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What is NIST CSF and why is it important?

August 18, 2022

NIST is a federal agency within the US Department of Commerce that creates guidelines to facilitate innovation in the science and technology fields. NIST CSF stands for The National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework. 

Developed in 2014 as a result of Presidential Executive Order (EO) 13636, NIST CSF provides regulatory protocols for federal agencies and their partners. NIST CSF’s tech and cybersecurity principles are also adopted by private sector organizations.

Who needs to comply with NIST CSF? 

The NIST CSF compliance framework is only mandatory for federal agencies; however, if your company plans on doing business with the government as a contractor, partner, or vendor, you will likely need to comply with NIST CSF. 

Outside of federal compliance, the NIST framework is voluntarily adopted by many private sector organizations. Especially useful to small businesses, NIST CSF helps mitigate and respond to cybersecurity threats. The NIST framework can be customized to the individual needs and goals of each organization’s infrastructure. 

Can my business earn a NIST CSF certification?

The NIST agency does not award certifications or endorsements as a result of implementing its framework. However, businesses that do comply with the NIST framework can communicate or message their compliance practices. Self-attestation of NIST CSF is free of charge and does not require an audit to establish or maintain. 

What are NIST CSF’s five functions?


The Identify function assists businesses to understand possible cybersecurity risks that may occur across the organization. This means holistically examining a company’s people, processes, and technology in order to weed out any vulnerabilities. 


The Protect function requires companies to establish defensive protocols and best practices across the entire organization. This includes, but is not limited to, data protection, encryption, employee training, login management, and more. 


The Detect function helps companies develop a threat-discovery strategy in response to possible attacks. It’s important to limit the time it takes to react to infrastructural anomalies, investigate unusual activity, and troubleshoot challenges.


The Respond function helps businesses develop an effective process in the event of a security breach. During this critical time, the company needs to eliminate the threat while simultaneously continuing to conduct business. A communication plan must be established in order to inform all customers, vendors, and partners about the breach.  


The Recover function details exactly what to do after a company experiences a security breach and responds to it. People, processes, and technologies must be restored to normal daily operations. Measures must be taken to investigate the cause of the security breach and prevent it from happening again. 

What are the benefits of NIST CSF?

NIST CSF can help your organization better understand, handle, and continuously monitor cybersecurity risks it may encounter. Newer companies, as well as more mature organizations, can take advantage of what NIST CSF has to offer.

Customize the framework to your entire organization

Because cybersecurity is not a one-size-fits-all approach, there can be a lot of ambiguity and misrepresentation. NIST CSF isn’t a siloed, team-based framework—it considers the entire organization’s security posture. This common, unified approach to fortifying cybersecurity can then be tailored to your company’s goals.

Create new protocols or update existing ones

Young businesses can use NIST CSF to start fresh by designing a new cybersecurity program. This can be especially useful for startups or new companies that have yet to assemble cybersecurity defenses. Conversely, older companies that want to update cybersecurity protocols can rely on NIST CSF as a trusted source of modern best practices. 

Provide external proof of compliance best practices 

By complying with NIST CSF standards, companies can provide potential vendors, partners, and prospects with information about their security posture. The NIST framework helps businesses from different sectors and stages of growth find common ground when assessing cybersecurity expectations. 

Learn more about compliance and cybersecurity

What’s the difference between NIST CSF and ISO 27001? 

How proving security wins deals and enables growth

10 Steps to effective compliance risk management