Cyber attacks pose a serious threat to the modern business. So unless your company operates entirely off the grid, you’ll need security measures to help prevent infiltrations or mitigate the damage caused by a breach.
That’s why the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created a powerful framework that businesses can use to protect themselves against cyber attacks.
What is this framework, and how can you take the first steps to adopt NIST cybersecurity guidelines and safeguard your business and its users from daily threats?
What Is The NIST Cybersecurity Framework?
This voluntary framework has been around since February of 2014 and is organised by five key functions. We’ll dig into each of these functions as we go through this article.
It was created to help businesses both big and small protect themselves from the spate of cyber attacks we’ve seen in the last two decades.
It’s important to understand that this framework is completely separate from information privacy laws such as the GDPR or the CCPA. While complying with NIST standards may help you avoid fines from these regulations, this is not its purpose, and we still advise businesses to keep up to date with data privacy laws that apply to them.
With clarity on this, let’s move on and see how the NIST cybersecurity framework can help you.
The Basics And How To Protect Your Organization
Getting your cybersecurity program in place doesn’t need a specialist. It helps, but don’t let the lack of access to an expert cause procrastination. Getting started now, with the help of the NIST framework, is better than taking no action at all.
The first steps include understanding the five functions, namely Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. Putting even rudimentary measures into place within each function can already go a long way to protecting your organisation.
The NIST has a downloadable PDF on the subject here.
Let’s dive into each function, one at a time.
Begin by identifying your most critical business activities. These will be what your employees need to do to keep the business running. Examples include payment processing, invoicing, task workflows, etc.
Take a deeper look at these processes and take note of the personal information you’re capturing. This is where you’ll need extra layers of protection, like secure, encrypted data storage.
As an example, Appenate users can flag captured data as personal (Appenate is a no-code internal business app-building tool). This data will then be scrambled if it ever leaves the platform – so the information is safer.
It’s also essential to have a holistic view of your document flows, hardware and software inventory and documented risk registers. We won’t delve too deep here – there’s more information available in the PDF above.
The guide also recommends establishing cybersecurity policies. This can be a daunting task, and we highly recommend getting an expert to brush over these if you decide to go it alone.
This function is where you’ll implement steps to ensure your organisation stays safe from cyber threats.
Some key steps would be managing access to data and information, implementing measures to protect sensitive data, regular backups, and even user training.
As part of this step, ensure your employees use long passwords (12 digits at least) since 8-digit passwords can be cracked within the hour by today’s powerful GPU’s. Also have employees use two-factor authentication (2FA). Long gone are the days when a simple password (your favourite fruit, perhaps?) was enough to protect your organisation.
If users have a hard time remembering passwords, something like Lastpass or Bitwarden could be useful to you. We recently made the switch to Bitwarden, and couldn’t be happier.
Appenate is 2FA-compatible, and your platforms of choice should be, too. Also, ensure your company devices have the proper firewalls and endpoint security products to stave off attacks and ensure that machines and security software remain up to date.
Train and retain your users on company security policies as well, as many data breaches are due to employee error. Ensure that if employees choose to use personal devices for anything company related, these devices are also adequately protected.
Finally, if you allow users to install apps on their computers, we recommend looking into getting an MDM, which can scan these apps and make sure they’re safe and up to date.
To take swift action, you’ll need to have adequate means of detection in place.
This includes maintaining and monitoring access logs for company devices and applications and keeping an eye out for irregular data flows.
Knowing your expected data flows is crucial for good detection measures, as well as having updated detection processes in place. These processes should be tested regularly to ensure they’re working as expected.
This is one function where having an expert on board – or a third-party service provider – could prove exceptionally helpful. Penetration testing by a third party can often prove invaluable to identifying shortcomings in your detection and protection processes.
So if you have the budget for it, we’d recommend getting a reputable service provider involved here.
There are also tools available that can help here, such as Detectify or Intruder.io (which we’ve used before at Appenate – both are good).
Put plans in place for cybersecurity events and test them thoroughly. Each person involved must know their role and be ready to execute their duties at a moment’s notice. Preparation is key.
You’ll also want to ensure mutual trust between your company and its internal and external stakeholders. That way, response plans can be shared and acted upon together for a more comprehensive response to threats.
Again, this function will be easier if good communication can occur between stakeholders. The idea is to get systems up and running again as quickly and safely as possible after a cybersecurity incident.
Great communication and battle-tested plans are a must throughout the five functions, so make sure to get everyone on board.
This concludes the five key functions of the NIST guidelines. Remember that these are only building blocks, and a comprehensive cybersecurity plan is far more nuanced in practice.
While these make a good starting point, it’s unlikely you’ll be immune to threats without extensive planning and assistance.
If you need any help, do not hesitate to contact an expert on the subject.
Continuous Learning On NIST Guidelines
To learn more about the NIST cybersecurity framework, visit their official website here. There’s plenty of information available, and a regular daily or weekly learning schedule is recommended.
Simply adhering to all the guidelines isn’t enough, however. You’ll also want to ensure that your suppliers, service providers, and clients seek to maintain these guidelines to ensure total cyber safety across your organisation.
A good starting point in this line of thinking would be this podcast from the Digital Government Institute. While it applies specifically to the supply chain, it’s also of value to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of the NIST cybersecurity framework and guidelines. It really opens the eyes on how easy it could be for an unsavoury supplier or client to enter your network.
Keep Security As A Priority
If you take anything away from this piece, we hope that it is a shared eye when it comes to security. We at Appenate take great care in protecting our customer data, and we hope to spread this culture far and wide.
We follow the NIST guidelines ourselves, as well as those from other frameworks too (that’s right, this isn’t the only one). This is a great place to start, but if you’re in a higher-risk industry, keep going. There’s more to discover, and you’ll thank yourself for learning more.