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.