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

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

Compliance standards and frameworks like ISO 27001 and the NIST CSF exist to protect the integrity and safety of your organization’s data and your customers’ data. 

But these regulations aren’t interchangeable, and it’s not always obvious which one is important to your business. Let’s compare ISO 27001 vs. NIST and find out which one is right for you. 

What is NIST compliance?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a U.S. government organization that determines guidelines designed to drive innovation and growth in businesses within the science and technology field.

When we talk about NIST compliance, we’re referring specifically to the NIST cybersecurity framework, sometimes called the NIST CSF. This framework is a set of guidelines used to minimize organizational cybersecurity risks. There are five core functions of the framework, including identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. The NIST CSF is designed for individual businesses and other organizations to assess risks.

What is ISO 27001 compliance?

ISO 27001 is a set of security standards and protocols, much like NIST. But ISO 27001 was developed by the International Organization of Standardization. This ISO database security framework is commonly used worldwide as the gold standard for security best practices. Much like NIST, ISO 27001 details specific security controls, internal policies, and standardized protocols that are recommended to protect your data from misuse or theft.

NIST vs. ISO 27001: The similarities

At their core, both NIST and ISO 27001 have the same purpose: to protect an organization’s data and cybersecurity. This affects not only your organization but the clients, customers, and partners that you do business with. 

By complying with ISO 27001, your company demonstrates that it is capable of responsibly handling data at the international level. The NIST framework us used to measure the maturity of your program against a set of outcomes it defines.


The standards and recommendations

Truth be told, there is plenty of overlap between the security guidelines recommended in the NIST CSF and in ISO 27001. This is no accident. Both of these standards are based on widely-accepted best practices in cybersecurity, and cybersecurity experts agree on many practices and strategies in the field.

With that being said, there are plenty of differences between these standards too, and neither one fully contains the other. In other words, it is not safe to assume that if you align your security program with NIST CSF, you are ISO 27001 compliant, or vice versa.

NIST vs. ISO 27001: The differences

NIST and ISO 27001 were designed for different types of organizations. The NIST CSF puts forth a set of recommendations and standards to help prepare an organization for cybersecurity threats and with ways to then recover. As every organization is different, businesses use the NIST CSF as a baseline for how to create a cybersecurity program.

ISO 27001 was designed for international use throughout all sectors. It is not a legal requirement for anyone, but ISO compliance is a common prerequisite from large organizations that want to be sure they’re doing business with secure and reputable organizations. 

The compliance process

If a potential client or partner requires you to be ISO 27001 compliant, they are requesting 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 system in detail and certify that you meet ISO 27001 compliance.

NIST does not require a certificate of compliance. It is a standard you follow and with guidelines that are dependent on your own organizational security needs.

Both NIST and ISO 27001 have their own specific place in a security roadmap. NIST CSF is meant to guide your security needs, while ISO 27001 helps to prove your security.

Learn more about ISO

How long does it take to get ISO certified?

The ISO 27001 compliance checklist

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PCI Compliance Selection Guide

Determine Your PCI Compliance Level

If your organization processes, stores, or transmits cardholder data, you must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a global mandate created by major credit card companies. Compliance is mandatory for any business that accepts credit card payments.

When establishing strategies for implementing and maintaining PCI compliance, your organization needs to understand what constitutes a Merchant or Service Provider, and whether a Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) or Report on Compliance (ROC) is most applicable to your business.

Answer a few short questions and we’ll help identify your compliance level.


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Identify your PCI SAQ or ROC level

The PCI Security Standards Council has established the below criteria for Merchant and Service Provider validation. Use these descriptions to help determine the SAQ or ROC that best applies to your organization.

Good news! Vanta supports all of the following compliance levels:


A SAQ A is required for Merchants that do not require the physical presence of a credit card (like an eCommerce, mail, or telephone purchase). This means that the Merchant’s business has fully outsourced all cardholder data processing to PCI DSS compliant third party Service Providers, with no electronic storage, processing, or transmission of any cardholder data on the Merchant’s system or premises.

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A SAQ A-EP is similar to a SAQ A, but is a requirement for Merchants that don't receive cardholder data, but control how cardholder data is redirected to a PCI DSS validated third-party payment processor.

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for service providers

A SAQ D includes over 200 requirements and covers the entirety of PCI DSS compliance. If you are a Service Provider, a SAQ D is the only SAQ you’re eligible to complete.

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Level 1 for service providers

A Report on Compliance (ROC) is an annual assessment that determines your organization’s ability to protect cardholder data. If you’re a Merchant that processes over six million transactions annually or a Service Provider that processes more than 300,000 transactions annually, your organization is responsible for both a ROC and an Attestation of Compliance (AOC).

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Learn more about how Vanta can help. You can also find information on PCI compliance levels at the PCI Security Standards Council website or by contacting your payment processing partner.

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