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Understanding NIST CSF: 10 Things You May Not Know

Published by Pamela Curtis

This blog post was originally published in August 2020 and therefore is focused on v1 of NIST CSF.  It serves as a strong primer on the framework. 

CSF V2 was recently released on February 26th, 2024 in its first major update in 10 years. 

On March 14th  2024, at 12:00 PM EST, Axio will dive into these changes and how they can help you Supercharge Your Cyber Program with NIST CSF V2.0.

In the webinar, we will cover: 

  • Leveraging the CSF to empower communications with executives and board members
  • How the CSF can make us better investors when selecting program improvement options
  • Lessons learned on making framework implementation practical and pragmatic 
  • Building better performance metrics using frameworks
  • Real-world implementation “gotchas” 

Join the Cyber Risk Institute’s Senior Vice President John Goodman, along with Axio’s President, David White; VP of Cyber Risk Engineering, John Fry; and Director of Cyber Risk Engineering, Brian Benestelli for the event. 



Cybersecurity – Understanding NIST CSF

The NIST is a set of best practices from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It’s a Cybersecurity Framework (-CSF-) designed to measure and improve standards, science and technology.

Understanding NIST CSF helps manage cyber -risk in real-time, providing an option to take immediate action. Axio Global believes every company should see how these productions can produce management success.

Simple to Use

The NIST framework core utilizes a clear five key structure.

  • Identify
  • Protect
  • Detect
  • Respond
  • Recover

It’s not technically deep, using outcome-based and simple language.


While the NIST CSF was initially engineered for healthcare, manufacturing and utility industries, organizations and industries around the globe recognized the program’s practical functionality meshed with simplicity. This led to an expansive adoption of the framework across the board.

Military-Grade NIST CSF 

The NIST CSF is often compared to a Swiss army knife— a multi-function tool that minimizes cyber risk. This is a military-grade solution.

When we hear the term military-grade, we immediately think rugged. Yes, the NIST CSF design is a certified standard of durability and production readiness. Military-grade uses testing that meets a high standard.

You can expect that with our solutions—a high standard in all our products and services that meets military-grade specifications on every level.

Working with Axio Global, you’ll see why understanding NIST CSF is important to meet all your business goals. Our integrated cybersecurity processes measure exposure. The solutions significantly improve planning and management.

Personalized guidance means a military- grade model that’s built or revamped around your company’s exacting needs.

A person doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert with regards to something to completely understand its importance. Few of us may specifically understand how revenue is generated in a specific business model, but we all understand its importance as it relates to an organization. The same can be said with regards to cybersecurity.

Even fewer of us in the world at large likely understand deeply how cybersecurity is handled, how data breaches occur and how to assess the risks involved with hacks and breaches and how to protect ourselves. There are probably many things you may not know about NIST CSF, for instance, but in that sense you’re hardly alone. However, you can rest assured that it’s a critical component of any data protection protocol.

The folks who work with Axio tend to understand these things, and all of our clients are moving forward with their data reassured that we’re handling this level of protection. Implementing, explaining and of course understanding NIST CSF protocols are a big part of what we do, and we’ll never stop adding, learning and developing new ways to make sure that your organization’s lifeblood – your data – is as secure as technically possible.

We’ve always been open to having discussions with people from all walks of life in this regard, whether it involves talking about things you may not know about NIST CSF, helping non-technical people obtain a basic understanding of NIST CSF or anything else related to security. Below we’d like to continue to invite you to add to what we’ve compiled with regards to understanding NIST CSF, as even though it remains a foundation for so many organizations, it’s continuing to grow and change like just about everything else that’s related to technology these days.

NIST CSF: A Prominent Cyber Risk Framework

Since its inception in 2014, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework has rapidly gained adoption and recognition. Gartner estimates that these days, 50% of organizations may be using NIST CSF to better understand their cyber risk. As the collaborative brainchild of leaders in academia, the private sector, and government, NIST CSF has enjoyed world-wide publicity and importance while maintaining an image of fairness and objectivity.

NIST CSF is backed by a 100+ year old federal sciences laboratory without a regulatory agenda, and the framework is designed  to accommodate any industry. Because US CEOs have ranked cybersecurity as their biggest threat to business NIST CSF has become the public-facing whisperer for the elephant in the room: cybersecurity risk.

The members of the Axio team have been closely involved in the development of the NIST CSF from day one,  and have decided to compile a list of the top 10 things that you may not know about it. We hope you enjoy reading it and learn something new! If there’s something you feel should be added to our list, please feel to reach out to us and we’ll make sure to add it, and credit your contribution!

1. NIST CSF can be used as the basis for cybersecurity program evaluation.

An organization’s cybersecurity program is the first line of defense against cyber risk. In using a reference framework for cybersecurity program evaluation, organizations have access to commonly used descriptions of program activities, a means for evaluating achievement consistently over time, a roadmap for program investment and improvement, and the potential for peer and internal benchmarking. NIST CSF provides these capabilities, covering both traditional IT security and the security of operational technology (OT, or industrial control systems), and is widely adopted.

Private Sector NIST CSF | Axio

2. NIST CSF is not prescriptive; it focuses on outcomes rather than actions.

Unlike some control sets, NIST CSF provides outcomes rather than details on how to achieve outcomes. One example of this is Subcategory DE.CM-8, which states “Vulnerability scans are performed.” While the outcome of vulnerability scans is identified here, the framework does not indicate what systems should be scanned, how often, or what methods should be used.

3. NIST CSF can easily be supplemented with additional control sets, such as the CIS Controls, other NIST Special Publications, and ISO standards.

NIST CSF is not designed to stand on its own and integrates well with other, more prescriptive industry standard control sets, such as NIST SP 800-53, ISO 27001, the Center for Internet Securities CIS Controls, and COBIT. Continuing with the vulnerability scan example, NIST SP 800-53 provides a much deeper control description for vulnerability scanning, including supplemental guidance and control enhancements.

4. NIST CSF links to a number of valuable resources that provide guidance on the Subcategories.

NIST CSF makes it easy to refer to supplemental resources by providing great cross-references to a number of control sets that can guide the actions needed to meet the intent of a Subcategory. In Axio360, these control sets (which are called the Informative References) are shown in the help documentation, and links are provided to the referenced NIST SP 800-53 controls so you don’t need to search for these yourself.

5. NIST CSF can be used as the Rosetta Stone for various standards.

In addition to the supplemental guidance they provide for Subcategories, the Informative References allow you to speak the same language as other entities and organizations that may be using one of the other control sets. They can also help in mapping CSF-based cybersecurity program improvement initiatives to those based on other standards.

6. The framework is required for certain entities through an executive order.

Executive Order 13800, Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure, requires US federal agencies to apply the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to federal information systems and provide a risk management report to the Department of Homeland Security and the Officer of Management and Budget.

7. CSF is not just used by government entities but also by many in the private sector.

Although use of NIST CSF is required by US federal agencies, many entities in the private sector have adopted it as well. As can be seen in its title, the framework is particularly intended for the critical infrastructure community, but it is applicable to organizations of all types and sizes.

Cybersecurity Program Evaluation | Axio

8. The NIST CSF program is under active development to ensure that the framework is sustained with current best practices.

NIST views CSF as a living document and routinely reviews and updates it. At a high level, the update process includes community outreach, soliciting direct feedback, and monitoring various resources. NIST CSF was initially released in February of 2014 and was updated in April 2018 with refinements and enhancements, including management of supply chain cybersecurity.

9. The structured elements of CSF allow for reporting and decision making at different levels within the organization, including the Board.

The five Functions in NIST CSF—Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover—are written in plain language that helps security professionals to communicate the state of cybersecurity in terms leadership can easily understand. Profiles allow an organization to focus on the Subcategories that are most relevant and impactful to its resilience, assisting in discussions and reporting toward getting the most from cybersecurity spend.

10. NIST CSF is available in the Axio360 platform.

The Axio360 platform is a cyber risk management information system. It includes modules for continuous cybersecurity program assessments and improvement planning, cyber risk quantification and evaluation of cybersecurity control changes, and insurance analysis to determine how your insurance portfolio would respond to a complex cyber event. The assessment and planning module supports NIST CSF, the Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model (C2M2 v1.1 and v2 draft), Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), Center for Internet Security Controls (CIS Controls, also known as CIS20), and more to come. For CSF and the other assessment types, Axio360 enables continuous current-state assessments, target-state profiles, and improvement roadmap development, tracking, and reporting.

Complete your NIST CSF assessment for free.

Moving beyond assessments.

Completing a NIST CSF assessment in Axio360 is only the beginning of your path to improving your cybersecurity posture. Our platform enables you to leverage real-time data to quantify the risks that matter most to your organizations, determine their actual financial outcomes and plan for the investment and improvement by implementing controls and optimizing your cyber insurance portfolio.

Book your customized demo now.