What are the Main Components of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework is a widely recognized and respected guideline that helps organizations evaluate, manage and reduce cybersecurity risks. It provides a set of industry standards and best practices to help organizations build and improve their cybersecurity posture. The framework is designed to be flexible, allowing organizations of all sizes and across all industries to use it effectively.

Introduction to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework was first released in 2014 in response to an executive order by President Obama aimed at improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity in the United States. The framework is a voluntary set of guidelines based on existing standards, guidelines, and practices for organizations to manage and mitigate cybersecurity risks. Its goal is to foster risk and cybersecurity management communications amongst both internal and external organizational stakeholders. Since its inception, it has become the cornerstone for organizations seeking to bolster their cybersecurity defenses.

Core Components of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The main components of the NIST cybersecurity framework include: the Core, the Implementation Tiers and the Profiles. Each component plays a critical role in helping organizations manage their cybersecurity risks effectively.

1. Framework Core

At the heart of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is the Framework Core. The Framework core provides a set of desired cybersecurity activities and outcomes using common language that is easy to understand. The Core is not a checklist of actions to perform; it presents key cybersecurity outcomes identified by industry as helpful in managing cybersecurity risk.

It comprises five concurrent and continuous functions that are essential for a robust cybersecurity posture:

  • Identify: This function helps organizations develop a comprehensive understanding of their environment to manage cybersecurity risk to systems, assets, data, and capabilities. Key activities include asset management, business environment, governance, risk assessment, and risk management strategy.
  • Protect: This function focuses on the development and implementation of appropriate safeguards to ensure the delivery of critical infrastructure services. It includes identity management, authentication and access control, awareness and training, data security, information protection processes and procedures, maintenance, and protective technology.
  • Detect: This function involves the development and implementation of activities to identify the occurrence of a cybersecurity event. Key activities include anomalies and events, security continuous monitoring, and detection processes.
  • Respond: This function encompasses the development and implementation of activities to take action regarding a detected cybersecurity event. It includes response planning, communications, analysis, mitigation, and improvements.
  • Recover: This function involves the development and implementation of activities to maintain plans for resilience and to restore any capabilities or services that were impaired due to a cybersecurity event. This includes recovery planning, improvements, and communications.

2. Implementation Tiers

The Implementation Tiers of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework provide context on how an organization views cybersecurity risk and the processes in place to manage that risk. The Tiers range from Partial (Tier 1) to Adaptive (Tier 4) and describe an increasing degree of rigor and sophistication in cybersecurity risk management practices.

Tier 1: Partial


  • Ad hoc and Reactive: At this tier, cybersecurity risk management practices are not formalized, and risk is managed on an ad hoc, sometimes reactive basis.
  • Limited Awareness: There is limited awareness of cybersecurity risks at the organizational level.
  • No Established Policies: Cybersecurity activities and risk management processes are performed inconsistently, without established policies and procedures.


  • Vulnerability to Attacks: The lack of formal processes and awareness makes organizations highly vulnerable to cyber threats.
  • Inefficient Resource Use: Resources may be used inefficiently due to the lack of a strategic approach to cybersecurity.

Tier 2: Risk-Informed


  • Approved Practices: Risk management practices are approved by management but may not be established as organization-wide policies.
  • Defined Processes: Some cybersecurity practices are repeatable and formalized but not consistently applied across the organization.
  • Awareness and Training: There is an increased awareness of cybersecurity risks, and some training programs are in place.


  • Improved Risk Management: The organization starts to recognize the importance of cybersecurity and begins to develop processes to manage risks more effectively.
  • Better Resource Allocation: There is a more strategic approach to cybersecurity, leading to more efficient use of resources.

Tier 3: Repeatable


  • Formally Established Policies: Risk management practices are formally approved and expressed as policy.
  • Consistent Practices: Cybersecurity practices are consistent and repeatable across the organization.
  • Continuous Improvement: There is a commitment to continuous improvement in cybersecurity practices.


  • Enhanced Security Posture: Formalized and consistent practices lead to a stronger security posture.
  • Proactive Risk Management: The organization can better anticipate and mitigate cybersecurity risks.

Tier 4: Adaptive


  • Adaptive Practices: The organization adapts its cybersecurity practices based on lessons learned and predictive indicators.
  • Advanced Risk Management: There is a robust and proactive approach to managing cybersecurity risks.
  • Highly Integrated Processes: Cybersecurity practices are integrated into the organization’s culture and are continuously improved upon.


  • Optimal Security: The highest level of security is achieved through adaptive and predictive practices.
  • Organizational Resilience: The organization can quickly adapt to new threats and vulnerabilities, ensuring resilience against cyber-attacks.
  1. Profiles

A Profile represents the alignment of an organization’s cybersecurity activities with its business requirements, risk tolerance, and resources. Essentially, Profiles are used to describe the current state (“Current Profile”) and the desired state (“Target Profile”) of an organization’s cybersecurity practices.

Creating a Current Profile

A Current Profile captures the organization’s existing cybersecurity posture. This involves assessing the current implementation of the Core’s categories and subcategories. The Current Profile provides a snapshot of the organization’s present cybersecurity state, highlighting existing strengths and identifying areas that need improvement.

Creating a Target Profile

A Target Profile, on the other hand, outlines the desired outcomes that an organization aims to achieve to improve its cybersecurity posture. This involves selecting the categories and subcategories from the Framework Core that best align with the organization’s objectives and risk management strategy. The Target Profile serves as a benchmark for where the organization wants to be in terms of cybersecurity.

Using Profiles to Bridge the Gap

The real power of Profiles lies in their ability to bridge the gap between the Current and Target Profiles. By comparing the two, organizations can identify specific areas where they need to enhance their cybersecurity practices. This process involves:

  • Gap Analysis: Comparing the Current Profile with the Target Profile to identify discrepancies and areas needing improvement.
  • Prioritization: Based on the gap analysis, organizations can prioritize their cybersecurity initiatives, focusing on the most critical areas first.
  • Action Plans: Developing detailed action plans to address the identified gaps. These plans should outline the steps needed to move from the Current to the Target Profile.
  • Implementation and Monitoring: Executing the action plans and continuously monitoring progress to ensure that cybersecurity practices are evolving towards the Target Profile.

Benefits of Using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework offers numerous benefits for organizations looking to enhance their cybersecurity posture. It provides a comprehensive and flexible approach to managing and mitigating cyber risks, helping organizations identify, protect, detect, respond to, and recover from cyber threats. By adopting the NIST framework, businesses can improve their resilience against cyberattacks, ensure regulatory compliance, and foster a culture of continuous improvement in cybersecurity practices. Additionally, the framework’s standardized guidelines facilitate better communication and coordination between internal teams and external stakeholders, ultimately leading to more robust and effective cybersecurity strategies.

Improved Risk Management

The NIST Framework helps organizations in identifying, assessing and managing cybersecurity risks more effectively. By following the framework’s structured approach, organizations can prioritize their efforts based on the most critical risks. This risk-based approach helps in allocating resources more efficiently and ensure the most significant threats are addressed promptly, reducing the overall risk to an organization.

Enhanced Communication and Collaboration

The common language and systematic methodology provided by the NIST Cybersecurity Framework facilitate better communication and collaboration both within an organization and with external stakeholders. Internally, it helps different departments understand their roles and responsibilities in cybersecurity, fostering a culture of shared responsibility. Externally, it provides a standardized approach that can be communicated with partners, customers, and regulators, enhancing trust and cooperation.


One of the primary advantages of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is its comprehensive and flexible nature. The framework is designed to be adaptable to different organizational needs, regardless of size or industry. It provides a broad yet detailed set of guidelines and best practices that organizations can tailor to their specific requirements. This flexibility ensures that even small businesses with limited resources can implement essential cybersecurity measures effectively.

Alignment with Best Practices

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is built upon and aligned with internationally recognized standards and best practices. This alignment not only helps organizations comply with various regulatory requirements but also ensures that they are following the best available practices in cybersecurity. By adhering to a framework recognized globally, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to cybersecurity to stakeholders and customers, enhancing their reputation and trustworthiness.

Continuous Improvement

The NIST Framework encourages continuous improvement in cybersecurity practices. It is designed to evolve with the changing threat landscape, ensuring that organizations can adapt to new challenges and emerging threats. By regularly reviewing and updating their cybersecurity measures in line with the framework, organizations can stay ahead of potential threats and maintain a robust security posture over time.


Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can be cost-effective, especially for smaller organizations that may not have extensive resources to dedicate to cybersecurity. The framework provides a scalable approach that allows organizations to implement the most critical controls first and gradually enhance their security measures as resources permit. This prioritization helps in maximizing the impact of available resources and achieving significant security improvements without overwhelming budgets.

Challenges and Considerations

While the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a powerful tool, organizations may face challenges in its implementation:

  • Resource Constraints: Small to mid-sized organizations often struggle with limited resources, both financial and human. Implementing the comprehensive measures recommended by the NIST Framework can be resource-intensive, requiring substantial investment in technology, training, and personnel.
  • Complexity: The framework’s detailed structure and extensive guidelines can be overwhelming, particularly for organizations with less mature cybersecurity practices. Understanding and applying the framework’s core functions, categories, and subcategories necessitates a high level of expertise and can be challenging without dedicated cybersecurity professionals.
  • Cultural Change: Building a culture that prioritizes cybersecurity requires significant changes in organizational behavior and mindset. Employees might resist new policies and procedures, and fostering widespread engagement and adherence can be difficult.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Organizations may have established security measures and protocols that do not align perfectly with the NIST Framework. Integrating the framework with these existing systems can require considerable adjustments and may face internal resistance.

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The NIST Cybersecurity Framework provides a comprehensive, flexible, and effective approach to managing cybersecurity risk. By adopting this framework, organizations can improve their cybersecurity posture, enhance communication, and align with industry best practices. Although there may be challenges in implementation, the benefits of a well-implemented cybersecurity strategy far outweigh the difficulties—making it a valuable investment. Embracing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a crucial step towards securing an organization’s critical assets and ensuring its resilience against cyber threats.

For more detailed insights and guidance on implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, download our free eBook today.

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