What Is a Cyber Security Framework? An Overview, Types, Benefits, and Best Practices

Cyber security is a hot, relevant topic, and it will remain so indefinitely. If people, organizations, businesses, and countries rely on computers and information technology, cyber security will always be a key concern. And since there’s zero chance of society turning its back on the digital world, that relevance will be permanent.

You only need to go back as far as May and the Colonial Pipeline cyber-attack to find an example of cyber security’s continued importance. Every organization with a digital and IT component needs a sound cyber security strategy; that means they need the best cyber security framework possible.

That’s why today, we are turning our attention to cyber security frameworks. What are they, what kinds exist, what are their benefits? By the end of the article, we hope you will walk away with a solid grasp of these frameworks and what they can do to help improve your cyber security position.

So, what’s a cyber security framework, anyway?

What is a Cyber Security Framework?

Cyber security frameworks are sets of documents describing guidelines, standards, and best practices designed for cyber security risk management. The frameworks exist to reduce an organization's exposure to weaknesses and vulnerabilities that hackers and other cyber criminals may exploit.

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The word “framework” makes it sound like the term refers to hardware, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t help that the word “mainframe” exists, and its existence may imply that we’re dealing with a tangible infrastructure of servers, data storage, etc.

But much like a framework in the “real world” consists of a structure that supports a building or other large object, the cyber security framework provides foundation, structure, and support to an organization’s security methodologies and efforts.

As we are about to see, these frameworks come in many types.

What Are the Types of Cyber Security Frameworks?

Frameworks break down into three types based on the needed function.

Control Frameworks

  • Develops a basic strategy for the organization’s cyber security department
  • Provides a baseline group of security controls
  • Assesses the present state of the infrastructure and technology
  • Prioritizes implementation of security controls

Program Frameworks

  • Assesses the current state of the organization’s security program
  • Constructs a complete cybersecurity program
  • Measures the program’s security and competitive analysis
  • Facilitates and simplifies communications between the cyber security team and the managers/executives

Risk Frameworks

  • Defines the necessary processes for risk assessment and management
  • Structures a security program for risk management
  • Identifies, measures, and quantifies the organization’s security risks
  • Prioritizes appropriate security measures and activities

Top Cyber Security Frameworks

When it comes to picking a cyber security framework, you have an ample selection to choose from. Here are the frameworks recognized today as some of the better ones in the industry. Naturally, your choice depends on your organization’s security needs.

Companies turn to cyber security frameworks for guidance.  The right framework, instituted correctly, lets IT security teams intelligently manage their companies’ cyber risks. Companies can either customize an existing framework or develop one in-house.

Some businesses must employ specific information security frameworks to follow industry or government regulations. For example, if your business handles purchases by credit card, it must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS) framework. In this instance, your company must pass an audit that shows they comply with PCI-DSS framework standards.

1. The NIST Cyber Security Framework.

The NIST Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, or the “NIST cybersecurity framework” for brevity’s sake, was established during the Obama Administration in response to presidential Executive Order 13636. The NIST was designed to protect America’s critical infrastructure (e.g., dams, power plants) from cyberattacks.

NIST is a set of voluntary security standards that private sector companies can use to find, identify, and respond to cyberattacks. The framework also features guidelines to help organizations prevent and recover from cyberattacks. There are five functions or best practices associated with NIST:

  • Identify
  • Protect
  • Detect
  • Respond
  • Recover

2. The Center for Internet Security Critical Security Controls (CIS).

If you want your company to start small and gradually work its way up, you must go with CIS. This framework was developed in the late 2000s to protect companies from cyber threats. It’s made up of 20 controls regularly updated by security professionals from many fields (academia, government, industrial). The framework begins with basics, moves on to foundational, then finishes with organizational.

CIS uses benchmarks based on common standards like HIPAA or NIST that map security standards and offer alternative configurations for organizations not subject to mandatory security protocols but want to improve cyber security anyway.

3. The International Standards Organization (ISO) frameworks ISO/IEC 27001 and 27002.

This framework is also called ISO 270K. It is considered the internationally recognized cyber security validation standard for both internal situations and across third parties. ISO 270K operates under the assumption that the organization has an Information Security Management System. ISO/IEC 27001 requires management to exhaustively manage their organization’s information security risks, focusing on threats and vulnerabilities.

ISO 270K is very demanding. The framework recommends 114 different controls, broken into 14 categories. As a result, ISO 270K may not be for everyone, considering the amount of work involved in maintaining the standards. However, if implementing ISO 270K is a selling point for attracting new customers, it’s worth it.

4. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Better known as HIPAA, it provides a framework for managing confidential patient and consumer data, particularly privacy issues. This legislation protects electronic healthcare information and is essential for healthcare providers, insurers, and clearinghouses.

There are many other frameworks to choose from, including:

  • SOC2 (Service Organization Control)
  • NERC-CIP (North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection)
  • GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)
  • FISMA (Federal Information Systems Management Act)
  • HITRUST CSF (Health Information Trust Alliance)
  • PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards)
  • COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies)
  • COSO (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations)

There are cases where a business or organization utilizes more than one framework concurrently.

Why Do We Need Cyber Security Frameworks?

Cyber security frameworks remove some of the guesswork in securing digital assets. Frameworks give cyber security managers a reliable, standardized, systematic way to mitigate cyber risk, regardless of the environment’s complexity.

Cyber security frameworks help teams address cyber security challenges, providing a strategic, well-thought plan to protect its data, infrastructure, and information systems. The frameworks offer guidance, helping IT security leaders manage their organization’s cyber risks more intelligently.

Companies can adapt and adjust an existing framework to meet their own needs or create one internally. However, the latter option could pose challenges since some businesses must adopt security frameworks that comply with commercial or government regulations. Home-grown frameworks may prove insufficient to meet those standards.

Bottom line, businesses are increasingly expected to abide by standard cyber security practices, and using these frameworks makes compliance easier and smarter. The proper framework will suit the needs of many different-sized businesses regardless of which of the countless industries they are part of.

Frameworks help companies follow the correct security procedures, which not only keeps the organization safe but fosters consumer trust. Customers have fewer reservations about doing business online with companies that follow established security protocols, keeping their financial information safe.

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Cyber Security Framework Best Practices

Although every framework is different, certain best practices are applicable across the board. Here, we are expanding on NIST’s five functions mentioned previously.

  • Identify

To manage the security risks to its assets, data, capabilities, and systems, a company must fully understand these environments and identify potential weak spots.

  • Protect

Companies must create and deploy appropriate safeguards to lessen or limit the effects of potential cyber security breaches and events.

  • Detect

Organizations should put in motion the necessary procedures to identify cyber security incidents as soon as possible.

  • Respond

Companies must be capable of developing appropriate response plans to contain the impacts of any cyber security events.

  • Recover

Companies must create and implement effective procedures that restore any capabilities and services damaged by cyber security events. 

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Would You Like a Career in Cyber Security?

There is an upside to the world’s intense interest in cybersecurity matters- there are plenty of cybersecurity career opportunities, and the demand will remain high. If you’re interested in a career in cybersecurity, Simplilearn can point you in the right direction.

The Post-Graduate Program in Cyber Security is designed to equip you with the skills required to become an expert in the rapidly growing field of cyber security. You will learn comprehensive approaches to protecting your infrastructure and securing data, including risk analysis and mitigation, cloud-based security, and compliance. You will also get foundational to advanced skills taught through industry-leading cyber security certification courses included in the program.

According to Glassdoor, a cyber security analyst in the United States earns an annual average of USD 76,575. In India, Payscale reports that a cyber security analyst makes a yearly average of ₹505,055.

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