A black and white drawing of a rock formation.
NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001

Compliance standards and frameworks like ISO 27001 and the NIST CSF exist to protect the integrity and safety of your business and customer data. While they both serve as a standard for security, they aren’t interchangeable. Let’s compare ISO 27001 vs. NIST CSF to identify which one is right for your business. 

What is NIST CSF?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that helps drive innovation and growth for organizations within the science and technology field. The NIST CSF is a set of guidelines established by the agency to help organizations create and refine their security programs to minimize cybersecurity risks. Unlike some standards, like ISO 27001, NIST CSF is not a way of proving or certifying your security posture; it’s a set of instructions that helps organizations build a strong information security program.

While the NIST CSF was developed by a government agency, it was designed to help organizations within the private sector better assess cybersecurity risks. It is used by a wide range of organizations, like the University of Chicago and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), as well as some international governments like the Government of Bermuda.

The 5 functions of NIST

There are five core functions of the framework: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Given the number of ways hackers and cyber criminals can access your data, your cybersecurity strategy needs each of these functions to protect your resources and minimize the damage a security breach could cause.

1. Identify

The first step in the NIST CSF framework is to establish a clear understanding of what information and assets need to be protected. This includes any equipment (like laptops, phones, point-of-sale devices), hardware, datasets, or software. Additionally, this step includes creating a cybersecurity policy that outlines the roles and responsibilities of those with access to these sensitive assets and what steps they can take to protect them. 

2. Protect

The protect function of the NIST CSF is about safeguarding your assets to prevent unauthorized access to your systems and data. This includes implementing security controls like identity and access management, encrypting sensitive data, performing routine software updates, backing up data consistently, and training employees on best practices for handling sensitive data.

3. Detect

Even with preventative measures in place, you’re not fully absolved of any security risk. That’s why the NIST CSF includes strategies for detecting potential breaches or cybersecurity issues, enabling your business to take quick action to minimize the damage. This can include installing tools with continuous monitoring capabilities to check your devices and networks for unauthorized access and help you investigate suspicious activity. 

4. Respond

The NIST CSF’s respond function helps businesses establish a plan and protocols in case a security breach is detected. The goal is to limit or contain the impact of the breach as quickly as possible. Your response plan should include processes like notifying customers, stakeholders, and appropriate authorities, keeping the business operational amid a breach, investigating the breach, and removing the threat.  

5. Recover

Finally, the NIST CSF recover function includes establishing a plan to restore capabilities and maintain resilience after a breach. This includes strategies like recovering potentially deleted or corrupted data using a backup, repairing damaged equipment, revising policies to prevent future breaches, and updating customers and other affected parties about the progress.

Benefits of NIST CSF

There are a variety of benefits to following the NIST CSF guidelines that will improve your organization’s cybersecurity posture, such as:

  • Expert guidance on cybersecurity best practices, rather than establishing a framework on your own.
  • Credibility for following an industry standard.
  • Flexibility to cater the framework to your organization’s needs.

What is ISO 27001 compliance?

‍ISO 27001, which is an abbreviated name for ISO/IEC 27001, is a set of security standards and protocols developed by the International Organization of Standardization. The ISO security framework is used worldwide as the gold standard for international security best practices. Much like NIST CSF, ISO 27001 details specific security controls, internal policies, and standardized protocols to help organizations protect their data from misuse and theft.

The 3 principles of ISO 27001

Three core principles make up the ISO 27001 standard. Often called the CIA triad, these principles are confidentiality, information integrity, and availability of data.

1. Confidentiality

The principle of confidentiality means only the right people can access an organization’s data. This principle of ISO 27001 requires that businesses use an information security management system (ISMS) to prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive company data. It also requires that data shared within and outside of the organization is encrypted to protect it during transit.

2. Information integrity

The information integrity principle ensures that any data being held by a business maintains its accuracy both while it's being stored and shared. This means that data should not be erased, damaged, or tampered with by the organization responsible for it or by bad actors. The data must stay as it was when received or created.

3. Availability of data

The final principle of ISO 27001 is the availability of the organization’s data. This principle says that employees and clients must be able to access the data they need for the business purpose it was intended to be used for. This access only applies to authorized users.

How to become ISO 27001 compliant

To get ISO 27001 compliant, you’ll need to design and implement controls to adhere to the above principles. Once the controls are in place, you’ll need to work with a third-party auditor as ISO doesn’t issue certificates directly. This auditor will thoroughly investigate your information security, and if they agree that you’ve met all the requirements of ISO 27001, they’ll issue you a certificate. 

An ISO 27001 certificate is valid for three years. During that time frame, your auditor will perform annual check-ins to ensure your business is maintaining the standard. After three years, or if you fail any of the annual audits, you’ll need to go through the full audit process again to maintain your status.

Benefits of ISO 27001 

An ISO 27001 certification provides the following benefits to your organization:

  • Gives you a clear way to demonstrate your cybersecurity posture using a global standard. 
  • Lowers your risk for a costly cybersecurity breach by helping you implement security best practices.
  • Helps you attract new clients and partners due to your strong security posture. 

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: What they have in common

Both NIST CSF and ISO 27001 have the same purpose: to protect an organization’s data and reduce the risk of cybersecurity threats. This not only keeps your business safe but also protects your clients, customers, and partners. 

There are many overlapping practices and protocols between these two security guidelines. If you’ve implemented the NIST CSF, you’re already 80% of the way to ISO 27001 compliance. And ISO 27001 contains over half of the NIST CSF guidelines. They’re both built on widely-accepted best practices in cybersecurity and experts agree on many practices and strategies in both. Building your security program around these two frameworks simultaneously will give you a stronger cybersecurity posture and save your business time and money in the process.

With that being said, there are plenty of differences between these standards — neither one contains all the standards of the other. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that if you align your security program with NIST CSF that you’re also ISO 27001 compliant, or vice versa.

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: The differences

NIST CSF and ISO 27001 were designed for different types of organizations. 

NIST vs. ISO 27001 differences.
NIST vs. ISO 27001 differences.

The NIST CSF is a set of recommendations and standards to help an organization prepare for cybersecurity threats and establish recovery strategies in case of a breach. Since every organization has different security needs, businesses use the NIST CSF as a baseline for creating a cybersecurity program.

ISO 27001 was designed for international use across all sectors. It isn’t a legal requirement that businesses must adhere to, but being ISO 27001 compliant is a common prerequisite when selling to large organizations. This is because major enterprises need to be sure they are doing business with other trustworthy, secure, and reputable organizations. 

The compliance process

The NIST CSF and ISO 27001 frameworks are designed and structured differently. The NIST CSF is designed as a guide, whereas ISO 27001 is designed as a standard. The difference here is that NIST CSF serves as an instruction manual and ISO 27001 is more of a test that requires certain measures to pass.

In the NIST CSF, there is no certification or audit process. It’s a guide organizations can use to establish their cybersecurity. There are no proof-points that show an organization is adhering to the NIST CSF, however businesses can self-report that they’ve used this framework.  

ISO 27001, on the other hand, requires a formalized audit process and results in a certification. If a potential client or partner requires you to be ISO 27001 compliant, they will likely need to see an official certificate that verifies your compliance. Not only does your company need to meet the standards of ISO 27001, but you need to hire an external auditor to assess your systems in detail and verify that you’re compliant.

Risk maturity

While both NIST CSF and ISO 27001 can be used at any point in an organization’s security journey, each one has an ideal maturity stage where they are most useful. 

The NIST CSF is designed for organizations in the early stages of their cybersecurity development. This is because it serves as a guide to help a company build an information security strategy and establish a basic security posture. ISO 27001 is a better fit for organizations that are more mature and have increased security risk. When pursuing an ISO 27001, your organization likely already has a general cybersecurity program in place but needs more intensive best practices to strengthen your posture and adhere to customer standards.

The costs of NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001

How do NIST CSF and ISO 27001 compare in terms of costs? Becoming ISO 27001 compliant is more expensive than adhering to the NIST CSF. The NIST CSF is free to access and doesn’t require a third-party audit or certification. Receiving an ISO 27001 certification can cost between $5,000 and $15,000, or more. This is mainly because you’ll need to hire a third-party auditor to complete the certification. 

There’s additional costs to consider when implementing either the NIST CSF or ISO 27001. These include engineering time spent developing and implementing security controls, administrative time needed to create staff policies and protocols, the cost of specific software tools and employee training. Aside from audit costs, because these two standards use many of the same security controls, these implementation costs are relatively similar.

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: Which one is right for my business?

Both the NIST CSF and ISO 27001 have their benefits, and choosing one (or both) comes down to business priorities and needs. Here are a few things to consider: 

  • The NIST CSF is best for organizations in the early stages of their cybersecurity journey or those looking for an organized, intentional approach. ISO 27001 is best for strengthening an existing cybersecurity program.
  • ISO 27001 will help your business grow by demonstrating trust through a standardized certification. It’s common for large companies to require an ISO 27001 certification from the vendors they do business with, while the NIST CSF is rarely a noted requirement from customers.
  • The NIST CSF guides you in building a powerful information security program, while ISO 27001 ensures that you’re keeping up with the latest best practices and helps you articulate your cybersecurity posture to prospects and partners.

‍Learn more about compliance automation

Whether you’re implementing the NIST CSF, pursuing ISO 27001 compliance, or working toward another standard or certification, Vanta can help you automate your compliance. 

Request a demo to get started.

Understanding ISO differences

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: What’s the difference?

A black and white drawing of a rock formation.
NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001

Compliance standards and frameworks like ISO 27001 and the NIST CSF exist to protect the integrity and safety of your business and customer data. While they both serve as a standard for security, they aren’t interchangeable. Let’s compare ISO 27001 vs. NIST CSF to identify which one is right for your business. 

What is NIST CSF?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that helps drive innovation and growth for organizations within the science and technology field. The NIST CSF is a set of guidelines established by the agency to help organizations create and refine their security programs to minimize cybersecurity risks. Unlike some standards, like ISO 27001, NIST CSF is not a way of proving or certifying your security posture; it’s a set of instructions that helps organizations build a strong information security program.

While the NIST CSF was developed by a government agency, it was designed to help organizations within the private sector better assess cybersecurity risks. It is used by a wide range of organizations, like the University of Chicago and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), as well as some international governments like the Government of Bermuda.

The 5 functions of NIST

There are five core functions of the framework: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Given the number of ways hackers and cyber criminals can access your data, your cybersecurity strategy needs each of these functions to protect your resources and minimize the damage a security breach could cause.

1. Identify

The first step in the NIST CSF framework is to establish a clear understanding of what information and assets need to be protected. This includes any equipment (like laptops, phones, point-of-sale devices), hardware, datasets, or software. Additionally, this step includes creating a cybersecurity policy that outlines the roles and responsibilities of those with access to these sensitive assets and what steps they can take to protect them. 

2. Protect

The protect function of the NIST CSF is about safeguarding your assets to prevent unauthorized access to your systems and data. This includes implementing security controls like identity and access management, encrypting sensitive data, performing routine software updates, backing up data consistently, and training employees on best practices for handling sensitive data.

3. Detect

Even with preventative measures in place, you’re not fully absolved of any security risk. That’s why the NIST CSF includes strategies for detecting potential breaches or cybersecurity issues, enabling your business to take quick action to minimize the damage. This can include installing tools with continuous monitoring capabilities to check your devices and networks for unauthorized access and help you investigate suspicious activity. 

4. Respond

The NIST CSF’s respond function helps businesses establish a plan and protocols in case a security breach is detected. The goal is to limit or contain the impact of the breach as quickly as possible. Your response plan should include processes like notifying customers, stakeholders, and appropriate authorities, keeping the business operational amid a breach, investigating the breach, and removing the threat.  

5. Recover

Finally, the NIST CSF recover function includes establishing a plan to restore capabilities and maintain resilience after a breach. This includes strategies like recovering potentially deleted or corrupted data using a backup, repairing damaged equipment, revising policies to prevent future breaches, and updating customers and other affected parties about the progress.

Benefits of NIST CSF

There are a variety of benefits to following the NIST CSF guidelines that will improve your organization’s cybersecurity posture, such as:

  • Expert guidance on cybersecurity best practices, rather than establishing a framework on your own.
  • Credibility for following an industry standard.
  • Flexibility to cater the framework to your organization’s needs.

What is ISO 27001 compliance?

‍ISO 27001, which is an abbreviated name for ISO/IEC 27001, is a set of security standards and protocols developed by the International Organization of Standardization. The ISO security framework is used worldwide as the gold standard for international security best practices. Much like NIST CSF, ISO 27001 details specific security controls, internal policies, and standardized protocols to help organizations protect their data from misuse and theft.

The 3 principles of ISO 27001

Three core principles make up the ISO 27001 standard. Often called the CIA triad, these principles are confidentiality, information integrity, and availability of data.

1. Confidentiality

The principle of confidentiality means only the right people can access an organization’s data. This principle of ISO 27001 requires that businesses use an information security management system (ISMS) to prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive company data. It also requires that data shared within and outside of the organization is encrypted to protect it during transit.

2. Information integrity

The information integrity principle ensures that any data being held by a business maintains its accuracy both while it's being stored and shared. This means that data should not be erased, damaged, or tampered with by the organization responsible for it or by bad actors. The data must stay as it was when received or created.

3. Availability of data

The final principle of ISO 27001 is the availability of the organization’s data. This principle says that employees and clients must be able to access the data they need for the business purpose it was intended to be used for. This access only applies to authorized users.

How to become ISO 27001 compliant

To get ISO 27001 compliant, you’ll need to design and implement controls to adhere to the above principles. Once the controls are in place, you’ll need to work with a third-party auditor as ISO doesn’t issue certificates directly. This auditor will thoroughly investigate your information security, and if they agree that you’ve met all the requirements of ISO 27001, they’ll issue you a certificate. 

An ISO 27001 certificate is valid for three years. During that time frame, your auditor will perform annual check-ins to ensure your business is maintaining the standard. After three years, or if you fail any of the annual audits, you’ll need to go through the full audit process again to maintain your status.

Benefits of ISO 27001 

An ISO 27001 certification provides the following benefits to your organization:

  • Gives you a clear way to demonstrate your cybersecurity posture using a global standard. 
  • Lowers your risk for a costly cybersecurity breach by helping you implement security best practices.
  • Helps you attract new clients and partners due to your strong security posture. 

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: What they have in common

Both NIST CSF and ISO 27001 have the same purpose: to protect an organization’s data and reduce the risk of cybersecurity threats. This not only keeps your business safe but also protects your clients, customers, and partners. 

There are many overlapping practices and protocols between these two security guidelines. If you’ve implemented the NIST CSF, you’re already 80% of the way to ISO 27001 compliance. And ISO 27001 contains over half of the NIST CSF guidelines. They’re both built on widely-accepted best practices in cybersecurity and experts agree on many practices and strategies in both. Building your security program around these two frameworks simultaneously will give you a stronger cybersecurity posture and save your business time and money in the process.

With that being said, there are plenty of differences between these standards — neither one contains all the standards of the other. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that if you align your security program with NIST CSF that you’re also ISO 27001 compliant, or vice versa.

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: The differences

NIST CSF and ISO 27001 were designed for different types of organizations. 

NIST vs. ISO 27001 differences.
NIST vs. ISO 27001 differences.

The NIST CSF is a set of recommendations and standards to help an organization prepare for cybersecurity threats and establish recovery strategies in case of a breach. Since every organization has different security needs, businesses use the NIST CSF as a baseline for creating a cybersecurity program.

ISO 27001 was designed for international use across all sectors. It isn’t a legal requirement that businesses must adhere to, but being ISO 27001 compliant is a common prerequisite when selling to large organizations. This is because major enterprises need to be sure they are doing business with other trustworthy, secure, and reputable organizations. 

The compliance process

The NIST CSF and ISO 27001 frameworks are designed and structured differently. The NIST CSF is designed as a guide, whereas ISO 27001 is designed as a standard. The difference here is that NIST CSF serves as an instruction manual and ISO 27001 is more of a test that requires certain measures to pass.

In the NIST CSF, there is no certification or audit process. It’s a guide organizations can use to establish their cybersecurity. There are no proof-points that show an organization is adhering to the NIST CSF, however businesses can self-report that they’ve used this framework.  

ISO 27001, on the other hand, requires a formalized audit process and results in a certification. If a potential client or partner requires you to be ISO 27001 compliant, they will likely need to see an official certificate that verifies your compliance. Not only does your company need to meet the standards of ISO 27001, but you need to hire an external auditor to assess your systems in detail and verify that you’re compliant.

Risk maturity

While both NIST CSF and ISO 27001 can be used at any point in an organization’s security journey, each one has an ideal maturity stage where they are most useful. 

The NIST CSF is designed for organizations in the early stages of their cybersecurity development. This is because it serves as a guide to help a company build an information security strategy and establish a basic security posture. ISO 27001 is a better fit for organizations that are more mature and have increased security risk. When pursuing an ISO 27001, your organization likely already has a general cybersecurity program in place but needs more intensive best practices to strengthen your posture and adhere to customer standards.

The costs of NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001

How do NIST CSF and ISO 27001 compare in terms of costs? Becoming ISO 27001 compliant is more expensive than adhering to the NIST CSF. The NIST CSF is free to access and doesn’t require a third-party audit or certification. Receiving an ISO 27001 certification can cost between $5,000 and $15,000, or more. This is mainly because you’ll need to hire a third-party auditor to complete the certification. 

There’s additional costs to consider when implementing either the NIST CSF or ISO 27001. These include engineering time spent developing and implementing security controls, administrative time needed to create staff policies and protocols, the cost of specific software tools and employee training. Aside from audit costs, because these two standards use many of the same security controls, these implementation costs are relatively similar.

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001: Which one is right for my business?

Both the NIST CSF and ISO 27001 have their benefits, and choosing one (or both) comes down to business priorities and needs. Here are a few things to consider: 

  • The NIST CSF is best for organizations in the early stages of their cybersecurity journey or those looking for an organized, intentional approach. ISO 27001 is best for strengthening an existing cybersecurity program.
  • ISO 27001 will help your business grow by demonstrating trust through a standardized certification. It’s common for large companies to require an ISO 27001 certification from the vendors they do business with, while the NIST CSF is rarely a noted requirement from customers.
  • The NIST CSF guides you in building a powerful information security program, while ISO 27001 ensures that you’re keeping up with the latest best practices and helps you articulate your cybersecurity posture to prospects and partners.

‍Learn more about compliance automation

Whether you’re implementing the NIST CSF, pursuing ISO 27001 compliance, or working toward another standard or certification, Vanta can help you automate your compliance. 

Request a demo to get started.

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On 10 October at 2 PM BST, join the Ask Me (Almost) Anything with Herman Errico and Kim Elias, compliance experts at Vanta. They’ll answer (almost) all your questions about ISO 27001 compliance.

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