Security standards: CIS and NIST

Security standards: CIS and NIST

img-blog-security-standards-cis-and-nist

If you’re an IT professional, you’re probably familiar with the idea of security standards set in place for IT systems and products. Security standards are meant to keep data safe and minimize the risk of an organization’s information systems.

If a company does not have proper cybersecurity standards in place, they may one day find all of their information exposed to the world. This is especially important in an industry such as finance, which regularly deals with sensitive information of many different people. Information security is vital for keeping info like cardholder data and critical assets safe from malware.

The two biggest security standards are administered by CIS and NIST, with NIST being more common in Canada and internationally. They’re both standardized and expect companies to protect their assets and keep customer information secure. However, each of them has different requirements, so it’s important to review both and understand which one works best for your organization.

Today, we’ll explain what both CIS and NIST security standards are, and why it’s important that companies abide by them to keep both customers and organizations safe.

What does CIS stand for in security?

CIS stands for Center for Internet Security, which is a nonprofit that focuses on improving private and public cybersecurity. They develop security standards based on input from cybersecurity experts from a range of backgrounds, such as government, private, and research sectors.

CIS benchmarks ensure compliance with cybersecurity standards and give organizations guidelines to help protect them against cyber threats.

What are CIS security standards?

CIS has a set of best practices for IT systems and products. These security standards also referred to as benchmarks, are developed by cybersecurity experts in the community to provide guidance to professionals on all areas of IT and ensure their products are compliant.

There are currently more than 100 different CIS security benchmarks covering about 20 different categories, and they’re free for anyone to download and use. However, they are regularly updated to reflect the constant changes in the industry, so it’s important to stay up to date with the most current security standards.

You can get a CIS certification for a product that certifies that the product is compliant with CIS security standards, but it requires testing. Fortunately, the testing is relatively straightforward, as CIS testing involves very black and white questions, and it’s worth it to get the certification.

Why use CIS controls for security and compliance?

There are a number of reasons to use CIS controls for security and compliance. Organizations can quickly get started with CIS and become compliant.

CIS is very practical, and getting a CIS certification is a relatively simple process that requires you to answer different types of security questions on protection, recovery scenarios, policy, and more.

CIS has implementation groups broken down for different sized organizations (from small businesses to large enterprises), and the implementation groups pick the most important questions from each group and ask you to answer those questions. The whole process takes about two weeks if an organization is compliant, but it can take longer if the organization ends up not being compliant.

Once certified, organizations can display the CIS certification logo alongside their product to certify compliance with CIS security standards. This looks good to potential clients and may be the deciding factor on whether they choose your product.

For a long time, CIS security standards were something that mainly larger enterprises had to worry about. However, as the world gets more digital, it’s important for small businesses to be prepared to prove that their security standards are up to par.

Think about it: if a potential client asks you “how’s your security,” you don’t want to go into cybersecurity jargon to explain your own company’s security standards in a way that person doesn’t understand.

Simply being able to say “we’re CIS certified” proves your professionalism and lets your potential customer know everything they need about your security standards in order to make an informed decision. This is especially important in the financial and insurance industries, where sensitive customer information is stored regularly.

But CIS isn’t the only security standard out there. NIST is another option for organizations of any size.

What does NIST stand for?

NIST stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is a non-regulatory government agency that is now part of the U.S Department of Commerce. The goal of NIST was originally to develop a framework to drive competition in the technology industry.

NIST provides a set of security standards for controls at government agencies, and other companies comply with NIST standards because they establish best practices across multiple industries. When companies comply with NIST security standards, they end up complying with other security standards by default, including CIS standards.

Although associated with the American government, NIST has an internationally recognized framework used in multiple countries. It is commonly used in Canada.

What are NIST security standards?

As with CIS, NIST security standards are based on best practices from several security experts, documents and organizations to establish security measures. The most widely used NIST security standard is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

The NIST cybersecurity security framework contains various activities and references about approaches to cybersecurity. It also contains “Framework Implementation Tiers” used by organizations to review their cybersecurity strategy and risk level in detail.

The categories set in NIST’s cybersecurity framework boil down to 5 functions:

  • Identity: Processes and assets that need protection.
  • Protect: Implementation of safeguards to assure asset protection
  • Detect: Plan to identify the occurrence of cybersecurity threats.
  • Respond: Techniques to minimize the impact of cybersecurity threats.
  • Recover: Implement the right processes to restore capabilities after a threat.

NIST’s cybersecurity framework isn’t as simple as providing a checklist for an organization to fill out. The framework provides guidance to customize to an organization’s unique risks and needs.

What are the benefits of the NIST cybersecurity framework?

When you use the NIST cybersecurity framework, you are implementing the learning of experts who have identified potential cybersecurity risks and developed prevention plans as well as solutions.

Cybersecurity within a large organization can get complicated to follow and keep track of, meaning things can quickly slip through the cracks. There are some assets that are at larger risk than others and therefore need your immediate attention. If you’re unable to identify your largest potential issues, you risk putting your organization in danger of a cybersecurity threat.

NIST helps you prioritize cybersecurity decisions based on your assets and risk level. NIST security standards provide a framework for conversations with the board of directors and other stakeholders on the security of an organization.

Complying with NIST security standards results in an organization developing a more secure infrastructure, especially since NIST sets the standard for other regulatory agencies, such as CIS.

NIST’s cybersecurity framework is more flexible than CIS’s. Whereas CIS questions for compliance are very black and white, NIST allows paragraph answers, which enable you to paint a fuller picture of your company’s cybersecurity plan.

Whether you choose CIS or NIST security standards, it’s worth ensuring that your product or organization is compliant in order to minimize the risk of a cybersecurity threat to your clients, stakeholders, and your business.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does CIS stand for in security?

CIS stands for Center for Internet Security, which is a nonprofit that focuses on improving private and public cybersecurity.

CIS provides guidance for IT professionals to ensure that they remain compliant and protect their data.

What are CIS standards?

CIS has a set of security standards for IT systems and products that are meant for organizations to follow. There are over 100 standards in 20 categories, and these security standards are developed by cybersecurity experts in the community to provide guidance to professionals in all areas of IT.

Why use CIS controls for security and compliance?

Using CIS controls for security and compliance gives you a means of communicating your cybersecurity practices and strategies to stakeholders and potential customers.

Getting CIS certified is simple, and shows potential customers that your product is compliant with a set of security standards.

What does NIST stand for?

NIST stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is a non-regulatory government agency. They provide a set of security standards for controls at government agencies, and other companies comply with NIST standards because they establish best practices across multiple industries.

What are NIST security standards?

The most widely used NIST security standard is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which can be broken down into five functions:

  • Identity
  • Protect
  • Detect
  • Respond
  • Recover