The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is a voluntary, risk-based approach for helping organizations of all sizes to better manage, prioritize, and reduce their cyber risks. Developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2013, the NIST CSF provides organizations with a comprehensive set of guidelines, best practices, and processes for addressing cybersecurity challenges.


NIST CSF is not a one-size-fits-all solution but is rather meant to be tailored to fit an organization’s specific needs. The NIST CSF is built on a core set of activities that organizations should complete in order to better manage and reduce their exposure to cyber risks. These activities are organized into five core categories—Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover—each of which consists of various subcategories and activities.

Why Was the NIST CSF Created?

The NIST CSF was created in response to the 2008 President’s National Security Directive on Cybersecurity, which required the development of a comprehensive framework for improving cybersecurity across the nation. NIST CSF was designed to provide a comprehensive, yet voluntary, set of best practices for cybersecurity. The goal of the NIST CSF is to make cybersecurity more manageable and attainable by providing organizations with a risk-based approach to cybersecurity tailored to individual business needs.

Is the NIST CSF a Compliance Mandate?

NIST CSF is not a compliance mandate. The NIST CSF is a voluntary set of best practices that organizations can use to improve their cybersecurity posture. While NIST CSF is not a regulatory requirement, many organizations use the framework to achieve adherence to various compliance standards.

NIST CSF Core Functions and Categories

NIST CSF encourages organizations to take a layered approach to cybersecurity, with each layer representing a different element of cybersecurity. These layers, or core functions, are: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover:


The Identify function seeks to help organizations understand their cybersecurity posture and identify the assets, processes, and people that support it. This includes developing an understanding of the organization’s current and desired future cybersecurity state, its risk assessment process, and the associated risk management measures.


The Protect function seeks to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of organizational assets by implementing controls to protect them from unauthorized access. This includes implementing access control measures, security policies, and setting up authentication systems.


The Detect function seeks to monitor systems in order to identify, contain, and respond to any malicious activities. This includes setting up monitoring systems, implementing log management processes, and developing an incident response plan.


The Respond function seeks to ensure organizations can properly respond to any cybersecurity incidents that occur. This includes having a well-defined incident response plan, a process for recovering from incidents, and conducting exercises to ensure the plan is effective.


The Recover function seeks to ensure organizations are able to recover from any cybersecurity incidents. This includes restoring any lost data, repairing systems, and conducting a post-incident review to identify any areas of improvement.

NIST Framework Implementation Tiers

NIST CSF is organized into four implementation tiers: Tier 1 (Partial), Tier 2 (Adaptive), Tier 3 (Predictive), and Tier 4 (Agile). Each tier is designed to provide a higher level of cybersecurity resilience. As organizations move up the tiers, they are expected to address cybersecurity challenges in a greater depth and complexity.

Tier 1 (Partial)

Organizations at this tier are just beginning to implement cybersecurity measures. At this stage, the focus is on identifying cybersecurity risks and threats, developing basic protection measures, and establishing basic monitoring and response systems.

Tier 2 (Adaptive)

Organizations at this tier are further along in their cybersecurity journey and have taken additional steps to protect their assets. At this stage, organizations are expected to develop more advanced protection measures, improve monitoring and response systems, and regularly evaluate and adjust their cybersecurity posture.

Tier 3 (Predictive)

Organizations at this tier are highly advanced in their cybersecurity efforts. At this stage, organizations are expected to use predictive analytics to anticipate and proactively defend against cyber threats.

Tier 4 (Agile)

Organizations at this tier are at the pinnacle of cybersecurity. At this stage, organizations are expected to be able to quickly identify, respond, and recover from cybersecurity incidents.


What Makes the NIST CSF Easy to Use?

The NIST CSF is designed to be easy to use, regardless of an organization’s size, industry, or complexity. The framework is structured in a way that allows organizations to tailor it to their specific needs. The core functions and categories of the NIST CSF provide organizations with a comprehensive set of guidelines to develop a defensible cybersecurity posture. Additionally, the NIST CSF gives organizations an implementation tier system that allows them to progressively improve their cybersecurity posture as their needs evolve.

Who Should Use the NIST CSF?

The NIST CSF is designed to be used by organizations of all sizes and industries. The framework is particularly well-suited to organizations that handle sensitive information and engage in sensitive communications or sharing of customer data, financial information, intellectual property, or health records. Healthcare organizations, financial institutions, government organizations, and educational institutions all frequently handle and share these types of sensitive information and are therefore prime candidates for NIST CSF adoption. NIST CSF provides these organizations with an all-inclusive set of guidelines to help them better manage and reduce their cyber risks.

Implementing NIST CSF Principles to Secure Data With the Kiteworks Private Content Network

By implementing the NIST CSF, organizations are better able to identify and reduce their cyber risks. They also become better prepared to respond to and recover from cybersecurity incidents. With this risk management methodology, sensitive information is managed by administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to maintain its integrity and confidentiality.

The Kiteworks Private Content Network gives organizations the ability to apply NIST CSF principles to the containers of content like folders, files, and email. There are numerous content policies, such as:

  • Establishing global policies such as disabling the transfer of sensitive content to and from certain domains and countries using geofencing
  • Using the email policy engine in Kiteworks, which leverages Microsoft MIP sensitive levels like “public,” “confidential,” or “secret” to control and track sends and receives of email
  • Managing third-party supply chain—controlling and tracking who can access sensitive content, who can edit it, and to whom it can be sent
  • Detecting anomalous activity involving sensitive content and automating alerts to security operations center teams through integration with security information and event management (SIEM) and security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR)

The Kiteworks Private Content Network provides IT, security, compliance, and risk management leaders with a platform to apply NIST CSF framework principles to content containers such as folders, files, and email. The built-in email policy engine allows organizations to set Microsoft MIP sensitivity levels, while Kiteworks access controls enable organizations to set policies on global and individual levels. This helps organizations limit the transfer of sensitive content in accordance with their cybersecurity risk management strategy, while remaining compliant with regulatory requirements such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronics Document Act), and PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).

Kiteworks enables organizations to adhere to NIST CSF and its comprehensive approach to risk management, protecting the valuable data and intellectual property that drives organizational success.

For more on the Kiteworks Private Content Network and NIST CSF, book a custom demo today.


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