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How do ISO 27001 and NIST CSF complement each other?

Andrew Robinson Aug 07, 2021

The NIST frameworks were designed as flexible, voluntary frameworks. The fact that they are flexible makes it relatively easy to implement them in conjunction with ISO 27001, particularly as they have a number of common principles, including requiring senior management support, a continual improvement process, and a risk-based approach. In fact, the risk assessment process specified by ISO 27001 takes a very similar approach to the NIST Risk Management Framework: identify risks to the organization’s information, implement controls appropriate to the risk, and finally, monitor their performance.

However, because the NIST Cyber Security Framework and Risk Management Framework were designed to be voluntary, it is difficult to prove compliance. There is no formal NIST certification (yet). This is particularly unfortunate for organisations that must comply (as mandated by former US President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13800).

ISO 27001, meanwhile, has an international presence that many organisations recognise and trust. Moreover, organisations can achieve external, accredited certification to the standard – an excellent way of demonstrating at least partial compliance with NIST’s frameworks.

The key differences between ISO 27001 and NIST

NIST ISO 27001
NIST was primarily created to help US federal agencies and organizations better manage their risk
ISO 27001 is an internationally recognized approach for establishing and maintaining an ISMS
NIST frameworks have various control catalogs
ISO 27001 Annex A provides 14 control categories with 114 controls
The NIST CSF contains three key components: the core, implementation tiers, and profiles with each function having categories, which are the activities necessary to fulfil each function.
ISO 27001 is less technical, with more emphasis on risk-based management that provides best practice recommendations to securing all information
NIST has a voluntary, self-certification mechanism
ISO 27001 relies on independent audit and certification bodies
The NIST framework uses five functions to customize cybersecurity controls
ISO 27001 has 10 clauses to guide organizations through their ISMS