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ISO 27001 vs NIST Standards: All You Need To Know

ISO 27001 vs NIST

Data security is of utmost importance to companies in today’s digital world. Most businesses often follow international data security standards like ISO 27001 and/or NIST to better protect their sensitive information. 

Although both ISO 27001 and NIST are internationally recognized cybersecurity standards, ISO 27001 helps establish, improve, and maintain Information Security Management Systems (ISMS) whereas, NIST is a flexible, high-level cybersecurity framework that helps you manage and improve cybersecurity measures. 

This article compares ISO 27001 vs NIST through their similarities and differences. Understanding both standards can help organizations make better data security decisions. 

Action Points

  1. ISO 27001 is a global information security standard, that necessitates rigorous ISO 27001 audits. 
  2. NIST is a Federal agency that provides voluntary cybersecurity compliance for non-federal companies and mandatory requirements for federal agencies.
  3. NIST compliance is free of cost and ideal for small businesses & start-ups. ISO 27001 standard compliance is best for larger companies.

What is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 or International Organization for Standardization is a global standard that sets criteria for the establishment, implementation, maintenance, and continuous improvement of Information Security Management Systems also known as ISMS. 

The standard aims to provide a systematic approach to managing sensitive data and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information within a company. It is built on three core principles of confidentiality, integrity, and availability, as detailed below.

3 Principles of ISO 27001

  1. Confidentiality: This ISO 27001 principle is concerned with maintaining secrecy and privacy of information whether it is company data or customer information. This means restricting access and using encryption. 
  2. Integrity: ISO mandates that data accuracy should also be maintained. The data should not be tampered with intentionally or unintentionally and be the same unless changes are authorized. This means storing backups in a single place. 
  3. Availability:  This principle refers to the accessibility of data when it is required by organizations. It is essential to ensure the quick accessibility to systems and data.

What is NIST? 

NIST or National Institute of Standards and Technology is a U.S. government agency under the Department of Commerce that develops and promotes measurement, technology, and cybersecurity standards. It develops its own guidelines and best practices.

This is published as special publications, frameworks, and book sections. The most notable NIST publications include NIST Cybersecurity Framework and NIST SP 800 – 53.

Five NIST Functions Explained

  1. Identification: This refers to listing out all the assets that need to be managed, along with any contractual obligations. This helps in recognizing and placing access to assets and data to relevant personnel.  
  2. Protection: Here NIST outlines measures for asset protection which works by preventing security breaches or by limiting their consequences. Access control, internal security measures, and encryption protocols are some protection measures. 
  3. Detection: Detecting unusual activities, and vulnerabilities is vital to maintaining cybersecurity. NIST recommends this through logging and monitoring & vulnerability scanning activities. 
  4. Response: All organizations need a foolproof incident response plan. This helps the organization contain the event, and reduce the consequences, costs, and downtime. 
  5. Recovery: Recovery plans aid in the restoration of affected assets and services while implementing improvements in security. 

NIST CSF vs. ISO 27001 – Similarities Explained

ISO 27001 and NIST similarities:

  1. Both NIST CSF vs ISO 27001 are concerned with keeping information safe and secure from cyber threats.
  2. Both standards stress the importance of assessing and managing risks to protect data and systems.
  3. NIST is commonly used in the U.S., but both standards can be applied worldwide, making them flexible choices for organizations anywhere.
  4. Both NIST cybersecurity framework and ISO 27001 require documentation, though ISO 27001 is more detailed, and NIST allows for flexibility in documentation.
  5. They provide structured frameworks to help organizations continually improve their cybersecurity efforts.

ISO 27001 vs NIST: Differences Explained

In terms of concerns, NIST CSF is a high-level framework for managing and improving cybersecurity, while ISO 27001 provides a systematic approach to maintaining information security management systems.

TargetU.S. federal agencies and companies. Companies of various sectors & sizes.
AuditsNIST is a voluntary standard with guidelines.ISO is a certification standard.
FunctionA comprehensive set of guidelines.Compliance is concerned with ISMS.
MandateMandatory for U.S. federal agencies and organizations working with them.Non-mandatory & done to meet customer requirements.
ConcernsA high-level cybersecurity framework to manage and improve cybersecurity measures.Provides a systematic approach to maintaining data security management systems.
PublicationsMultiple separate publicationsSingle publication
ExpenseFree of cost and can be implemented at the company’s pace.Priced along with additional charges for external audits.

How To Choose Between ISO 27001 vs NIST For Your Organization? 

1. Consider Maturity

If your organization has been established for a longer period of time it is advisable to showcase your data security standards with ISO 27001 compliance. This will help you meet customers’ compliance requirements. 

However, if you run a start-up or a small business and are looking to develop or enhance cybersecurity for your organization economically, NIST CSF. NIST CSF is recommended as it can aid with self-assessments which can provide additional insights on security controls required for your organization.  

2. Geographical Presence

If your organization has a global presence ISO 27001 international data security recognition is more beneficial in terms of increasing customers and revenue. 

If your organization is U.S. based and deals with U.S. government agencies, implementing and following NIST CSF security controls, such as NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171 are more relevant for it. 

3. Prescriptiveness

ISO 27001 offers your organization a more flexible approach to implementing its framework while providing a robust security control structure without the specificity of NIST. 

NIST offers a more granular, detail-oriented approach through its special publications which are highly prescriptive. 

4. Compliance Requirements

Assess whether compliance with a specific standard is mandatory for your organization. NIST standards are usually obligatory for U.S. federal agencies and organizations dealing with controlled unclassified information. 

ISO 27001 compliance is on a need base and your company can obtain it to enhance data security and meet customer expectations.

5. Documentation Preferences

Consider your company’s documentation preferences thoroughly. ISO 27001 has extensive documentation requirements which can be resource intensive. 

NIST is more flexible allowing you to adapt documentation based on your requirements while providing a documentation strategy to follow. 

6. Cost Comparison Between ISO 27001 vs NIST CSF

The cost of meeting ISO 27001 compliance requirements and attaining the certification ranges around $50,000 – $200,000 based on the company size, and current security controls. This can be hard to bear if your organization is a start-up or a small company. ISO certifications have a validity period of 3 years. 

NIST on the other hand is free of cost. Implementing NIST CSF and its security controls can be done at a self-designed pace. Because of this, it is ideal for start-ups. 

How Can Astra Security Help With ISO 27001 & NIST Compliance?

Astra Security is a world-class VAPT solution in cybersecurity. It provides valuable services for ISO 27001 and NIST standards as explained under.

See Astra’s continuous Pentest platform in action.

Features Of Astra Security Testing Services

1. NIST Penetration Testing 

Astra Security provides both manual and automated penetration testing for assets following NIST methodologies. In NIST penetration testing these vulnerabilities are exploited manually by Astra’s experienced pentesters or through automated pentesting. Brute forcing, fuzzing, and injections are some of the tests carried out on the vulnerability to try further access. 

2. NIST Vulnerability Assessment

Astra Vulnerability Assessment scanner is constantly updated to detect the latest vulnerabilities for NIST vulnerability scanning and can currently run 8000+ tests for the same. Uses NIST and OWASP methodologies to provide detailed scans for detecting major vulnerabilities, and new and relatively unknown vulnerabilities as well. 

3. Compliance Scans

Astra offers the option to scan for specific compliances required by an organization. Compliance-specific scans provided by Astra include ISO 27001, NIST,  PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOC2, and GDPR. 

It has a compliance-specific dashboard where the specific compliance can be opted for a scan. Once the scan is complete the results in the dashboard reveal the areas of non-compliance.

4. Detailed Pentest Reports

Astra’s pentest reports can be downloaded in multiple formats including PDFs, and XLS. It is a detailed document that provides an executive summary of vulnerability findings with their risk level and CVSS scores. 

The report is customized according to compliance requirements & to be easy to understand for all parties involved from CXOs, and CTOs to security teams.

5. CXO-friendly Dashboard

Astra Pentest boasts an easy-to-navigate CXO-friendly dashboard: 

  1. Displays the vulnerabilities in real-time. 
  2. Team members can collaborate with pentesters for quicker vulnerability resolution. 
  3. Comment option under each vulnerability for quick query clearance. 
  4. Progress tracking of the manual scans & ETA from the dashboard.
  5. Estimated deadlines and delivery status updates for scans. 

6. Remediation Support

Astra provides detailed steps for remediation based on risk prioritization. POC videos are provided and collaboration with security analysts is possible within the vulnerability dashboard. Support is also provided via Slack and MS- Teams. 

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ISO 27001 and NIST aim to enhance data security. However, they have distinct differences. ISO 27001 is a globally recognized standard for data security management focusing on security risks concerning it. 

NIST, on the other hand, offers a comprehensive framework covering various areas of cybersecurity. Organizations need to consider their specific requirements when choosing between ISO 27001 and NIST to ensure they implement the most suitable framework for their data security needs.


Is ISO 27001 better than NIST? 

ISO 27001 is more globally recognized whereas NIST is mainly targeted at U.S. federal agencies and companies. However, start-ups and smaller organizations can find the expense of ISO 27001 certification too much to bear and thus NIST is more economical for them. 

Why is NIST popular? 

NIST is popular owing to various areas it provides guidelines, frameworks, and other publications to enhance the fields of measurement, technology, and cybersecurity. In cybersecurity, NIST is well known for releasing the NIST Cyber Security Framework and other special publications for its security controls.

Is NIST a framework or standard?

NIST is an agency under the U.S. Department of Commerce that produces various standards and frameworks in the fields of cybersecurity, technology, and measurements. In cybersecurity, the NIST cybersecurity framework is a well-known framework that aims to improve security measures by providing security structures and controls.

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