The NIST Framework Tiers Explained

The NIST Framework Tiers Explained

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a leading global standard in cybersecurity, as well as the basis of many legal regulations and other standards. There are three main elements to the framework – the framework core, profiles, and implementation tiers. These tiers are intended to provide context for stakeholders to help determine the degree to which their organizations exhibit the characteristics of the framework.

What are the NIST Cybersecurity Framework implementation tiers?

While they are sometimes referred to as NIST maturity tiers, it is important to remember that the framework is not a legal mandate, and neither is it a cybersecurity maturity model like the CMMC.

That said, the NIST framework tiers are meant to help decision-makers take stock of how they currently view their information security efforts and how they align with the control categories of the framework core.

Each of these implementation tiers are, in turn, broken down into three primary components: risk management processes, risk management programs, and external participation. The risk management processes refer to the methods organizations use to manage cybersecurity risk. A risk management program is a strategy intended to inform decision-making. Finally, external participation refers to the organization’s awareness of the broader business ecosystem they’re involved in. This element is especially important in supply chain risk management, which the latest version of the framework places an emphasis on.

Here’s an overview of the four NIST framework tiers:

Tier #1. Partial

At the lowest level, the organization primarily addresses matters of information security on an ad hoc basis. The measures put in place are largely reactive, rather than proactive, and they only provide minimal defenses. There is also likely to be a lack of documented processes and procedures for mitigating risk and managing incidents before they lead to serious damage. An organization that views itself as being in this tier also has little understanding of the risks to its supply chains and other external stakeholders.

Tier #2. Risk-informed

By now, most business leaders are aware of the major risks that face them, such as malware, state-sponsored attackers, and other malicious actors. They probably also have procedures in place for protecting against and mitigating these threats. However, while there might be a reasonable degree of awareness, tier-two organizations lack a unified strategy with consistent policies between departments. Similarly, they may also be aware of the risks to their supply chains, but they lack the capacity to act on those risks with strong governance policies.

Tier #3. Repeatable

The hallmark of a robust information security strategy is repeatability. It should be possible to apply information security measures, procedures, and policies across the board and maintain full visibility into your data environment. Tier-three organizations have achieved those things, and their practices are regularly updated to counter new risks and threats. They are also able to respond quickly to incidents and manage risk across their supply chains effectively. This is the minimum NIST implementation tier that most organizations will want to aim for.

Tier #4. Adaptive

The highest tier is, unsurprisingly, also the most time-consuming and costly to implement, but it is vital in highly regulated sectors like finance, healthcare, and critical infrastructure. Adaptive information security incorporates high-tech solutions, including machine learning-powered detection and response capabilities and security incident and event management (SIEM) and adaptive policies and procedures. These organizations have achieved a high level of security maturity and are able to counter the latest and most sophisticated threats.

What do the NIST framework tiers mean for your business?

The NIST implementation tiers are not meant to be taken as a maturity model, but rather as a benchmarking system and set of directions governing how your business views and manages risk. The best way to start your NIST compliance journey is to get an external assessment to determine exactly where you currently stand. That way, you’ll be better positioned to make an informed decision about what you want to achieve, and how.

Charles IT provides expert guidance on compliance and information security. Our services can help you reach your desired NIST framework tier in less time and add value to your business. Get in touch today to learn more!