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Explaining the Breakout Success of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

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In the handful of years since the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) was developed, it’s been widely modeled in the US and by many other countries and organizations internationally. In fact, it’s been so successful in creating common standards around cybersecurity that people sometimes forget the CSF is a voluntary mechanism, not a regulation.

In the absence of any regulatory or enforcement pressure, how did a voluntary, flexible “framework” around cybersecurity come to be embraced so fully across many different industries and organizational contexts? Let’s take a closer look at the CSF juggernaut, including the motivations and development that made the CSF a reality, and how that framework is working so well today in a constantly changing, ever-more connected and digitized world.

An Accessible and Powerful Framework
The NIST CSF is now the go-to playbook for countless organizations for building a robust data protection strategy. It’s structured along five core functions — Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover — each of which captures and curates the essential goals and actions that should be prioritized across the cybersecurity lifecycle.

The CSF helps make sense of what to do before, during and after an incident: from shedding light on your data ecosystem and where the vulnerabilities lie; to locking down sensitive data and remediating known risks; to detecting malicious activity and meeting the threat with consistent and repeatable processes; to finally recovering through the quarantine of corrupted data, monitoring of ongoing threat activity, protocol adjustment and related steps.

The beauty is that all this guidance and wisdom comes in the form of a few strategic guardrails that are intuitive and accessible to a wide range of practitioners. By contrast, consider something like the Trusted Computing Group’s TPM 2.0 standards; for one section on firmware to authenticate IoT devices, just the technical documentation runs more than 3,000 pages.

Global Adoption, Ongoing Evolution
Hopefully, it’s becoming clear why NIST CSF, as a voluntary framework, is still so popular. Why wouldn’t you want to volunteer for an accessible, flexible, cost-effective approach to maximize protection and resilience across the enterprise? For these same reasons, it’s no surprise the CSF is popular far beyond just the US.

Nowhere was that more clear to me than at a NIST conference I attended in Baltimore last year; a sizable percentage of the presentations and use cases involved Japanese telecom giants, European utilities, the IMF and other international organizations that aren’t even governed by NIST.

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