NIST versus ISO: what you need to know

NIST versus ISO: what you need to know

Organizations are increasingly looking for ways to strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities. Many have found comfort in compliance frameworks that help guide and improve decision-making and implement relevant measures to protect their networks from security incidents.

NIST CSF and ISO 27001 are the two most popular and widely adopted cyber security frameworks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are the main standards bodies in cybersecurity.

IT teams that want to strengthen their security programs need to understand their differences. The good news is that IT and security teams can use both frameworks together for better data protection, risk assessments, and security initiatives..

Let’s explore them in more detail.

What is NIST?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers voluntary guidelines for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. NIST’s Cyber ​​Security Framework (CSF) can be customized to fit the diverse needs of companies of various sizes and industries.

NIST developed the CSF for Private Sector Organizations as a roadmap for recognizing and standardizing controls and procedures, most of which have been addressed and copied in other frameworks. It complements but does not replace different security standards.

If you want to improve your cybersecurity on a budget, the NIST CSF is a great place to start.

Using the NIST CSF

The Core Framework, Implementation Levels, and Profiles are the three critical components of the CSF that help you measure your organization’s risk maturity and select activities to improve it.

frame core

The LCR uses the frame core to address various concerns, which are critical components of most risk management systems. The Core comprises five main functions, which are grouped into 23 categories that cover the basics of developing a cybersecurity program.

Implementation levels

NIST CSF uses the implementation levels to reference point how well organizations are following the rules and recommendations of the CSF and assigns a final number to each of these five functions based on a ranking system from 0 to 4.


Based on the “tier,” the profile allows an organization to determine its current level of risk tolerance and prioritize security measures and risk mitigation methods. This section helps a business by comparing its current profile to desired profiles and selecting how to deploy budget and staff resources to continually improve cybersecurity procedures over time.

What is ISO27001?

ISO/IEC 27001 is an international standard that defines best practices for information security management system (ISMS) organizations to demonstrate their approach to privacy and data security. It is a detailed specification for safeguarding and maintaining your data while adhering to standards of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

The ISO framework provides a set of controls that can be tailored to your organization’s specific risks and run consistently to ensure externally certified and assessed compliance.

Combining other frameworks, such as NIST CSF and NIST RMF (Risk Management Framework), can also improve your compliance with the ISO 27001 framework.

Using the ISO 27001 standard

ISO 27001 can be essential to systematize cyber security measures to address specific scenarios or compliance requirements in complete information security management systems (ISMS). An external auditor can also obtain official ISO 27001 certification.

ISO 27001, like NIST CSF, does not advocate specific procedures or solutions. Still, its framework provides more information on security controls than NIST, and works in conjunction with the 2019 ISO/IEC TS 27008 updates on emerging cybersecurity risks. An operationally mature company, such as one that has already achieved ISO 9001 compliance or certification, may be ready to handle ISO 27001.

Exploring the differences and similarities between NIST and ISO 27001

NIST CSF and ISO 27001 provide robust frameworks for cybersecurity risk management. ISO 27001 standards and the NIST CSF framework are easy to integrate for a company that wants to comply with ISO 27001.

Their control measures are comparable and their definitions and codes are interchangeable. Both frameworks provide a basic vocabulary that enables cross-functional teams and external stakeholders to communicate consistently about cybersecurity challenges.

However, there are some essential distinctions between NIST CSF and ISO 27001, including risk maturity, certification, and cost.

Risk Maturity

ISO 27001 is an excellent option for operationally mature companies seeking certification. In contrast, NIST CSF is a good choice for organizations just beginning to establish a cybersecurity risk management plan, understand the security aspects of business continuity, or attempt to remediate past failures or data breaches.


ISO 27001 provides globally recognized certification through a third-party audit, which can be expensive but enhances your organization’s reputation as a trustworthy corporation. Such a certificate is not available through the NIST CSF.


Another reason a startup would start with NIST CSF and later scale with ISO 27001 is that NIST CSF is free to access, but ISO 27001 requires a fee to access documents.

Pros and cons of NIST and ISO 27001

Pros and Cons of NIST CSF

Advantages of NIST LCR Cons of NIST CSF
Impartial and superior cybersecurity Log files and audits have only 30 days of storage.
Long-term risk management and cybersecurity You cannot deal with multiple third parties for cloud computing
Ripple Effects on Supply Chains and Vendor Lists Complications with RBAC (Role Based Access System)
Brings business and technical stakeholders together
The flexibility of the frame
Built to meet future regulatory and compliance needs

Pros and cons of ISO 27001

Advantages of ISO 27001 Cons of ISO 27001
A security protocol suitable for large companies Expensive compared to NIST
It can build trust in the eyes of consumers as it is globally recognized. Some people may consider it a waste of resources during the installation and maintenance phases.

How much does it cost to implement NIST and ISO 27001?

NIST CSF is freely available. You can implement it as you like and on your own.

On the other hand, since ISO 27001 requires extensive certification audits, the cost is much higher. Organizations must also carry out surveillance audits during the first two years of their ISO certification and carry out a recertification audit in the third year.

As a result, most companies start with NIST and progress to ISO 27001 as the business grows.

Which one is right for your business?

What’s best for your business ultimately depends on your unique risk management maturity, goals, and requirements.

ISO 27001 is an excellent solution for operationally mature companies facing external demands for cybersecurity certification. However, you may not be ready to commit to an ISO 27001 certification path, or you may be at a point where a NIST-based approach, with its explicit assessment framework, might be more beneficial.

Before establishing and implementing more stringent cybersecurity measures and controls, you should conduct a NIST audit to understand where your business stands.

Your security strategy can combine the two frameworks as your business grows; for example, adopting the NIST CSF framework can help you prepare for ISO 27001 certification. Additionally, growing businesses can use NIST CSF to develop their risk assessment capabilities.


With the increased adoption of NIST CSF, more small and medium-sized businesses are expected to work toward compliance. So the decision is not really between ISO 27001 and NIST CSF. It is more a question of how your company will use the certificates.

ISO 27001 accreditation certifies that your business follows information security best practices and provides an unbiased and professional assessment of whether or not your personal and sensitive data is effectively protected.

CyberStrong can streamline and automate your company’s compliance with ISO 27001, NIST CSF, and other NIST gold standard frameworks. Contact Us to learn more about automated risk management and compliance capabilities that will move your business forward.

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