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Organizations are increasingly on the lookout for ways to strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities. Many have found solace in compliance frameworks that help guide and improve decision-making and implement relevant measures to protect their networks from security risks and cyber threats. 

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) and ISO 27001 are the two most popular and widely adopted cybersecurity frameworks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are the leading standards bodies in cybersecurity.

IT teams that want to strengthen their security programs must understand their differences. The good news is that IT and security teams can use both frameworks in tandem for better data protection, risk assessments, and security initiatives. Both were developed to improve cyber risk management processes and help organizations strengthen their defenses to manage their cyber risk posture better. 

Let's explore them in further detail.

What Is NIST?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers voluntary guidelines for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. is customizable to suit the diverse needs of businesses of various sizes and sectors. Compared to other approaches, the NIST certification requirements are not rigid and are meant to scale with the organization as an ongoing benchmark.

NIST developed the CSF for private sector organizations as a roadmap for recognizing and standardizing controls and procedures, most of which have been addressed and copied into other frameworks. It complements but does not supplant different security standards.

If you want to improve your cybersecurity on a budget, the NIST CSF is an excellent place to start.

Using the NIST CSF

The framework core, implementation tiers, and profiles are the three critical components of the CSF that help you measure your organization's risk maturity and select activities to enhance it.

Framework Core

The CSF uses the Framework Core to address various concerns and critical components of most risk management systems. The Core comprises five main functions, further grouped into 23 categories covering the basics of developing a cybersecurity program.

Implementation Tiers

NIST CSF uses the implementation tiers to benchmark how well organizations follow the rules and recommendations of the CSF  and assigns a final number to each of these five functions based on a 0-to-4 rating system.

Profiles

Based on the "tier," the profile enables an organization to determine its current risk tolerance level and prioritize security measures and risk mitigation methods. This section assists a business by comparing its present profile to desired profiles and selecting how to continuously deploy budget and staff resources to improve cybersecurity procedures.

What Is ISO 27001?

ISO/IEC 27001 is an international standard that defines the best practices for Information Security Management Systems (ISMS) organizations to demonstrate their data security and privacy approach. It's a detailed specification for safeguarding and keeping your data while adhering to confidentiality, integrity, and availability standards.

The ISO framework provides a set of controls that may be tailored to your organization's specific risks and executed systematically to ensure externally assessed and certified compliance.

Combining other frameworks, like NIST CSF and NIST RMF (Risk Management Framework), can also enhance your compliance with ISO 27001 controls.

Using the ISO 27001

ISO 27001 can be essential in systematizing cybersecurity measures to address specific scenarios or compliance requirements into full-fledged information security management systems (ISMS). A third-party auditor can also obtain official ISO 27001 certification. 

ISO 27001, like the NIST CSF, does not advocate for specific procedures or solutions. Still, its framework provides more information on security controls than NIST, and it works in tandem with the 2019 ISO/IEC TS 27008 updates on emerging cybersecurity risks. An operationally mature firm, such as one that has already achieved ISO 9001 compliance or certification, may be ready to handle ISO 27001.

Exploring The Differences & Similarities Between NIST and ISO 27001

NIST CSF and ISO 27001 provide solid frameworks for cybersecurity risk management. The ISO 27001 standards and the NIST CSF framework are simple to integrate for a business that wants to become ISO 27001 compliant.

Their control measures are comparable, and their definitions and codes are interchangeable. Both frameworks provide a basic vocabulary that allows interdisciplinary teams and external stakeholders to communicate coherently about cybersecurity challenges.

However, there are a few essential distinctions between NIST CSF and ISO 27001, including risk maturity, certification, and cost.

Risk Maturity

ISO 27001 is an excellent choice for operationally mature enterprises seeking certification. In contrast, NIST CSF is a good choice for organizations just starting to establish a cybersecurity risk management plan, understand the security aspects of business continuity, or try to remediate earlier failures or data breaches.

Certification

ISO 27001 provides globally recognized certification through a third-party audit, which can be costly but improves your organization's reputation as a trustworthy corporation. Such a certificate is not available via the NIST CSF.

Costs

Another reason a startup would start with the NIST CSF and subsequently scale up with ISO 27001 is that the NIST CSF is free to access, but ISO 27001 requires a fee to access documents.

Pros and Cons Of NIST and ISO 27001

Pros and Cons of NIST CSF 

Pros of NIST CSF Cons of NIST CSF
Unbiased and superior cybersecurity Log files and audits have only 30 days of storage.
Long-term risk management and cybersecurity It can't deal with multiple third parties for cloud computing
Effects of ripples on supply chains and vendor lists Complications with RBAC (Role Based Access System)
Bridges business and technical stakeholders   
The framework's flexibility  
Built to meet future regulatory and compliance needs  

Pros and Cons of ISO 27001

Pros of ISO 27001 Cons of ISO 27001
A suitable security protocol for large enterprises Costly compared to NIST 
Can build trust in the eyes of consumers as it is globally recognized Some people may consider it a waste of resources during the installation and maintenance phases.

 

How Much Does It Cost To Implement ISO 27001 and NIST?

NIST CSF is available for free. You can implement it at your leisure and at your own expense. 

On the other hand, since ISO 27001 requires extensive certification audits, the cost is much higher. Organizations must also conduct surveillance audits during the first two years of their ISO cyber standards certification and perform a recertification audit in the third year.

 As a result, most companies start with NIST and work up to ISO 27001 as the business grows.

Which One Is Right For Your Business?

What's best for your company ultimately relies on its maturity, goals, and unique risk management requirements.

ISO 27001 is an excellent solution for operationally mature enterprises facing external cybersecurity certification demands. However, you may not be ready to commit to an ISO 27001 certification path, or at a point where a NIST-based approach, with its explicit assessment framework, might be more beneficial. 

Before establishing and implementing stricter cybersecurity measures and controls, you should conduct a NIST audit to understand where your firm stands.

Your security strategy may combine the two frameworks as your company grows; for example, adopting the NIST CSF framework can help you prepare for ISO 27001 certification. Moreover, growing businesses can use the NIST CSF to build their risk assessment capabilities.

Wrapping Up

With the increased adoption of NIST CSF, more small and medium firms are expected to work on their compliance. So the decision isn't actually between ISO 27001 and NIST CSF. It's more a question of how your company will use the certificates.

ISO 27001 accreditation certifies that your company follows information security best practices and provides an impartial, professional assessment of whether or not your personal and sensitive data is effectively safeguarded.

CyberStrong can streamline and automate your enterprise’s compliance with ISO 27001, NIST CSF, and other gold-standard NIST frameworks. Contact us to learn more about automated risk management and compliance capabilities that will advance your company.

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