What is NIST Compliance and How Does It Benefit SMBs?

One of the NIST’s primary tasks is to develop standards for security controls that can be used across several industries. These standards are based on best practices, and the government recommends these standards for the compliance of companies and organizations. Among NIST publications, one of the most widely used is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

What is NIST Compliance?

NIST compliance is complying with the requirements of one or more NIST standards. NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) is a non-regulatory agency under the US Department of Commerce. Its primary role is to develop standards (particularly for security controls) that apply to various industries. 

NIST standards are based on best practices. That’s why the government has been recommending them for use by companies or organizations. Among NIST’s standards and guidelines, the most widely adopted is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF), used for assessing cybersecurity risks. There is also NIST 800-171 and NIST 800-53, which tackle unclassified information.

Benefits of NIST Compliance

Complying with NIST standards comes with a few benefits. Compliance with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework helps organizations secure their data and network. In a way, this protects organizations against cyber attacks, malware, ransomware, and other cyber threats.

Additionally, when organizations work towards NIST compliance, they also work on complying with other government or industry regulations. Federal agencies can meet the requirements of FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act). Manufacturers and contractors can meet the prerequisite standards if they’re NIST-compliant. NIST compliance also helps in complying with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act)

These benefits provide enough reasons to avoid NIST non-compliance. If companies are non-compliant, they risk losing the ability to bid for government contracts. Non-compliance or failing to maintain NIST compliance may lead to contract termination, hurt the company’s reputation, or even put the company in legal troubles.

Still, with these benefits and incentives, NIST compliance doesn’t ensure complete security. Complying with NIST and other regulatory standards is just one step. Other tasks need to be carried out to ensure robust cybersecurity, such as continuous monitoring for web application vulnerabilities, implementing comprehensive security policies, conducting ongoing employee training to promote cybersecurity awareness, and more. 

NIST Compliance for Small Businesses

NIST compliance isn’t just for federal agencies or manufacturers and service providers that do business with the government. Even small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can also reap the benefits of being NIST-compliant. 

According to the NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Act:

NIST must disseminate, and publish on its website, standard and method resources that small businesses may use voluntarily to help identify, assess, manage, and reduce their cybersecurity risks. The resources must be: (1) technology-neutral, (2) based on international standards to the extent possible, (3) able to vary with the nature and size of the implementing small business and the sensitivity of the data collected or stored on the information systems, and (4) consistent with the national cybersecurity awareness and education program under the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014. Additionally, the resources must include case studies of practical application. 

As a result of this Act, NIST put together a Small Business Cybersecurity Corner with a variety of resources, including the Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals, which is based on the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. 

SMBs that comply with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework will understand cybersecurity better and implement best practices to protect their organizations. Ultimately, this will help them with their reputations and acquire customers.

The NIST CSF Risk Assessment

What Does NIST CSF Stand for?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) is a risk management framework and is one of the most widely adopted NIST publications. Initially made for 16 critical infrastructure sectors in the U.S., the NIST CSF has now become the framework of choice by various organizations for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. 

The NIST CSF doesn’t recommend new standards, concepts, or technologies. Instead, it incorporates the best cybersecurity practices from several standards bodies, like the NIST and ISO (International Standards Organization).

What are the 5 Elements of the NIST CSF?

The NIST CSF uses these 5 core areas to evaluate security controls: 

  1. Identify
  2. Protect
  3. Detect
  4. Respond
  5. Recover

These five areas represent the lifecycle of cybersecurity risk. Each area has categories tied to specific needs and activities. Each category is further broken down into subcategories, standards, guidelines, and practices which are needed to accomplish the outcome for that category.

How the NIST CSF Works for SMBs

With its simplicity, the NIST CSF can help organizations maximize their available resources. Since CSF is a framework, one can use all or just a portion of the CSF. For example, organizations can choose the categories and subcategories that are urgent and most applicable to them. These sections would then help them create a “target profile.”

Moreover, the CSF recommends gap assessments to identify gaps and enact plans to address those shortcomings. This process helps organizations build their “current profile.” As part of their NIST CSF roadmap, organizations must then work on fixing these gaps and bridging their “current profile” with their “target profile.”  

Another beauty of adopting the CSF is that organizations can start small and then expand their categories and subcategories whenever they are ready. They can even go beyond the CSF, like implementing NIST 800-53 or an ISO standard if their situation demands it.

Going for NIST Compliance

While adopting the NIST CSF or aiming for NIST compliance is beneficial, doing so can still be tricky for starters and inexperienced users. It even poses a challenge to SMBs, which are often short on skilled personnel. Zeguro offers a suite of Cyber Safety tools for risk mitigation and compliance designed for small to midsize businesses. Sign up for a free trial or contact us to learn more about how Zeguro can help your company maintain a robust security posture.

Zeguro is a cyber safety solution and insurance provider for small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), offering a comprehensive suite of tools for risk mitigation and compliance, as well as insurance premiums that are tailored to the size, sector and profile of a company.
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Ellen Zhang
Written by

Ellen Zhang

Digital Marketing Manager

Enthusiastic and passionate cybersecurity marketer. Short-story writer. Lover of karaoke.

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