The NIST Cyber Security Framework (CSF): A Comprehensive Guide

Emad Shahidi
March 11, 2021


With an ever-growing volume of data and sensitive information within our organisations and an expanding threat of data breaches, a practical way of identifying and managing security controls has become a top priority. However, while most businesses realise the importance of building a robust cybersecurity program, the reality can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, cyber security frameworks such as ISO 27001 and NIST CSF (National Institute of Standards and Technology Cyber Security Framework) can act as a key resource to help businesses improve their cybersecurity and implement organisation-wide controls. In our previous blog, we talked about ISO 27001 and why you might adopt and certify to that standard. In this article, we are going to provide an overview of NIST CSF.


NIST is an organisation responsible for establishing technology, standards, and metrics to be applied to industries in both public and private sectors in the United States.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is a risk-based approach to managing cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities, and incidents. The framework is a voluntary guidance, based on existing standards, guidelines, and practices for organisations to better manage and reduce cyber security risk. By helping organisations understand how to adequately protect data and advising as to which security measures need to be in place, NIST helps to create a level of industry-wide uniformity.

The NIST CSF is composed of five core functions to inform its standards and guidelines: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover. These functions are designed to help organisations adopt a comprehensive approach to managing their cyber security needs. For example:

  • Identify activities should focus on understanding an organisation’s cyber risks and threat landscape
  • Protect activities should focus on establishing processes for securely storing sensitive data
  • Detect activities should focus on actively monitoring an organisation’s system for any suspicious activity
  • Respond activities should focus on responding quickly and effectively to any detected threats
  • Recover activities should focus on restoring normal operations following a successful attack

There are hundreds of security-related standards published by NIST, e.g. NIST 800 series. However, NIST CSF is a gold-standard that enables businesses of all sizes to adopt and implement a risk-based cybersecurity framework.

It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many organisations are NIST compliant worldwide, as the framework is voluntary and there is no central registry tracking adoption. However, recent research from Forrester estimates that there are more than 20,000 organisations in the U.S. alone that have adopted some form of NIST cybersecurity compliance measures.

Additionally, the European Union's Network and Information Security (NIS) Directive requires all member countries to adopt an equivalent standard such as NIST CSF for risk management and incident response purposes.


Data breaches can have a devastating impact on any business. Not only can finances be squeezed, but productivity can ground to a halt and reputation irreversibly damaged. Therefore, NIST CSF compliance is so important – it creates a foundation for protecting sensitive information and managing risks by focusing on an outcome-driven approach.

Based on best practices, by implementing NIST CSF guidelines and recommendations, companies can realise many benefits:

  • Build competitive advantage – By adopting NIST CSF, there is more trust between partners, supply chains and vendors; enabling faster, more sustainable business growth.
  • Attract potential clients – Being a compliant business with the highest levels of cybersecurity standards is an attractive quality to potential clients, and can be the difference between making a deal and not.
  • Achieve compliance – By complying with NIST CSF, companies can lay the foundational protocol to achieve compliance with other regulations.
  • Mitigate risk – The NIST CSF helps businesses to secure their data, infrastructure, and network, protecting them against cyberattacks, malware, ransomware, and more.
  • Prepare for the future – NIST provides a reliable foundation for building and iterating a cybersecurity program. As compliance requirements no doubt rise, organisations will benefit from an outcome-driven, highly customisable approach.
  • Integrate risk management – Risk management should be a shared responsibility between technical and business stakeholders. NIST aligns seamlessly with business goals, facilitates communication, and makes justifying security budgets simpler.

By using the NIST CSF, businesses can gain a common language and efficient methodology for managing cybersecurity risk. The required controls and activities across Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover can be tailored to meet company needs and work alongside existing cybersecurity programs and processes.

By following a well-crafted framework, organisations are able to identify areas where they can make improvements, be it by strengthening processes or implementing new solutions. Businesses can prioritise cost-effective activities, set expectations and leverage the implementation of new processes to build trust with stakeholders.


While complying with the NIST CSF framework is clearly beneficial for your business, getting started is often the difficult part. However, with cybersecurity rapidly becoming a board and CEO-level issue, lack of skilled personnel is no reason for non-compliance.

  • The first step towards becoming compliant with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is typically to assess your organisation’s current risk profile to identify any gaps in your existing security controls. From here, you can develop a plan for addressing these gaps (using the five core functions of Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover as a guideline).
  • Additionally, you should regularly review your organisation’s systems to ensure they are compliant with the latest NIST CSF requirements, and audit your security practices on a regular basis to ensure they remain secure. This can be done by conducting maturity assessments.
  • Finally, organisations should have a comprehensive incident response plan and business continuity plan (BCP) in place, as this allows you to quickly react and respond in the event of an attack or data breach.

Fortunately, Infotrust can take care of this entire process for you. Our team is highly experienced in consulting organisations of all shapes, sizes, and industries on the NIST CSF framework – our expert NIST consultants can help your business achieve compliance, implement organisation-wide controls and improve your cybersecurity.

We specialise in end-to-end cyber security solutions; from consulting and advisory services to awareness training, penetration testing, incident response and more.


For more information about how Infotrust can help your organisation become complaint with NIST CSF standards and guidelines, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.

Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will compare the NIST and ISO standards. If you’d like to read our previous blog on why you should be ISO certified, click here.