What Is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

Enterprises looking for the best practices to protect and manage their systems don’t need to look further than the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. These guidelines are customizable and scalable, allowing organizations to use what portions serve them most or implement the whole structure. Cybersecurity cannot be taken too seriously.

An enterprise that does not take steps to protect itself against cyber attacks will quickly find itself facing security threats that can prove fatal to the organization’s future. Understanding this framework is essential to ensuring your enterprise is ready to face any cyber threats that come its way. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about this versatile tool.

What Is NIST Cybersecurity Framework?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) cybersecurity framework offers enterprises a security control structure of best practices for mitigating and managing cybersecurity risks. NIST frameworks are a resource that businesses can utilize to craft their cybersecurity defense and response protocols.

Using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework ensures enterprises can repeat their processes for identifying and neutralizing threats successfully. Following the cyber security guidelines set by NIST, enterprises have a solid foundation to build their cybersecurity procedures that meet industry and government compliance requirements. This cybersecurity framework has three components: core, tiers, and profile.


The tiers component of the framework consists of four implementation levels: partial implementation, risk-informed, repeatable, and adaptive. NIST tiers evaluate how an enterprise approaches cybersecurity and how progressive it is in preventing threats to its system. Moving through the tiers, organizations progress in the security programs they use. Lower-tier programs are reactive and do not respond until there is an active threat.

However, companies will implement more adaptive and risk-informed programs as they move up through the tiers. Tier four is considered optimal cybersecurity implementation for your organization; however, not all companies will have the same processes, even if they are at the same tier. What constitutes tier-four cybersecurity protocol will differ across all enterprises, even those in the same industry.

Tier One: Partial Implementation

Enterprises operating from tier one need more awareness of the potential cybersecurity threats that can impact an organization. Risk management processes are usually not repeatable and are informal, as each situation is dealt with individually without a company-wide protocol established.

There is no particular prioritization of cybersecurity actions, and organizational risks, environmental threats, and business standards do not inform decisions. External parties are not collaborating or sharing information with other entities. As a result, the enterprise is unaware of or neglecting to watch for threat risks in its supply chain.

Tier Two: Risk Informed

Enterprises moving into this tier have increased awareness of cybersecurity risks that can impact a business on an organizational level. Management has given the green light to add improved risk management processes, but systems have yet to be rolled out company-wide. The threat environment, organization risk objective, and business requirements determine the company’s actions in the cybersecurity sphere.

Typically, cybersecurity information is dispersed internally but inconsistently without set protocols. Risk assessments may occur at this tier, but they are inconsistent and must be more thorough. Regarding external participation, an enterprise operating at this tier will collaborate and collect information from some entities. Cyber threats in the supply chain will be identified, but no consistent or comprehensive actions will be taken to neutralize risks.

Tier Three: Repeatable

Once an organization has ascended to tier three, risk management processes are approved and shared as organization policies. Companies will update their cybersecurity protocols in response to business requirements and the evolution of threats as they appear. Expect to see risk management programs integrated into organizations on all levels, with clearly defined processes. These processes will be implemented consistently and reviewed for effectiveness periodically.

Cybersecurity risks will regularly be communicated between cybersecurity professionals, and executives, ensuring all team members are unified on the approach to cyber threats. Typically, an organization performing at this tier receives information from outside entities and generates and disseminates its information. Risks in the supply chain will be addressed through policy implementation and agreements outlining the level of security requirements enforced.

Tier Four: Adaptive

At the adaptive tier, organizations will follow best practices and implement the optimal security measures for their enterprise. As businesses learn from past security problems, they can adapt to various threats cued by predictive indicators. Even as the cyber landscape changes and threats adapt, they can evolve and respond efficiently and quickly.

Instead of reacting to infiltrators, organizations will take a proactive approach to cybersecurity by creating systems and processes that can be utilized in potential security threats. Cybersecurity threat management will be treated with the same care as financial risk management and incorporated into the culture. The organization will build and preserve strong supply chain relationships and stay on top of threats in real-time so they can respond appropriately.

Tiers as a Tool for Tracking Growth

Enterprises can use the tiers to quantify their current cybersecurity preparations and set goals for their organization as they strive to incorporate more advanced measures into the company infrastructure. These tiers also make planning growth and prioritizing security initiatives more tangible and easy to outline for team members.

To determine an enterprise’s tier level, you must evaluate many factors, such as the company’s risk management practices, compliance with industry standards, the threat environment, business objectives, supply chain cybersecurity practices, and data sharing protocols. While not every enterprise requires the advanced security measures outlined in tier four, it is always wise to err on the side of caution.

The Core: Framework Functions and Categories

The core component of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is used to outline cybersecurity actions and intended results. Five critical functions make up this aspect of the framework.


The identify function of the framework highlights the need for awareness and understanding of cybersecurity threats to assets, capabilities, data, and organization systems. Focus during this portion of the framework is on the enterprise and how it manages cyber threats using its current resources. This function guides organizations to craft clear cybersecurity protocols and develop a plan for growing their current cybersecurity measures to the desired level.


The protect function of the core framework serves the purpose of building and implementing safeguards that allow for the secure delivery of critical infrastructure services. In a cybersecurity event, the protect function supports the organization’s limitation and containment of threats. As opposed to the identify function, which establishes a baseline security level and monitors it for variations, the protect function is proactive.

Outcome categories such as access control and team training for threat awareness fall under this function. An example of the protect function in practice would be systems such as multi-factor authentication for employees and focused training to prevent accidental security threats and breaches.


The detect function requires organizations to develop and utilize steps to recognize the signs of a cyber security event. Since the quicker a cyber event is discovered, the faster it can be addressed, detection is a crucial part of the cybersecurity framework. In addition, detecting and neutralizing a threat right away limits the amount of damage that can occur during a security breach. Outcome categories of the detect function are anomalies and events, continuous security monitoring, and detection processes.


The NIST defines the respond function as implementing appropriate activities during a cybersecurity incident. Analysis, response planning, and mitigation actions that promote improvement in cybersecurity protocols fall under the umbrella of the respond function. Potential cybersecurity incidents can be contained and prevented once a response plan has been created that complies with industry requirements.


After a cyber security event, the recover function is defined as the design and utilization of plans for increased resilience to cybersecurity threats and repairing any damaged services or systems. Some outcome examples for the recover function include recovery planning, improvements, and communications.

During recovery planning, procedures for restoring your systems are tested and maintained so that your organization is prepared to handle a cyber security event immediately. Improvement must occur as soon as weak aspects of your recovery plan are identified. Finally, communication must occur internally and externally to ensure all team members are organized and prepared to execute the protocol.

The Profile

The third and final component of the framework is the profile. A profile is an overview of your company’s current standards for cybersecurity. Your profile is a useful measuring tool for gauging your company’s security level and tracking progression.

The benchmarks provided by the four tiers allow you to set goals for your organization’s cybersecurity profile. Establishing a profile for your organization and updating it as your security processes progress is the best way to track growth and ensure you hit the cybersecurity goals you have set.

Protect Your Enterprise

NIST Cybersecurity Framework can benefit any enterprise looking to improve their company’s defense against cyber attacks and protect sensitive data. While utilizing the entire cybersecurity framework offers the most protection, you can also use it on specific areas of concern. The framework works effectively for organizations in the private and public sectors and provides a widely accessible language that enterprises can use to communicate their security protocols.

If your enterprise isn’t using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, you’re leaving a valuable resource on the table. However, you don’t have to be an IT guru to implement this useful tool or hire and train a new in-house team member to tackle this undertaking. Instead, contact Cyber Command for a technology strategy session and let us provide you with the technical support you need to ensure your organization is protected.