Cyber SecurityIntroduction to Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity Frameworks 101 – The Complete Guide

Cybersecurity frameworks provide the structure and methodology you need to protect your important digital assets. Find out which framework best suits your needs!

Cybersecurity – Living in a Digital World…

Today, it’s virtually inevitable that digital technology and data will be essential to some aspect of your life. It could be your work, your personal relationships, your living situation, and so forth. If you run a business, you’re for sure utterly dependent on devices and data. 

Unfortunately, as we are now reminded on a daily basis, bad people with bad intentions are eager to steal the data that you and your business need to function. Their motivations vary, but in general, malicious actors either want to profit from your devices and data or disrupt them—or both.

It’s also shocking that a recent survey from Insight found that over 70% of business leaders are NOT convinced that their companies can withstand a possible cyber attack. 

With these fears, many companies are creating ideal frameworks to maintain, monitor, and disable cybersecurity risks before they happen.

What can you do to achieve the best cybersecurity under these circumstances? 

There are ways to achieve a satisfactory level of cybersecurity, which may include data security solutions and database security as well. Frequently, the best way to meet this objective is to adopt a cybersecurity framework. A framework provides the structure and methodology you need to protect your important digital assets.


A cybersecurity framework is, essentially, a system of standards, guidelines, and best practices to manage risks that arise in the digital world. They typically match security objectives, like avoiding unauthorized system access with controls like requiring a username and password.

If that is confusing, it might help to first understand what a framework is in general. In the physical world, a framework is a system of beams that hold up a building. In the world of ideas, a framework is a structure that underpins a system or concept. A framework is a way of organizing information and, in most cases, related tasks.

Frameworks have been around for a long time. In financial accounting, for example, frameworks help accountants keep track of financial transactions. An accounting framework is built around concepts like assets, liabilities, costs, and controls. Cybersecurity frameworks take the framework approach to the work of securing digital assets. The framework is designed to give security managers a reliable, systematic way to mitigate cyber risk no matter how complex the environment might be.

Cybersecurity frameworks are often mandatory, or at least strongly encouraged, for companies that want to comply with state, industry, and international cybersecurity regulations. For example, in order to handle credit card transactions, a business must pass an audit attesting to their compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) framework.


In a recent RSA conference Frank Kim, previous CISO for SANS institute and one of the top cybersecurity experts provided a great explanation for these various framework types. He split them into three categories and outlined their purposes – 

Control Frameworks:

  • Develop a basic strategy for security team
  • Provide baseline set of controls
  • Assess current technical state
  • Prioritize control implementation

Program Frameworks:

  • Assess state of security program
  • Build comprehensive security program
  • Measure program security/ competitive analysis
  • Simplify communication between security team and business leaders

Risk Frameworks:

  • Define key process steps to assess/manage risk
  • Structure program for risk management
  • Identify, measure, and quantify risk
  • Prioritize security activities


There are many different frameworks. However, a few dominate the market. In addition to PCI DSS, popular frameworks include:

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, sometimes just called the “NIST cybersecurity framework,” is, as its name suggests, is intended to be used to protect critical infrastructure like power plants and dams from cyber attacks. However, its principles can apply to any organization that seeks better security. It is one of several NIST standards that cover cybersecurity.

Like most frameworks, the NIST cybersecurity framework is complex and broad in scope. The basic document describing it runs 41 pages. The actual implementation of the framework can involve thousands of person-hours and hundreds of pages of documentation, procedures, controls, and so forth. At the root, though, the framework is fairly easy to understand.

The framework’s core is a list of cybersecurity functions that follow the basic pattern of cyber defense: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. The framework provides an organized mechanism for identifying risks and assets that require protection. It lists the ways the organization must protect these assets by detecting risks, responding to threats, and then recovering assets in the event of a security incident.

For example, under Protect, the framework contains a category known as PR.DS, which stands for “Protect Data Security.” Going deeper into the framework, PR.DS has seven sub-categories, each intended to ensure the protection of data. These include controls for protecting data at rest (PR.DS-1), protecting data in transit (PR.DS-2), and so on. To comply with PR.DS-1, for instance, the organization might mandate encryption of data at rest.


CIS was built in the late 2000s by a volunteer-expert coalition to create a framework for protecting companies from the threats of cybersecurity. It is comprised of 20 controls that are regularly updated by experts from all fields – government, academia, and industry – to be consistently modern and on top of cybersecurity threats. 

CIS works well for organizations that want to start out with baby steps. Their process is divided into three groups. They start with the basics, then move into foundational, and finally, organizational. CIS is also a great option if you want an additional framework that can coexist with other, industry-specific compliance standards (such as HIPAA and NIST).

This organization works with benchmarks, or guidelines based on commonly used standards, such as NIST and HIPAA, that not only map security standards to help companies comply with them but offer alternative basic security configurations for those who don’t require compliance but want to improve their security.

These benchmarks are divided into two levels. The first is recommendations for essential security configurations that don’t affect services in performance; and the second, more advanced level of benchmarks that offer higher-level security configuration recommendations, with a possible cost of affected performance.

ISO/IEC 27001

ISO 27001/27002, also known as ISO 27K is the internationally recognized standard for cybersecurity. The framework mandates (assumes) that an organization adopting ISO 27001 will have an Information Security Management System (ISMS). ISO/IEC 27001 requires that management will systematically manage the organization’s information security risks, taking into account threats and vulnerabilities.

The framework then requires the organization to design and implement information security (InfoSec) controls that are both coherent and comprehensive. The goal of these controls is to mitigate identified risks. From there, the framework suggests that the organization adopt a risk management process that’s ongoing. To get certified as ISO 27001-compliant, an organization must demonstrate to the auditor that it is using what ISO refers to as the “PDCA Cycle.”

PDCA Cycle

What is the PDCA cycle? The PDCA cycle is a business management method that focuses on 4 main steps that should continuously be implemented as change is considered in the company. The four steps are:

  • Plan — means establishing the ISMS itself along with policies, objectives, processes, and procedures for risk management.
  • Do — refers to implementing the actual functioning ISMS, including implementing InfoSec policies, procedures, and so forth.  
  • Check — involves monitoring and review of the ISMS, measuring process performance compared to policies and objectives.
  • Act — is the process of updating and improving the ISMS. It may mean undertaking corrective and preventive actions, on the basis of internal audit and management review.

Companies and government agencies adopt ISO 27001 in order to get certified for compliance. Otherwise, it’s a lot of work without much to show for the effort. ISO certifies compliance through the work of approved audit firms. A company goes through a process of applying for certification with ISO, which usually involves working with an experienced consultant who may then also act as the auditor and certifying authority.

Cybersecurity frameworks like GDPR help to protect personal user data.

Other Notable Frameworks

Some frameworks exist for a specific industry or security scenario. 

  • COBIT, for example, is a controls framework for IT systems used in financial accounting. It’s a core part of compliance with the Sarbanes Oxley Act. 
  • HIPAA, a law designed to protect patients’ privacy, comprises both a set of regulations and a framework. PCI DSS is similar. It’s a specific set of control requirements that are coupled with a certification process to attest to compliance. 
  • The EU GDPR rules that protect personal information are somewhat softer in nature. The rules are quite clear, but compliance is not certified by any specific entity.

How To Comply With Multiple Cybersecurity Regulations

Most businesses, especially ones that work internationally, must comply with a collection of different cybersecurity regulations. Frameworks can be a great way to tackle this complicated challenge. They give you a way to define, enforce, and monitor controls across multiple compliance regimens.

The good news is that security vendors and consultancies are publishing extensive guidance on complying with regulations. With HIPAA, for example, it is possible to find good resources on meeting the law’s burdensome requirements. These include administrative safeguards, physical safeguards, and other controls.


Cybersecurity frameworks provide a basis for achieving a strong security posture and preventing data breaches. In some cases, they enable an organization to become certified as compliant with a specific regulation. Adopting a framework requires a decision to commit time and resources to the project. If done right, however, it’s worth it! The framework offers an organized way to become secure and then continually measure the effectiveness of the security controls established by the framework.

About the author

Nicolas Poggi

Nicolas Poggi is the head of mobile research at Prey, Inc., provider of the open source Prey Anti-Theft software protecting eight million mobile devices. Nic’s work explores technology innovations within the mobile marketplace, and their impact upon security. Nic also serves as Prey’s communications manager, overseeing the company’s brand and content creation. Nic is a technology and contemporary culture journalist and author, and before joining Prey held positions as head of indie coverage at TheGameFanatics, and as FM radio host and interviewer at IndieAir.