecurity program, with well-defined processes and procedures.

  4. Tier 4: Adaptive. Organizations at this tier have an advanced cybersecurity program that is flexible and able to respond to new and emerging risks in real-time. Usually organizations at this tier have a continuous improvement program in place and regularly assess and adjust their cybersecurity measures to meet changing threats and requirements.

Designed to steer organizations towards their ideal state of cybersecurity readiness, these tiers offer a customizable approach to meet specific needs and goals. Organizations can choose a tier that best meets their needs and work their way up from there. This could mean a transformative change within your organization, acquisition of cutting-edge security tools, formulation of robust security protocols, or partnering with seasoned cybersecurity specialists.

Below are some of the most common regulatory compliance standards.

What are the NIST Password Guidelines?

One of the most important elements of business cybersecurity is password security. Passwords are often the first line of defense against cyber threats, and, unfortunately, are often behind successful breaches. To help organizations improve their password security, NIST in its Cybersecurity Framework provides a set of guidelines for password management.

The NIST password guidelines were first published in 2017 and have since been updated in March 2020, under SP800-63B-3. The NIST guidelines are widely considered to be the most influential standard for password creation and use because of how well researched, vetted, and widely applicable they are.

The NIST password guidelines are divided into several sections, covering topics such as password composition, password length, password complexity, password storage, password aging, and password history. Here are some of the key guidelines and requirements set forth by the NIST:

  1. Password composition. One of the most important aspects of creating a secure password is to make sure that it is composed of a healthy mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

  2. Password length. The NIST guidelines recommend using a minimum of eight characters, but longer passwords are generally considered to be more secure. However, the NIST guidelines also caution against using excessively long passwords, because they can be difficult to remember and can lead to users writing them down, making them vulnerable to physical theft.

  3. Password storage. It's important to store passwords securely, to limit the risks of unauthorized access.. The NIST guidelines recommend storing passwords in an encrypted form and using multi-factor authentication methods to help ensure secure access to passwords.

  4. Password aging. The NIST guidelines recommend changing passwords on a regular basis, to help reduce the risk of unauthorized access. This can help to prevent hackers from accessing your accounts, even if they obtain your password through some other means.

  5. Password reuse. Password reuse is an acute problem these days. To further limit the risks of unauthorized access, the NIST password guidelines caution against using the same password across multiple accounts.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework 800 63b

The NIST SP 800-63B, which revised password guidelines back in 2020 contains further guidance on the authentication and management of digital identities. It includes guidelines for identity proofing, authentication, and identity management, and is designed to help organizations manage digital identities in a secure and efficient manner.

To be compliant with NIST 800-63B, organizations should:

  1. Implement strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication, to protect digital identities.

  2. Regularly assess and update identity management processes to ensure that they are effective, efficient, and up to date.

  3. Regularly train employees on identity management best practices, including password security and social engineering tactics.

NIST 800-53: Definition and tips for compliance

Another important set of controls and guidelines that form the NIST are the SP 800-53, which offer a detailed set of security guidelines for incident response, access controls, and privacy.

To be compliant with NIST 800-53, organizations must implement the security and privacy controls outlined in the document, and conduct regular assessments and audits to ensure that the controls are effective. Here are tips to help you comply with the NIST 800-53:

  1. Regularly assess your systems and networks to identify vulnerabilities and areas for improvement.

  2. Implement strong access controls, such as multi-factor authentication, to protect sensitive information and systems.

  3. Develop and have an incident response plan in place, and regularly review and update it to ensure that it is effective.

  4. Regularly train employees on cybersecurity best practices, including password security and social engineering tactics.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework 2.0 is in the works

Recently NIST has released a Cybersecurity Framework 2.0 Concept Paper, which outlines potential changes that may be incorporated into version 2.0 of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF).

The new version will include potential changes such as an emphasis on cybersecurity governance, supply chain risk management, and cybersecurity measurement and assessment. It will also recognize the framework's broad use and be more applicable to organizations of all sizes and sectors. NIST is seeking feedback and comments on a Concept Paper by March 3, 2023.

NIST is seeking feedback on the concept paper and has planned workshops to address potential changes to the CSF throughout the year, with the final draft of CSF v2.0 anticipated for release in February 2024.

NordPass Business and NIST Cybersecurity Framework Compliance

With so many guidelines and recommendations on the table, it can be difficult for businesses to comply with all of them, especially when it comes to managing passwords.

But this is where a corporate password manager such as NordPass Business can help.

With NordPass Business, organizations can store all their passwords in a single secure place and access them from anywhere and at any time. NordPass Business also allows organizations to share passwords in a secure manner. This is especially important for businesses that have employees who work remotely or who travel frequently.

NordPass Business can also help businesses to ensure that their employees use strong passwords that are unique to each of their accounts by enforcing a company-wide password policy. This reduces the risk of password reuse, which is a common cause of data breaches.

In addition, NordPass also helps organizations comply with NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-63B by providing secure multi-factor authentication, and by regularly updating its security measures to ensure that they meet the latest standards and guidelines.

Another benefit of using a password manager is that it helps companies to manage their passwords more efficiently. With NordPass Business, organizations can automate the process of password generation, storage, and retrieval, which saves time and reduces the risk of human error. This can be especially important for businesses that have a large number of employees and need to manage a large number of passwords.

Furthermore, NordPass Business provides organizations with detailed reports and analytics that can help them track password management processes and identify areas for improvement.

At the end of the day, a business password manager such as NordPass Business is a valuable tool for businesses of all sizes and industries. And not just because it can bring you closer to complying. First and foremost it offers a secure way to store and retrieve sensitive business information.

Subscribe to NordPass news

Get the latest news and tips from NordPass straight to your inbox.