What is a cybersecurity framework and should you have one?

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The very phrase sounds official: “cybersecurity framework.” That’s true for good reason. The US government’s protocols for NIST cybersecurity regulatory requirements are outlined in what it has labeled “The Framework.”

But even if your business doesn’t have to be NIST compliant, you should still have a cybersecurity framework. Here’s why.

So you got these cybersecurity threats, see?

First and foremost, cybersecurity threats are still very much a thing.

Headline-making breaches, like the cybersecurity breaches of 2017 (anyone remember WannaCry?) are down, but that’s only because other forms of cyberattack are on the rise. Cryptojacking, spear phishing and other deviously clever cybercrimes are expected to continue well into 2019 and beyond. Just because you haven’t seen a major headline lately about a data breach doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.

Not only that, but according to Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report, a whopping 58% of data breaches are carried out against small businesses. So don’t go thinking you’re safe just because you’re operation isn’t huge. You’re actually at greater risk.

You need a solid cybersecurity plan.

If you wanna get ahead, you gotta have a plan

That’s where a cybersecurity framework comes into play.

A cybersecurity framework is a structured, organized approach to cybersecurity that takes into account the five major areas needing attention to provide complete protection: identify, protect, detect, respond and recover.

You’ll notice immediately that these five areas include both proactive and reactive modes of protection. That’s because even a rock-solid plan isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be breached. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

You need a plan for preventing a data breach and a plan for recovering if (or when) you experience one.

The nuts and bolts of a cybersecurity framework

Ideally, you’re working with a cybersecurity expert who knows what a cybersecurity framework is and can address each of the following areas. (If your cybersecurity partner has no idea what a framework is, that’s a huge red flag.)

If, like a lot of small business owners, you’re trying to do cybersecurity on your own, we have two things to say. First, we don’t recommend that approach. There’s just too much at stake and cybersecurity is that complex. However, if you’re sticking with DIY, you should do it as well as you possibly can.

Either way—with a pro on your side or on your own—this is information you need to know. That said, let’s look at each part of a cybersecurity framework.


Often, when people talk about identifying something related to cybersecurity, they’re talking about identifying threats. In this case, however, we’re talking about identifying risks.

You need to know what cybersecurity risks your business faces, including compliance requirements, and (just as important) what will happen if cybersecurity is compromised. This is a necessary first step—and often a sobering one.

When you understand the scope of what’s at stake, it makes it easier to ensure you’re covering all your bases.


“Protect” means more or less what it sounds like. Having identified risks, what can you do to proactively limit those risks? That’s your layer of protection.

This will absolutely include basic tools like antivirus and firewalls, but you almost certainly know you should have those in place. However, there are other proactive precautions you may not be addressing now.

Things like access control (who has access to sensitive data), cybersecurity training (employees are your weakest security point), maintenance (everything from software updates to routine hardware support), and more.


The average company takes 191 days to detect a cybersecurity breach. That’s more than six months. In that time, cybercriminals have free rein to help themselves to as much of your data as they want.

That’s a terrifying prospect. And that’s why prompt detection is so important.

Don’t make the arrogant mistake of assuming you won’t experience a breach. Instead, assume there’s always a chance your network has been compromised and have measures in place to detect data breaches as quickly as possible. The faster you detect a breach, the faster you can stop it.


Knowing you’ve been breached doesn’t fix anything. You still have to take steps to stop the breach and restore security. In professional cybersecurity circles, this step is often referred to as “incident response.”

This part of your plan should include pragmatic measures to safeguard data, as well as your communication with both employees and customers.

In the wake of a data breach, your reputation can be all but destroyed, or you can come out the other side showing yourself to be transparent, responsible and responsive. The difference depends entirely on your planned response.


The final piece of the puzzle is full recovery. This includes the recovery of compromised data and functionality, as well getting your business operations back to normal.

Make no mistake—data breaches are disruptive. But if you have a well-thought-out plan for recovery, you can bounce back more quickly than you might think. Plus, a graceful recovery will help to mitigate any damage to your reputation and restore employee morale.

This is your chance to make the best of a bad situation.

We love it when a plan comes together

As is the case with so many things in business, your cybersecurity protection is only as good as proactive planning. If you take the time to put together a comprehensive cybersecurity framework well ahead of time, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.

Hopefully, you’ll never experience a breach. Trust us, as digital forensic experts, we know all about how devastating they can be. But if you do, we hope you have a plan to fall back on. If you don’t, consider reaching out to a cybersecurity expert to make sure you don’t miss something crucial.

It makes a big difference.

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