In an age where our personal, professional, and even political spheres are intricately intertwined with the digital realm, the protection of our cyber environments has never been more critical. From large multinational corporations to individual smartphone users, everyone is vulnerable to the increasingly sophisticated world of cyber threats. Yet, while most people are somewhat aware of terms like “malware”, “phishing”, or “ransomware”, fewer understand the backbone that allows organizations to effectively combat these threats. Big and small organizations face daily risks of hacking and data breaches, and the best way for an organization to address these challenges is to implement a strategic, well-developed cybersecurity plan to protect critical infrastructure and information systems: a cybersecurity framework.

This article delves into the essence of a cybersecurity framework, its pivotal role in safeguarding our digital landscapes, and why every organization, regardless of size or sector, should be intimately familiar with its structure and tenets. Join us as we navigate the digital battlements that keep our data secure.

What is a cybersecurity framework?

A cybersecurity framework is a structured set of guidelines and best practices designed to help organizations manage and mitigate cybersecurity risks associated with their information and technology systems. The goal of the framework is to reduce the company’s exposure to cyberattacks, and to identify the areas most at risk for data breaches and other compromising activity perpetrated by cybercriminals. At its core, it provides a common language and systematic approach for ensuring an organization’s digital assets, infrastructure, and data are adequately protected against cyber threats.

The Purpose and Components of the Framework

The primary objective of any cybersecurity framework is to offer a holistic strategy for defending against cyber threats. To achieve this, a framework typically consists of several components, including: standards, guidelines, best practices, and processes. These components work together to help organizations identify potential vulnerabilities, protect critical assets, detect anomalies or breaches, respond to threats promptly, and recover effectively after an incident.

The Role of Cybersecurity Frameworks in Organizations

For businesses and institutions, adopting a cybersecurity framework isn’t just about avoiding potential cyberattacks. It’s about ensuring business continuity, protecting brand reputation, maintaining customer trust, and meeting regulatory compliance requirements. By adhering to a recognized framework, organizations can demonstrate to stakeholders, partners, and customers that they have a robust cybersecurity posture and are committed to maintaining a safe digital environment.

Adaptable and Evolving Nature of Frameworks

It’s essential to note that a cybersecurity framework is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Different organizations have varying risk profiles, assets, and requirements. Thus, most frameworks are designed to be adaptable, allowing organizations to tailor them to their unique needs. Furthermore, as the cyber threat landscape continuously evolves, so too must these frameworks. Regular updates and revisions ensure that the strategies and practices remain relevant in the face of new and emerging threats.

A strong cyber risk management framework is closely intertwined with the organization’s risk management strategy and risk management programs. Combined with the use of updated information technology and artificial intelligence, a solid cybersecurity risk management framework can be an excellent way to stave off cyber attacks.

Using the NIST cybersecurity framework as your baseline

If developing and implementing a cyber risk management framework from scratch feels intimidating, fear not. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued many frameworks for security issues. One of the best known is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF), a set of guidelines that were originally developed for government entities and have since been adapted for private sector use. Not only does CSF provide a framework to understand cybersecurity risk management, it also includes guidelines to help companies prevent and recover from attacks.

NIST compiled these standards — which are optional; some other NIST standards are required for certain businesses, but the CSF isn’t — after then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2014. The executive order aimed to establish a cybersecurity framework to help protect the country’s critical infrastructure and federal information.

There are five main functions of NIST’s cybersecurity framework:

  1.     Identify. Companies must first examine and categorize their supply chain and work environment, to better understand which cybersecurity risks their systems, assets, data, and frameworks are exposed to. This process is also known as a cybersecurity risk assessment, and it provides a baseline for day-to-day risk.
  2.     Protect. Organizations must develop and implement appropriate safeguards to limit or contain the effects of possible cybersecurity events. Protection includes cybersecurity monitoring programs, firewalls, and physical security controls such as locking the door to your data center. Protection requires continuous monitoring to be efficient and safe.
  3.     Detect. Organizations must implement appropriate procedures to identify cybersecurity events as soon as possible. A clear methodology should be established so everyone within the organization knows what to do in case of a cyber attack.
  4.     Respond. Have an incident response team in place before you need it. Make sure all stakeholders are involved in this part of the planning, and that there is a clear chain of command from the moment the cyber attack has been identified until it’s mitigated.
  5.     Recover. Mitigation is a big part of recovery. It includes plans for how you will best restore crucial functions and services, as well as a catalog of temporary security controls to implement as soon as your systems have been compromised by a cybersecurity event.

Compliance and industry-specific requirements

The risk management process and the tools you use to determine cybersecurity risk may be the same across industries, but some businesses — such as those that manage healthcare or human resources or credit card payments — have specific requirements for their cybersecurity programs and also for response and recovery. For example, a company that handles credit card transactions must prove that it complies with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS) framework. This would require the company to pass an audit.

A strong cybersecurity framework can provide excellent guidance as you work through the layers of risk assessment. When applied properly, a cybersecurity framework allows IT security leaders to manage enterprise risks more efficiently. The NIST model allows an organization to adapt an existing cybersecurity framework to meet its needs or provides guidance for the organization to develop one internally.

Top Cybersecurity Risk Frameworks

Let’s review the six most common cybersecurity frameworks.

1. NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity or NIST Cybersecurity Framework focuses on protecting critical infrastructure like power plants and dams from cyberattacks. But any organization seeking to improve its cybersecurity can apply its principles.

The core of this cybersecurity framework follows the standard pattern of cyber defense: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. It provides an organized mechanism to identify risks and assets requiring protection and lists the ways an organization can protect these assets in the event of a security incident through effective risk detection, threat response, and asset recovery.

2. ISO 27001 and ISO 27002

Established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO 27001 and ISO 27002 (also called ISO 27k) is the international standard for validating an organization’s cybersecurity program internally and across third parties. If a vendor is ISO 27001/2-certified, it means they have mature cybersecurity practices and controls in place.

Under this framework, it’s assumed an organization already has an Information Security Management System (ISMS). It requires management to consider all threats and vulnerabilities to systematically manage the organization’s information security risks. This should be followed by designing and implementing information security (InfoSec) coherent and comprehensive controls to effectively mitigate identified risks.

The framework also encourages organizations adopting ISO 27001/2 to have an ongoing risk management process in place.

3. SOC2

Established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), Service Organization Control (SOC) Type 2 is a trust-based cybersecurity framework and auditing standard that can be used to verify vendors and partners are indeed managing client data securely.

It’s a comprehensive framework with more than 60 compliance requirements and extensive auditing processes for third-party systems and controls. These orders can take about a year to complete, after which a report is issued attesting to a vendor’s cybersecurity posture.

Expectedly, SOC2 is also one of the toughest cybersecurity frameworks to implement, especially for organizations in the banking or finance sector that face a comparatively higher standard for compliance. Regardless, it’s an important framework that should be a critical part of your third-party risk management program.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a cybersecurity framework for healthcare organizations, helping them implement the required controls for securing and protecting the privacy of electronic health information. In addition to demonstrating compliance against cyber risk best practices (for example, user authentication, training employees and setting strong passwords), it also lays out the importance of conducting risk assessments to manage and identify emerging risks.


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) focuses on strengthening data protection procedures and practices for citizens of the European Union (EU).

This framework impacts all organizations established in the EU or any business that collects and stores the private data of EU citizens, including businesses based in the United States or elsewhere.

Similar to SOC2, GDPA is another comprehensive cybersecurity framework. It includes 99 articles outlining an organization’s compliance responsibilities, such as consumer data access rights, data breach notification requirements, and data protection policies and procedures.

What’s more, failure to comply with GDPA can lead to hefty fines; up to 4% of global revenue or €20,000,000 — and the EU is quite strict when handing out punishments.


The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is a comprehensive cybersecurity framework designed to protect federal government information and systems, as well as third parties and lenders working on behalf of federal agencies, against cyber threats.

Under this framework, agencies and third parties are required to maintain an inventory of digital assets and identify any integration between networks and systems. All sensitive information should be categorized according to risk, and security controls must meet minimum security standards, as defined by NIST 800 guidelines and FIPS.

Per FISMA, impacted organizations should also conduct cybersecurity risk assessments and regular security reviews to continuously monitor their IT structures.

Discover the full power of ZenGRC

In the dynamic world of cybersecurity, where threats constantly evolve and compliance mandates grow more stringent, organizations require tools that can keep pace. Enter ZenGRC, a leading Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) platform that has transformed the way businesses approach cybersecurity frameworks. By streamlining the management of risk, automating compliance activities, and fostering real-time collaboration across teams, ZenGRC empowers organizations to bolster their cybersecurity posture. Its intuitive dashboard offers a centralized view of risk landscapes, making it easier to identify vulnerabilities and ensure alignment with industry standards and best practices. With ZenGRC, businesses not only gain a robust tool to navigate the intricate corridors of cyber risk but also harness the potential to instill a culture of proactive cyber resilience throughout the organization.