Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework for SMBs

Written by Chuck Rutenberg

January 31, 2022

Today, every business, no matter what its size, needs a cybersecurity framework that includes standards, guidelines, and best practices for managing risks in a digital world. Using such a framework to align controls like local, offline, and cloud backups improves resistance to attack and facilitates your business’s resilience.

While dealing with cybersecurity isn’t on anyone’s “fun list,” aligning your organization’s policies and procedures with the industry-leading NIST cybersecurity framework helps you better manage risks, fosters communications among internal and external stakeholders, and protects your networks and data.

What is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was established in 1901 as a non-regulatory agency within the US Department of Commerce. Its mission is to promote US innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing, among other things, technology that enhances economic security and improves people’s quality of life.

The NIST cybersecurity framework is a set of guidelines published by the institute for mitigating organizational cybersecurity risks. A 2016 study found that 84% of enterprises in the US have a security framework in place, with 64% using at least part of the NIST guidelines in their security procedures.

The framework has three central components:

  1. The core provides organizations with guidance on managing and reducing their cybersecurity risks in tandem with their existing cybersecurity and risk management processes. It includes five continuous and concurrent functions: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Together, they provide a high-level view of a company’s management and cybersecurity risk.
  2. Implementation tiers provide context on how organizations view their cybersecurity risk management. They help businesses choose the appropriate level of stringency for their cybersecurity program.
  3. Framework profiles help identify areas where existing processes could be strengthened or new ones implemented.

The NIST cybersecurity framework is not a one-size-fits-all approach, nor is it implemented following a standardized checklist. Each organization has unique risks and different vulnerabilities, so how they implement the framework will vary.

How Your Business Benefits From the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

SMBs have much to gain by working through the NIST framework. It can be used to build cybersecurity programs from scratch or help strengthen existing programs. It also represents a valuable business development exercise, extending conversations about cybersecurity and risk management across a company.

An easy-to-understand risk management methodology, the NIST framework has been globally adopted at businesses big and small. For SMBs, it’s a valuable resource that even non-experts can understand. Benefits include:

  • A superior and unbiased cybersecurity approach that represents the collective experience of thousands of information security professionals and makes it easier for organizations to fill in security gaps they didn’t know they had.
  • Bridging the gap between technical and organizational stakeholders through a common language that enables an integrated risk management approach in alignment with business goals.
  • Built for future regulatory and compliance requirements. Organizations that implement the NIST cybersecurity framework will find they’re better positioned when existing regulations and laws change and new ones appear.
  • As the cybersecurity landscape evolves, NIST updates users on the latest changes.

Given its flexibility and adaptability, the NIST framework is a cost-efficient way for SMBs to approach cybersecurity and encourage a company-wide conversation around cyber risk and compliance.

The Foundation of a Forward-Thinking Cybersecurity Program

One of the greatest advantages of the NIST framework is that it allows an organization to start small and expand over time based on emerging requirements or risks. You decide how to expand the program and on what timeline.

SMBs that want to safeguard operations while maximizing every dollar spent on cybersecurity will find the NIST cybersecurity framework offers a practical approach to securing sensitive information and protecting critical infrastructure. And for those businesses that find compliance and cybersecurity in general to be daunting, a managed IT service provider can help them evaluate their requirements and select the NIST practices that fit their specific needs.

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