Information security has become critically important in today's era of complex IT environments, diverse cloud applications, and high-profile data breaches. Data-driven security incidents are not only occurring with alarming regularity — the repercussions are proving more costly than ever.
According to a joint research effort spearheaded by IBM and Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach reached $4.24 million in 2021, the highest recorded average in 17 years.
Despite heightened awareness across the board, improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity top has proved immensely challenging. If you're struggling to provide reliable protection for your organization, it may be time to adopt a proven, relevant cybersecurity framework (CSF).
Let's take a closer look at what a cybersecurity framework is, the different types of frameworks, and how the right one can help boost your defenses.
What Is a Cybersecurity Framework?
A cybersecurity framework is a collection of documented measures and guidelines structured around creating safe and resilient IT environments. Many businesses use it as a template to ensure they have the proper security policies, procedures, and controls in place.
The concept takes an all-encompassing approach to cybersecurity activities, outlining steps necessary to protect mission-critical resources. Generally, the framework core prioritizes risk management, addressing cyberattacks, incident response, and recovery planning.
Common Cybersecurity Frameworks
A wide variety of cybersecurity frameworks have been introduced over the years. Here is an overview of some of the best known models in use:
Originally published in 2014 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the NIST cybersecurity framework was initially established to help organizations in the private sector safeguard utilities, banking, and other critical infrastructure services. In 2017, it was designated a mandatory compliance framework for both US government agencies and government contractors.
Trusted by organizations around the world, the NIST CSF is based on five core principles:
While still focusing on these five principles, the NIST framework exists in many iterations, each targeting a specific aspect of cybersecurity. For example, NIST SP 800-171 targets controlled unclassified information (CUI), which is covered by various federal policies, laws, and regulations.
On the other hand, NIST SP 800-209 also provides security guidelines for storage infrastructure components such as encryption, authentication, and authorization.
Developed by the Center for Internet Security Critical Security Controls, the CIS framework is comprised of 20 best practices for implementing cybersecurity controls. The framework core components include identifying fundamental security measures for IT environments, safeguarding information systems, and establishing a security-driven organizational culture.
Although it is built on a solid foundation, CIS is arguably most effective when paired with other cybersecurity models. The framework is typically viewed as a baseline foundation for NIST adoption. In fact, the Center for Internet Security has published resources to help organizations more easily transition from CIS to their designated NIST iteration.
The ISO cybersecurity framework is a culmination of expert contributions from the global IT security community. Governed by the International Standards Organization (ISO), it is routinely reviewed and updated to ensure its standards meet evolving cybersecurity requirements. Whereas the NIST and CIS CSF are limited to the United States, the ISO framework is internationally recognized, making it a first choice for businesses at practically every level.
The ISO CSF is perhaps best known for the security measures contained in its ISO/IEC 27001 collection of standards. The 27001 guidelines detail the data security and risk management essentials that go into creating an adaptive cybersecurity infrastructure. A certification for ISO/IEC 2007 demonstrates that an organization has implemented the controls necessary to achieve the highest level of information security.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) is an example of an industry-specific cybersecurity framework. As the name suggests, PCI DSS targets the highly sensitive information associated with credit card transactions. Strong password policies, encryption, access control, and regular monitoring and testing are among the measures included in its extensive list of best practices.
Established by a council that includes American Express, MasterCard, and Visa, PCI compliance is a mandatory requirement for any entity that processes, transmits, or stores card data.
Choosing a Cybersecurity Framework
Be it NIST or PCI DSS, no cybersecurity framework is a one-size-fits-all solution. These considerations will help you choose a framework that best suits your organization:
Determine Your Business Needs
The ideal framework will align with specific business needs. While top security is a priority, most organizations also want to maintain other areas such as high productivity or a top-notch user experience.
Round up your security team and all stakeholders involved in cybersecurity activities. This brainstorming session should help you identify risks, existing policies, user preferences, compliance concerns, and other details that will help you plan the best way forward.
Evaluate Your Cybersecurity Posture
You need thorough and honest assessments about your current cybersecurity posture before adopting any new technology or methodologies. The evaluation process generally follows five important steps:
1. Examine Your Company Profile
What products or services generate revenue for your organization? What are the biggest cybersecurity risks and threats facing your company? Are employees equipped to respond to a cybersecurity incident? How much of the company budget is allocated to security?
The answers to these questions and others should provide a baseline for where you stand in the security department.
2. Highlight IT Assets
Mapping the resources that make up your IT environment is essential to determining what you require from a cybersecurity framework. Identify every piece of hardware, software, and data across your infrastructure. You need to account for each component as you plan to adopt new security measures.
3. Identify Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities
Attackers are constantly on the prowl for vulnerabilities to target potential victims. Maybe it's a poorly configured firewall or weak passwords that allow hackers to breach the network. Identifying such weaknesses will provide a better understanding of the cyber threats that could possibly exploit your business.
4. Review Security Controls
What security controls do you currently have in place? From file encryption to remote system access policies, each should be thoroughly reviewed and formally documented.
5. Test and Measure Your Cybersecurity Program
The final step in the evaluation process is important for two reasons. First, it validates the effectiveness of your existing cybersecurity program. Second, it yields results that will illustrate what you need from a cybersecurity framework.
Create a formal testing strategy to assess the strength of the security controls currently in place. Use your business needs and established benchmarks such as the time it takes to detect potential threats to test your security.
How to Plan for Cybersecurity Framework Adoption
Implementing a cybersecurity framework requires careful planning and execution. Here are some tips streamline the process:
Consider Incremental Adoption
Moving forward with a full-scale CSF adoption is not always sustainable. Depending on the resources at your ready, it may be wise to take an incremental approach. This way, you can address pressing concerns and significantly improve overall security across the business environment — while only using a fraction of the time and effort full implementation requires.
Focus on Foundations
Whether you opt for full or partial adoption, you need to prioritize as you plan. Ideally, you want to start with strong foundations that allow you to easily expand. For instance, you can incorporate self-managed controls that immediately address security gaps affecting core functions, then circle back around to invest in automated solutions that enhance those functions at a later date.
Get the Team Involved
Adopting a cybersecurity framework has implications for the entire organization. Why not make implementation an organizational effort? Bring together individual departments and their respective resources to start using the framework across the company. By assigning responsibilities to each unit, everyone can contribute without any one team shouldering too much of the burden.
Plan for the Worst
It is not uncommon to hit a rough patch or two as you work to get a new cybersecurity framework up and running. Mapping a business-oriented contingency plan to your adoption strategy will better assure minimal disruptions to availability, productivity, and other vital aspects of daily business operations.
Adopt a Secure Frame of Mind
Security is an ongoing commitment. With threats lurking in virtually every corner, it is arguably the single most important key to longevity and sustainability — and you can't afford to compromise. While the task of achieving a rock-solid defense system is fraught with challenges, embracing a proven cybersecurity framework can help simplify the journey.
At the same, it's important to understand that not all frameworks are created equal. In order to make the most of a given CSF, organizations need a comprehensive plan that considers specific business needs, and map a strategy for implementing a security model best suited to accommodate those requirements.
Tapping into years of experience in information security management, ThreatKey can help you meet the compliance requirements of any cybersecurity framework. Contact us to schedule a free demo and see our platform in action.
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