How SMBs Can Take Advantage of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework 2.0

May 1, 2024

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Small and Midsize Businesses (SMBs) often fall victim to cybersecurity attacks. These businesses typically don’t have the cybersecurity infrastructure of larger organizations, and in many cases, lack a cohesive framework they can follow to improve their defenses.  

In response, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently released a major update to its Cybersecurity Framework (CSF). By adopting this framework, SMBs can build a much stronger cybersecurity infrastructure that’s in line with industry-wide best practices. Doing so significantly strengthens an organization’s protection against cyber attacks, helping them keep confidential data secure, protect their employees, and build stronger relationships with their customers. 

The previous NIST CSF only applied to organizations engaged in critical infrastructure projects, but this new version now applies to all organizations. What’s more: there’s even a tailored small business quick-start guide

Any organization, from small nonprofits to global enterprises, can leverage the principles contained in the NIST CSF 2.0 to guide them through implementing, maintaining, and improving their operational and cyber-risk management practices.

In this article, we’ll explore the major changes introduced in CSF 2.0 and outline the impact they are poised to have on Small to Midsize Businesses (SMBs). 

What Is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF)?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a set of best practices businesses can adopt to protect their data and mitigate cyber risk. The framework was originally established to help organizations that fall within the category of “critical infrastructure.” This refers to sixteen industries that, if compromised, could significantly negatively impact national security. Examples include defense, public health, communications, energy, and emergency services. 

The original framework created a common language for cybersecurity, enabling organizations from unrelated industries to discuss and address cybersecurity risk factors. As a result, cybersecurity experts from different organizations can exchange ideas and benefit from collective knowledge. 

The framework also streamlined risk management by providing a common point of reference for assessing risk factors and organizational internal cybersecurity guidelines and practices. While the previous framework was a helpful tool, it didn’t really apply to SMBs – until this most recent update. 

What Changed in NIST CSF 2.0?

The February 2024 update (or CSF 2.0), was the first major update since the original creation of the CSF in 2014. One of the key changes is the expansion of the framework to apply to organizations of all shapes and sizes–including SMBs, startups, and nonprofits across all industries. The changes mean that many organizations can now adopt CSF 2.0 to better protect their data and that of their clients. 

Other differences between the previous version (CSF 1.1) and the newly-released CSF 2.0 include: 

  • Expanded scope: The updated framework now takes a more global perspective and incorporates references to other reputable frameworks so organizations can integrate CSF more seamlessly into their current practices.
  • Enhanced guidance: A new “Implementation Examples” category was added to improve practical guidance through illustrative scenarios.
  • Governance: A new “Govern” function was added to emphasize business leaders’ role in establishing and maintaining organizational, cyber, and supply chain risk management standards.
  • Continuous improvement: A new “improvement category” emphasizes the ongoing nature of cybersecurity efforts and the need for continuous evaluation through risk assessments.

With these changes, NIST CSF 2.0 can help more businesses protect themselves and their customers. 

How Does NIST CSF 2.0 Apply to Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs)?

As new technologies emerge and the digital landscape becomes more complex, so do the risks faced by businesses. Whether it’s a new online threat or an outdated practice, any risk to business or customer data is a risk to the business itself. 

By aligning with NIST CSF 2.0, small and medium-sized businesses can proactively defend themselves against these emerging threats, safeguarding both business and customer data. There are many benefits to that, including:

  • Improved ability to build trust and establish a reputation for safe and secure practices. 
  • Support remaining compliant with industry and regulatory standards
  • Demonstrates to stakeholders that the business takes cybersecurity seriously 

CSF 2.0 includes a bridge to ISO 27001, a global standard for information security. Businesses may even choose to take this a step further and become ISO 27001 certified to further demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding sensitive data.

For businesses that have never done it before, CSF 2.0 also makes it easier to implement new cybersecurity efforts through its structured guidance. This guidance provides four key benefits for implementing the new framework. 

First, its flexible and scalable approach allows SMBs to prioritize cybersecurity efforts and tailor their efforts to their business needs. This brings cybersecurity within reach for many organizations that did not prioritize it earlier. 

Second, the newly added implementation examples help SMBs effectively understand and apply cybersecurity best practices, even with limited resources.

Third, CSF 2.0 prioritizes supply chain risk management and integrates with business strategy. This helps business owners align their cybersecurity efforts with business objectives.

Finally, the new focus on continuous improvement allows SMBs to take a more interactive approach to cybersecurity, testing to find the best solutions.

How to Build a Resilient Security Program with NIST CSF

NIST CSF 2.0 can also help small and medium-sized businesses build a more resilient security program by aligning their security practices with the framework. The framework provides SMBs with a structured classification of cybersecurity program goals. For smaller businesses that lack the resources to invest heavily in cybersecurity, this helps prioritize efforts.

NIST CSF 2.0 also takes a flexible, iterative approach, enabling SMBs to tailor their program to their immediate needs. As their business and their understanding of cybersecurity evolves they can improve their efforts over time. 

Finally, the framework’s new implementation examples provide much-needed practical guidance. This helps business owners understand what a successful security program implementation looks like and apply it more effectively. 

If your business isn’t sure where to start, contact our cyber risk management experts today to get the support you need building a more robust cybersecurity program. 

Strategic Integration of Security into Business Processes 

CSF 2.0’s structured approach helps SMBs seamlessly embed security into their business processes. This improves their resilience against cyber threats and helps build trust with customers and other stakeholders.

Due to its holistic approach, adopting this framework allows SMBs to integrate cybersecurity into every facet of the business. 

For example, from a customer service perspective, rigorous security practices help protect customer data. This ensures they stay compliant with regulations, such as HIPAA for healthcare-focused organizations, and industry standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).

Similarly, integrating cybersecurity practices into product development can help organizations protect valuable intellectual property and even design better products through secure coding practices and vulnerability assessments.

To help SMBs gain a more comprehensive view of cybersecurity risk, CSF 2.0 organizes its core functions around six key areas:

  • Identify: Understanding assets, risks, and vulnerabilities.
  • Protect: Implementing safeguards and security measures.
  • Detect: Monitoring for threats and anomalies.
  • Respond: Developing incident response plans for cyber resiliency.
  • Recover: Restoring operations after incidents and remediating root causes.
  • Govern: New in CSF 2.0, this function emphasizes cybersecurity governance and aligning security with business strategy.

This structure makes it easier for organizations to identify their biggest weaknesses and develop a more comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to address them.

Navigating Implementation Challenges

While implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework 2.0 can have significant benefits for a business’s overall cybersecurity infrastructure, SMBs can expect to face challenges as they adopt these new standards. 

For example, many smaller businesses face resource constraints that could make implementing cybersecurity more difficult. Business owners may overcome this challenge by prioritizing the most critical areas of need and leveraging their existing security tools in their new strategy. 

Some organizations may also struggle to gain buy-in from leaders, investors, and other key stakeholders. This can be mitigated through education about cyber risks and cybersecurity benefits, along with clear communication about the implementation process. 

Finally, while CSF 2.0 is designed to be flexible and integrate into existing security processes, this transition is not always easy. To avoid this as much as possible, gradually make the transition and provide all involved teams with the education and support they need.

CSF 2.0 provides many resources to help SMBs maximize their resources, overcome technical hurdles, and communicate their efforts clearly. But sometimes, tangible expertise is even more valuable. In that case, a consultation with a cyber risk framework alignment expert can make this process even easier. 

Embracing Cybersecurity with Smith + Howard

Effective cybersecurity is an ongoing, ever-evolving process. As business needs shift and technology evolves, new threats emerge. By proactively cultivating your cybersecurity strategy, you can prepare your business for these threats before they occur. This will help to future-proof your business and foster trust with your customers.

NIST CSF 2.0 is a strategic framework that makes cybersecurity accessible to businesses. By aligning your business with these new standards, you can establish more secure operations and prepare your business for growth in an increasingly digital economy. 

At Smith + Howard, our expertise in cyber risk management and compliance has helped countless small and medium-sized businesses build the foundation for effective cybersecurity strategies. Contact an advisor today to learn more about how we can help your organization assess and counter its cyber risk.

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If you have any questions and would like to connect with a team member please call 404-874-6244 or contact an advisor below.