Is NIST’s Updated Cybersecurity Framework a Silver Bullet? Experts Weigh in

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  • As the cyber threat landscape changes, organizations may struggle to manage cybersecurity risks effectively.
  • The NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which is mandatory for U.S. federal agencies, provides guidelines and best practices for managing these risks.
  • In the first update since 2018, NIST CSF 2.0, expands its scope beyond critical infrastructure, emphasizing governance and offering a comprehensive life cycle view.
  • Experts praise its flexibility and risk-based approach but caution about its broad nature and regulatory overlap.

The constant influx of new cyber threats can leave organizations feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin in cybersecurity risk management.

A few checklists of actions in Excel and Post-it notes would have sufficed some decades ago.

However, such checklists lack comprehensiveness for today’s cyber risk management and compliance. This is where a cybersecurity framework (PDF) such as the one from the National Institute of Standards and Technology comes in.

First published in 2014, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) provides organizations with guidelines and best practices for managing cyber risks and compliance. Although the framework is mandatory only for U.S. federal agencies, businesses aiming to engage with the government as contractors, partners, or vendors will likely be required to comply with its standards.

Considering the previous framework CSF(1.1) was last updated in 2018, it came as no surprise when the agency announced a new version (NIST CSF 2.0) to keep up with the latest demands of cybersecurity risk management and compliance.

But does this latest version offer businesses a better chance at cyber risk management and compliance? Let’s find out.

NIST CSF 2.0: Unpacking the New Features and Enhancements

Here are the significant changes and additions that define this latest iteration:

1. Expanded Scope Beyond Critical Infrastructure

NIST CSF 2.0 transcends its original focus on critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and power plants. It now extends its protective umbrella to all organizations across sectors — from small schools and nonprofits to large corporations. This democratization of cybersecurity guidance ensures that every entity, regardless of its cybersecurity maturity, can benefit from the framework.

2. Governance Takes Center Stage

In this latest version, governance is the central pillar and the reason why is not hard to discern. Informed decision-making is at the heart of effective cybersecurity strategy. Senior leaders must recognize that cybersecurity is not merely a technical concern; it’s a strategic enterprise risk. Just as financial and reputational risks are deliberated at the board level, so should cybersecurity.

The new “Govern” function emphasizes this critical aspect, urging organizations to weave cybersecurity into their overall governance fabric.

Richard Caralli, Senior Cybersecurity Advisor at Axio, argues that this is what makes this new version a better fit than the previous one.

He told Techopedia:

“Governance is becoming imperative as organizations realize the need for proper senior management and Board oversight, and this update aligns well with the SEC’s recent cybersecurity rulings that more prominently involve better organizational oversight.”

3. Comprehensive Life Cycle View

The framework’s core functions — Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover — remain untouched. However, CSF 2.0 introduces a sixth function: Govern.

When considered together, these functions provide a comprehensive view of the entire life cycle for managing cybersecurity risk. From initial identification to post-incident recovery, organizations can now navigate the complex landscape with more clarity.

4. Tailored Resources for Diverse Audiences

NIST 2.0 offers tailored pathways and quick-start guides that cater to specific audiences, ensuring that even smaller organizations can implement the framework.

Mike Machado, CISO at BeyondTrust, an identity and access security provider, acknowledged this while speaking with Techopedia, stating that “an organization ends up with controls that lean toward being well suited for that specific org and lean away from being one size fits all.”

Beyond Compliance: Experts Discuss NIST’s Potential Impact

NIST’s latest cybersecurity framework stands out for its flexibility and risk-based approach, according to Luke Plaster, Chief Security Architect at io.finnet.

“Some cybersecurity standards want to dictate specific technologies or processes, but the NIST CSF allows organizations to tailor their approaches based on their unique circumstances and risk profiles,” Plaster explains.

“Its flexible ‘not a one-size-fits-all’ approach makes it applicable across different industries and sizes of organizations.”

Another key strength of the NIST CSF 2.0 is its emphasis on continuous improvement and risk management, which aligns with modern cybersecurity best practices. While the previous version (CSF 1.0) struggled to integrate emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) as they gained prominence, the updated CSF 2.0 provides better provisions for these areas.

Plaster commends this emphasis, noting that “this latest version is observably making good progress here and can be used along with NIST’s AI Risk Management Framework published early last year.”

According to Aaron Shilts, CEO of NetSPI, the latest NIST framework places more emphasis on practical risk assessment guidance, an approach he believes will greatly impact cyber risk management.

“One of the most notable updates is the additional emphasis and pragmatic advice on risk assessment and the need to perform self-assessments, improve vulnerability management, track and measure improvement, and better evaluate third-party risk.”

He also welcomed the introduction of the new governance function, stating that “cybersecurity is not just an IT problem but also a business imperative.”

The updated framework, according to Padraic O’Reilly Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at CyberSaint, a cyber risk management company, is special as it offers new organizations a logical structure for communicating cyber risks at various levels.

He told Techopedia:

“For companies that haven’t tackled the CSF before, it helps to think about the framework as a logical structure that can be used to communicate the practice of cyber risk management across all silos.”

NIST 2.0: A Powerful Tool, But Not Without Challenges

While NIST 2.0 provides a comprehensive cybersecurity framework, some experts warn organizations to be mindful of some shortfalls.

One major caveat in the latest NIST framework is its broad nature, Maor Bin, co-founder and CEO of SaaS security company, Adaptive Shield, told Techopedia.

He noted:

“The key challenge of the framework is its attempt to be a “catch-all” framework for cyber security. At times, it is too general and hard to adapt to a concrete situation or technological stack.

“To a certain extent, a framework to secure On-prem, SaaS, and Cloud infrastructure is due to be very general and lack some needed depth in this quickly changing cyber-security domain.”

Brian Neuhaus, Americas CTO at Vectra AI, highlights regulatory overlap as a key issue with the latest NIST Framework.

“Organizations operating internationally might still face challenges in prioritizing which frameworks to align with primarily.

“International organizations may opt for ISO as their primary framework and the NIST as secondary, whereas U.S.-based organizations might reverse this alignment. This duality can lead to confusion and inefficiencies in compliance efforts,” Neuhaus told Techopedia.

Plaster of io.finnet, criticized the NIST Framework for lacking prescriptive guidance and presenting risk assessment challenges. “The CSF avoids prescribing technologies or practices, which leaves organizations unsure how to translate concepts into actions,” he said.

How Organizations Can Implement NIST 2.0 Framework

There is no doubt about NIST’s valuable guidance. However, the major challenges often hide in effective implementation.

Offering his advice on how businesses should approach the framework, Bin told Techopedia:

“Start off by understanding the general concept of the framework. Make sure you have tools that cover the different aspects across all areas in your organization – on-prem, SaaS, and cloud infrastructure.

“Then dive deep into the specific category and make sure it is covered properly for each tool, system, and data you need to protect in your organization. Use cybersecurity tools that already have the NIST CSF mapped in them in order to speed up this process and save time translating the NIST suggestions into actionable security measures.”

In a detailed walkthrough, Plaster outlined some crucial steps organizations must take to implement the current NIST Framework.

He recommends organizations start by familiarizing themselves with the framework’s core, implementation tiers, categories and subcategories — a process aided by the extensive resources provided on the NIST website.

He said:

“Organizations will conduct an initial assessment of their current cybersecurity posture against the framework’s categories and subcategories. They’ll then identify strengths and areas for improvement, using a risk-informed action plan to govern, identify, protect, detect, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity threats.”

Emphasizing a phased approach starting with high-impact areas, Plaster stresses the importance of continuous improvement and adjusting strategies as threats evolve. He further points out the need to integrate the NIST framework’s flexibility with other standards like ISO 27001 and SOC 2; an approach he believes will form a potent synergy in achieving better cybersecurity compliance.

The Bottom Line

NIST’s updated Cybersecurity Framework provides a clear roadmap for organizations to improve their cybersecurity posture. The new “Govern” function now prompts leaders to establish, communicate, and leverage cybersecurity risk management objectives to inform operational decisions — a much-needed step toward aligning security with overarching business goals.

To offer an easy path to compliance, NIST provides a wealth of resources, including industry-specific profiles and implementation guides, making the framework accessible for both seasoned cybersecurity professionals and newcomers.

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