Cybersecurity has never been more difficult. Threats are growing more frequent, sophisticated and costly. Data, devices and other assets keep moving beyond the reach of network perimeter defenses. Increasing government and industry regulations keep adding layers of complexity.

If only there was an instruction manual that explained how to deal with it all.

Turns out, there is. Several of them, in fact.

IT security frameworks are like instruction manuals designed to help organizations overcome complexity and reduce the risk of data breaches. Based upon industry standards, guidelines and best practices, these frameworks outline the processes for implementing, managing and maintaining a robust IT security environment.

According to a Dimension Research survey, 84 percent of organizations in the U.S. use a security framework, and 44 percent use more than one. Benefits cited by respondents include improved compliance (47 percent), measurable security improvements (43 percent) and increased automation of security controls (35 percent).

Top Frameworks

There are dozens of frameworks that companies can use to guide their security processes. Here’s a brief description of four of the most widely used frameworks:

  • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. The PCI DSS standard is perhaps the most well-known and widely used framework. Launched in 2004, PCI DSS mandates strong security for businesses that store, transmit or process credit card information.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework. The NIST framework was developed in 2014 to outline best-practice security for federal agencies and private-sector organizations vital to national and economic security, including energy, banking, communications and defense. It has since been widely adopted by small and large businesses across all industries.
  • The Center for Internet Security Critical Security Controls. The CIS controls were developed in 2008 to address data losses experienced by U.S. defense organizations. This framework consists of a number of defensive actions designed to create a layered security environment. These guidelines were developed through an extensive community of government and industry cybersecurity practitioners.
  • The International Organization for Standardization 27001 standard. ISO 27001 is an international framework for creating an overarching management system for all security controls. It provides guidance on the implementation of individual security measures to ensure they are properly integrated with other critical controls. ISO 27001 certification signifies that an organization follows cybersecurity best practices.

Although these frameworks were developed for different audiences — government, business and international organizations — they have some shared aims and common guidance that make them appropriate for a broad range of organizations. At a basic level, they are all meant to create a structured approach to identifying vulnerabilities, detecting threats, assessing risk, controlling access and recovering from any attack.

Securing Today’s Environment

Most important, frameworks ensure a coherent and repeatable approach to security to ensure that nothing is falling through the cracks. That is particularly important now as organizations must extend their security controls to increased numbers of remote employees.

For example, access control, identity management and authentication are essential elements of all these frameworks. These are particularly critical practices with remote workers accessing the corporate network with their personal devices.

Employee education and awareness are also standard framework components that are vital for remote employees. Without their usual safety net of company-managed security measures, employees may be susceptible to rising numbers of phishing campaigns and malware attacks.

Data security provisions in these frameworks outline the use of encryption and other measures to protect data, another fundamental requirement for remote workforces. Frameworks also outline how data backups should be conducted, maintained and tested.

As technologies and workforces evolve, so do malicious threats. Creating a security environment that keeps pace with these rapid changes can be a difficult proposition. Cybersecurity frameworks provide a valuable instruction manual for reducing risk.