The United States depends on the reliable functioning of critical infrastructure. Cybersecurity threats exploit the increased complexity and connectivity of critical infrastructure systems, placing the Nation’s security, economy, and public safety and health at risk. Similar to financial and reputational risks, cybersecurity risk affects a company’s bottom line. It can drive up costs and affect revenue. It can harm an organization’s ability to innovate and to gain and maintain customers. Cybersecurity can be an important and amplifying component of an organization’s overall risk management.
To better address these risks, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 20141 (CEA) updated the role of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to include identifying and developing cybersecurity risk frameworks for voluntary use by critical infrastructure owners and operators. Through CEA, NIST must identify “a prioritized, flexible, repeatable, performance- based, and cost-effective approach, including information security measures and controls that may be voluntarily adopted by owners and operators of critical infrastructure to help them identify, assess, and manage cyber risks.” This formalized NIST’s previous work developing Framework Version 1.0 under Executive Order (EO) 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” (February 2013), and provided guidance for future Framework evolution. The Framework that was developed under EO 13636, and continues to evolve according to CEA, uses a common language to address and manage cybersecurity risk in a cost-effective way based on business and organizational needs without placing additional regulatory requirements on businesses.
The Framework focuses on using business drivers to guide cybersecurity activities and considering cybersecurity risks as part of the organization’s risk management processes. The Framework consists of three parts: the Framework Core, the Implementation Tiers, and the Framework Profiles. The Framework Core is a set of cybersecurity activities, outcomes, and informative references that are common across sectors and critical infrastructure. Elements of the Core provide detailed guidance for developing individual organizational Profiles. Through use of Profiles, the Framework will help an organization to align and prioritize its cybersecurity activities with its business/mission requirements, risk tolerances, and resources. The Tiers provide a mechanism for organizations to view and understand the characteristics of their approach to managing cybersecurity risk, which will help in prioritizing and achieving cybersecurity objectives.
While this document was developed to improve cybersecurity risk management in critical infrastructure, the Framework can be used by organizations in any sector or community. The Framework enables organizations – regardless of size, degree of cybersecurity risk, or cybersecurity sophistication – to apply the principles and best practices of risk management to improving security and resilience.
The Framework provides a common organizing structure for multiple approaches to cybersecurity by assembling standards, guidelines, and practices that are working effectively today. Moreover, because it references globally recognized standards for cybersecurity, the
Framework can serve as a model for international cooperation on strengthening cybersecurity in critical infrastructure as well as other sectors and communities.
The Framework offers a flexible way to address cybersecurity, including cybersecurity’s effect on physical, cyber, and people dimensions. It is applicable to organizations relying on technology, whether their cybersecurity focus is primarily on information technology (IT), industrial control systems (ICS), cyber-physical systems (CPS), or connected devices more generally, including the Internet of Things (IoT). The Framework can assist organizations in addressing cybersecurity as it affects the privacy of customers, employees, and other parties. Additionally, the Framework’s outcomes serve as targets for workforce development and evolution activities.
The Framework is not a one-size-fits-all approach to managing cybersecurity risk for critical infrastructure. Organizations will continue to have unique risks – different threats, different vulnerabilities, different risk tolerances. They also will vary in how they customize practices described in the Framework. Organizations can determine activities that are important to critical service delivery and can prioritize investments to maximize the impact of each dollar spent. Ultimately, the Framework is aimed at reducing and better managing cybersecurity risks.
To account for the unique cybersecurity needs of organizations, there are a wide variety of ways to use the Framework. The decision about how to apply it is left to the implementing organization. For example, one organization may choose to use the Framework Implementation Tiers to articulate envisioned risk management practices. Another organization may use the Framework’s five Functions to analyze its entire risk management portfolio; that analysis may or may not rely on more detailed companion guidance, such as controls catalogs. There sometimes is discussion about “compliance” with the Framework, and the Framework has utility as a structure and language for organizing and expressing compliance with an organization’s own cybersecurity requirements. Nevertheless, the variety of ways in which the Framework can be used by an organization means that phrases like “compliance with the Framework” can be confusing and mean something very different to various stakeholders.
The Framework is a living document and will continue to be updated and improved as industry provides feedback on implementation. NIST will continue coordinating with the private sector and government agencies at all levels. As the Framework is put into greater practice, additional lessons learned will be integrated into future versions. This will ensure the Framework is meeting the needs of critical infrastructure owners and operators in a dynamic and challenging environment of new threats, risks, and solutions.
Expanded and more effective use and sharing of best practices of this voluntary Framework are the next steps to improve the cybersecurity of our Nation’s critical infrastructure – providing evolving guidance for individual organizations while increasing the cybersecurity posture of the Nation’s critical infrastructure and the broader economy and society.
The Framework provides a common language for understanding, managing, and expressing cybersecurity risk to internal and external stakeholders. It can be used to help identify and prioritize actions for reducing cybersecurity risk, and it is a tool for aligning policy, business, and technological approaches to managing that risk. It can be used to manage cybersecurity risk across entire organizations or it can be focused on the delivery of critical services within an organization.