Understanding NIST Cybersecurity Framework Implementation Tiers

Understanding NIST Cybersecurity Framework Implementation Tiers

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) provides businesses with guidelines for identifying, assessing, and responding to cybersecurity risks.

 This framework has three main elements: 

  • The Framework Core
  • Framework Profile, and 
  • Framework Implementation Tiers. 

Here, we'll be discussing NIST CSF Implementation Tiers and what these mean for your business.

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What are the NIST CSF Implementation Tiers?

‘Implementation Tiers’ describe the degree to which an organization has incorporated NIST CSF into its cybersecurity structure. There are four tiers in total, that indicate how well your organization manages cybersecurity risks and information.

One common misconception is that implementation tiers are used exclusively for ascertaining a business' cybersecurity maturity, but this isn't the case at all. Rather, they are intended as benchmarks that organizations must aim for when augmenting their cybersecurity posture through feasible and affordable strategies and measures.

The Four Implementation Tiers

Organizations can fall into any one of these four tiers:

Tier 1 | Partial

Organizations within this tier don’t have any cybersecurity processes in place, so all cybersecurity activities are performed without priority and only on an as-needed basis. Because of this, these organizations have difficulty managing cybersecurity risks in a consistent and systematic manner. They also don’t exchange cybersecurity information with third parties. For this reason, they don’t know about the cybersecurity risks in the supply chain, as well as the risk they may pose to other organizations in the greater business ecosystem.

Tier 2 | Risk-Informed

Businesses in this tier understand cyberthreats and have risk management processes in place. However, these processes are typically informal in nature and are not standardized throughout the entire organization. Additionally, these businesses may perform occasional cyber risk assessments to understand and correct the gaps in their cybersecurity structure. They accept, but do not share cybersecurity information with external parties. Despite knowing the risks present in the supply chain, they do not act on them.

Tier 3 | Repeatable

Businesses in this tier have standardized and clearly defined risk management policies across their organizations. These policies are consistently reviewed and updated to match changes in the business needs and threat landscape. Tier three organizations have both cybersecurity and dedicated employees who formally communicate cybersecurity risks to other personnel.

Unlike in previous tiers, these organizations understand their role in the greater business ecosystem. They know the risks in the supply chain and act on these using formal methods like written agreements, governance structures, and policy development and implementation. Finally, they communicate and collaborate with third parties to expand the understanding of cybersecurity risks.

Tier 4 | Adaptable

Businesses in this tier pursue a path of continuous improvement. They enhance existing cybersecurity processes by studying past activities and predicting future trends. These businesses implement dynamic policies that they continuously adjust according to changes in available technology and the threat landscape.

These organizations have not just standardized cybersecurity risk management, they have incorporated it into their culture so much so that they consider cybersecurity risks to be on the same level as financial, operational, and other organizational risks. They are active participants in understanding risks within their supply chain and the greater business ecosystem. This means that, in addition to collecting information, they also generate real-time information, which they share with both internal and external stakeholders.

Using NIST CSF's Implementation Tiers?

The four tiers are intended to guide businesses toward their desired level of cybersecurity maturity. You can choose a tier that best suits your business' cybersecurity goals and work your way up from there. This could mean enacting organizational change, procuring new tools, developing security policies, and even working with third parties who are experts in cybersecurity.

Keep in mind, however, that these tiers are not one-and-done type goals. Depending on the size of your business, your needs, available resources, and compliance requirements, you’ll need to determine which tier is right for your business. 

How Charles IT Can help?

We are here to help you select, and achieve, your desired implementation tier with our three-step process:

Step 1 | Complete A Gap Assessment

To start, our specialists will examine your cybersecurity infrastructure for gaps that put you at risk for malicious attacks and hinder your compliance with NIST CSF requirements. Once complete, we then create a plan to address these gaps and set your business up for success.

Step 2 | Provide Exceptional NIST CSF Services

Through the security services listed below, we’ll work to resolve any gaps in your cybersecurity infrastructure.

Step 3 | Implement the Framework

In this last step, we’ll guide you through the implementation of security services and policies toward achieving your desired tier. Our goal is to remove the guesswork from the process and set you on a path to success.

Start improving your business’s cybersecurity by contacting Charles IT’s experts today!

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