Choosing a NIST CSF Compliance Product in 2023 (Key Features)

Whether you’re a large or small business, the cybersecurity framework by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) offers an efficient roadmap to an improved cybersecurity posture. Compared to other popular cyber frameworks, like ISO 27001, NIST CSF is more effective at mitigating data breaches, especially during the initial stages of implementing a cyber risk management program. This makes the framework a popular choice amongst high-risk industries like critical infrastructure and financial services.

Except when used as a framework for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity (see Executive Order 13800),  NIST CSF is usually implemented voluntarily. However, because the security framework is so effective at stopping cyberattacks, its implementation in a cybersecurity program will settle growing stakeholder concerns about data breach cyber threats.

If you’re in the market for a tool for tracking your NIST CSF compliance efforts, this post outlines the key features and capabilities to look for the greatest benefit to your cybersecurity risk management program.

Learn how UpGuard streamlines Vendor Risk Management >

Mapping to the 5 Elements of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

To effectively track NIST framework alignment, a compliance solution should include features mapping to the five functions of the CSF. The product features required to maintain alignment with the primary objectives of NIST CSF are outlined below.

This breakdown serves as a quick reference guide for qualifying potential solution options.

5 functions of NIST CSF

For the complete list of the subcategories within each of the five NIST CSF functions, refer to this post.

1. Identify

Objective: Understand all of the assets within your business environment requiring protection.

Ideal product features for maintaining alignment with the Identify function:

  • Asset management
  • Attack surface mapping.
  • Attack surface management
  • Outline cybersecurity policies for monitoring compliance requirements against relevant regulatory standards and frameworks (PCI DSS, NIST 800, FISMA, HIPAA, SOC, CIS controls, etc.)
  • Risk Assessment Management (for internal and service provider risk identification).
For all Federal Information Systems and Federal Government agencies, compliance with NIST 800-53 is mandatory.

Learn how to comply with the NIST Special Publication (NIST SP) >

2. Protect

Objective: Implement appropriate safeguards to mitigate security risks for each entity discovered in the Identify function.

Ideal product features for maintaining alignment with the Protect function:

  • Risk-informed and risk-based remediation workflows prioritizing critical security risks.
  • Supply chain risk management.
  • Access control and user authentication for digital and physical assets
  • Security ratings for tracking security posture improvements from initial baselines and efficacy of security controls and overall risk management strategies.
  • Vulnerability detection and risk management processes.

3. Detect

Objective: Implement appropriate cybersecurity practices to ensure the timely detection of cyber threats.

Ideal product features for maintaining alignment with the Detect function:

  • Continuous monitoring of internal and third-party attack surfaces to rapidly detect emerging risks, such as data security, data protection, and information security risks.
  • Security risk discovery automation to cover as much of the attack surface as possible.
  • The ability to detect attack vectors facilitating malware and other common cyberattacks.

4. Respond

Objective: Efficient incident response to minimize the impact on business continuity and an organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Ideal product features for maintaining alignment with the Respond function:

  • The ability to gauge the projected impacts of selected remediation tasks on an organization’s security posture.
  • Security ratings for evaluating the efficacy of response efforts and the improvement of future recovery plans.
  • Cybersecurity reporting for efficient communication of incident response and overall security program efficacy.

5. Recover

Objective: The timely restoration of impacted information technology systems to return to usual business continuity levels.

Ideal product features for maintaining alignment with the Recover function:

  • Efficient communication systems for streamlined and adaptive collaboration when incident response plans are activated.
  • A system for prioritizing critical security risks for efficient cyber risk remediation and compressed recovery times.

3 Key Features of an Ideal NIST CSF Compliance Product

Because NIST CSF specifies a list of objectives for mitigating cybersecurity risks and not a list of actions, the framework is very adaptive to different security requirements. To maintain its adaptive nature, compliance should be approached from the perspective of broad alignment by preferencing a single product addressing a broad range of controls over multiple networked solutions.

To simplify your search, we’ve refined the list of product features supporting NIST CSF compliance to three main categories, which collectivity impact the broadest scope of NIST CSF objectives. A concise feature set is more likely to be available in a single cybersecurity solution, helping you avoid the frustrations of managing a multi-tool compliance program.

1. Risk Assessment Management

Across all of its five functions, there are 23 NIST CSF control families that further break down into 108 subcategories. So, in total, there are 108 security controls in NIST CSF. But it’s unlikely that all of these controls will be applicable to your security practices.

For example. If your organization doesn’t outsource any processes to service providers, the following control likely doesn't apply:

DE.CM-6: External service provider activity is monitored to detect potential cybersecurity events.

However, the core information security management tenants of NIST CSF, like data security and data encryption, apply to all business types, in both the public and private sectors, and so should be considered in your implementation plans.

The first step to achieving compliance is establishing a “target profile” detailing which controls are pertinent to your organization. Next, you’ll need to evaluate your starting level of compliance and represent this information in a “current profile.” Comparing your current profile to your target profile helps you understand how much work is required to achieve full compliance while also establishing a foundation for tracking and maintaining alignment with NIST CSF.

To create your current profile, you’ll need to complete a risk assessment. An ideal NIST CSF compliance tool will offer NIST CSF-themed risk assessment templates mapping to the functions of NIST CSF for the most accurate gap analysis.

How UpGuard Can Help

UpGuard’s library of industry-leading risk assessments includes a NIST CSF-specific template mapping to the framework's functions, helping you track alignment internally and for specific third-party service providers.

Learn more about UpGuard’s risk assessments >

NIST CSF questionnaire on the UpGuard platform.
NIST CSF questionnaire on the UpGuard platform.

Watch this video to learn how UpGuard streamlines risk assessment workflows.

Get a free trial of UpGuard >

2. Security Ratings

Even after reaching the highest implementation tier, you need to continuously monitor your alignment with the core functions of the NIST CSF. Emerging internal and even third-party security risks could impact the efficacy of your controls at any time. If left undiscovered, these compliance lapses could cause a large enough exposure to facilitate a costly data breach.

Remember, NIST CSF compliance isn’t a set-once-and-forget process. It’s about ensuring your organization is protected against cyber attacks every day.

Point-in-time risk assessments cannot be solely relied upon to monitor NIST CSF alignment. Though risk assessments provide the most comprehensive insights about an organization’s security risks and level of compliance between assessment schedules, they fail to account for emerging risks between assessment schedules. Should your NIST CSF compliance levels wane during these blind spots, your organization’s data risk of suffering a data breach will increase - without your security teams being aware of it.

Emerging risks missed between risk assessments.
Emerging risks missed between risk assessments.

By quantifying cybersecurity postures and presenting them as a rating ranging from 0-950 (a similar concept to credit scoring), security ratings offer an efficient means for tracking potential NIST CSF compliance risks. A security rating drop alerts security teams to attack surface disturbances requiring further investigation with targeted risk assessments or security questionnaires. When these assessments map the functions of NIST CSF (see point 1 above), this sequence supports the rapid discovery and remediation of NIST CSF compliance gaps.

Security ratings represent the health of an organization’s cybersecurity program in a common language all stakeholders and board members can understand.

Learn how to communicate attack surface management to the board >

Security ratings don’t replace the need for risk assessments. Rather, they complement this cybersecurity effort to produce real-time attack surface awareness, supporting a cybersecurity program that’s adaptive to the threat landscape - the overarching goal of the NIST Cyber Security Framework.

Security ratings and risk assessments creating real-time attack surface awareness.
Security ratings and risk assessments creating real-time attack surface awareness.

How UpGuard Can Help

UpGuard offers a security ratings feature that calculates security postures across six categories of security risks:

  1. Website security
  2. Network security
  3. Email security
  4. Phishing & malware risk
  5. Brand & reputation risk
  6. Questionnaire risk.
Attack vector categories feeding UpGuard's security ratings.
Attack vector categories feeding UpGuard's security ratings.

Learn how UpGuard calculates security ratings >

By combining its security ratings features with its risk assessment workflows, UpGuard offers real-time attack surface awareness, helping security teams rapidly respond to emerging risks impacting compliance with NIST CSF and other frameworks and regulations.

3. Cyber Risk Remediation Management

Four of the five primary elements of NIST CSF depend on efficient remediation workflow. A software solution that streamlines cyber risk remediation management will, therefore, significantly simplify your compliance efforts.

The bedrock of effective cyber risk remediation is understanding which risks need to be addressed first - a problem that can easily be solved if cybersecurity postures are quantified and represented as security ratings.

By integrating a security ratings technology with remediation workflows, security teams can understand which remediation tasks will have the most significant positive impact on the organization’s security posture and should, therefore, be prioritized.

A security tool offering this functionality will limit deviations from target security ratings, tightening your organization’s alignment with NIST CSF even when unexpected cyber threats emerge.

Learn how to choose the best cyber risk remediation software >

How UpGuard Can Help

By leveraging its security rating technology, the UpGuard platform projects the potential impacts of selected remediation tasks, helping security teams maintain a resilient cybersecurity posture.

Remediation impact projections on the UpGuard platform.
Remediation impact projections on the UpGuard platform.

Watch this video to learn how UpGuard tracks compliance with NIST CSF.

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