NIST vs CIS Explained: Comparison, Benefits and Applications

Updated on: January 16, 2024

NIST vs CIS Explained: Comparison, Benefits and Applications

No matter how big or small your business is, you need cybersecurity. Forbes reported an increase in weekly cyberattacks worldwide by 7% in 2023 with an average of 1248 attacks per week.

You can increase the cybersecurity of your network, devices, and data in many ways. One of the significant ways is to incorporate standard frameworks and controls.

NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and CIS (Center for Internet Security) are two prominent cybersecurity standards organizations. But what is the difference between NIST vs CIS?

NIST standards help you to enhance your cybersecurity and information security. The NIST framework is a set of guidelines used to manage your risk management processes.

CIS provides best practices to help organizations defend against cyber threats. CIS offers CIS controls, a prioritized set of actions to protect against common cyberattacks. 

NIST gives a big-picture strategy while CIS provides step-by-step actions, for quick and effective security.

Keep reading to know more about the features, applications, benefits, and a comprehensive comparison of NIST vs CIS.

Action Points

  1. NIST Framework provides a comprehensive approach to managing and reducing cybersecurity risks through five functions.
  2. CIS offers actionable, prioritized security measures with quick implementation, making them effective for organizations looking for immediate security improvements.
  3. NIST vs CIS can be differentiated based on approach, focus, structure, and more.

NIST Framework

NIST cybersecurity framework helps you to understand, manage, and reduce risk and enhance your overall cybersecurity posture.

The framework categorizes your cybersecurity tasks into five key functions: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. This functional orientation helps organizations make informed decisions on reducing cyberattacks.

For example, a large healthcare organization used the NIST framework to strengthen its cybersecurity due to the sensitive nature of the data it handles. They successfully mitigated numerous cyber threats and continue to use the five functions to address emerging threats.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

Image: 5 key functions of the NIST cybersecurity framework

  1. Identify: This helps you understand what needs protection, like sensitive data or critical systems. It’s like creating a map of your digital assets.
  2. Protect: Here, you learn how to safeguard your assets. It’s about building strong fences – using access control and encryption to keep unauthorized people out.
  3. Detect: Think of this as setting up alarms. Detect helps you spot any unusual activities in your systems, indicating possible cyber threats.
  4. Respond: When something goes wrong, this function guides you on how to react. It’s like having a plan for emergencies, ensuring you respond swiftly and effectively.
  5. Recover: After an incident, this step helps you bounce back. It’s about fixing what got damaged, learning from the experience, and preparing better for the future.

Features of NIST

  • Risk-based approach: NIST provides a risk-based approach to cybersecurity, allowing organizations to identify and prioritize risks based on their business context.
  • Comprehensive guidelines: It offers comprehensive guidelines and best practices for cybersecurity, covering areas such as risk management, governance, and incident response.
  • Flexibility: The framework is flexible and adaptable, making it applicable to various sectors and organization sizes.

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Applications of NIST

  • Government and public sector: NIST is widely used in government agencies and public sector organizations, both in the United States and internationally.
  • Critical infrastructure: Organizations managing critical infrastructure, such as energy and healthcare, utilize NIST guidelines to enhance their cybersecurity posture.
  • Private enterprises: Private enterprises across industries implement the NIST framework to strengthen their cybersecurity defenses.

Benefits of NIST

  • Improve security posture: Following NIST guidelines helps organizations establish a robust cybersecurity posture, safeguarding against a wide range of threats.
  • Standardized practices: NIST provides standardized practices, ensuring consistency and alignment with global cybersecurity standards.
  • Regulatory compliance: NIST compliance is often required by regulatory bodies, making it essential for organizations aiming to meet legal cybersecurity obligations.

CIS Controls

The CIS Controls include foundational security measures that you can use to achieve essential hygiene and protect yourself against a cyber attack. Organizations of all sizes and types, from small businesses to large enterprises worldwide, have found CIS controls effective.

CIS Controls are categorized into three Implementation Groups (IGs):

  • IG1: Small to medium-sized businesses with limited IT and cybersecurity expertise.   
  • IG2: Medium-sized organizations with more complex IT infrastructures.
  • IG3: Large organizations with complex IT infrastructures and security programs.

Features of CIS

  • Prioritized approach: Prioritized based on their effectiveness, enabling organizations to focus on high-impact security measures first.
  • Continuous monitoring: Emphasize continuous monitoring and assessment to adapt to evolving cyber threats.
  • Collaborative community: A collaborative community of cybersecurity experts, ensuring the controls stay updated with the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

Applications of CIS

  • Small to medium businesses: They’re valuable for small to medium-sized companies, offering a practical and manageable approach to cybersecurity.
  • Enterprise security: Large enterprises augment their existing security protocols and strengthen their overall security posture.
  • Cybersecurity awareness programs: Educational institutions and cybersecurity awareness programs educate students and professionals about foundational security measures.

Benefits of CIS

  • Quick implementation: You’re offered immediate, actionable steps to enhance your security quickly.
  • Adaptability: Controls are adaptable to different environments and can be customized to suit your various needs.
  • Community input: Continuous input from the cybersecurity community remains relevant and effective against emerging threats.

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Comparison: NIST vs CIS

ApproachRisk-based approachActionable, prioritized controls
FocusComprehensive cybersecurity frameworkSpecific, practical security controls
Structure5 functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover20 prioritized controls
FlexibilityAdaptable, suitable for various sectorsEmphasizes quick implementation
Implementation speedMay require more time for full adoptionQuick implementation of actionable controls
Industry usageGovernment and public sectorsSmall, medium and large enterprises
UpdatesPeriodic updates and revisionsCommunity-driven regular updates

What is the main difference between NIST vs CIS?

The main difference between CIS (Center for Internet Security) and NIST Cybersecurity Framework is that CIS provides cybersecurity best practices and benchmarks, while NIST develops comprehensive standards and guidelines for various areas, including cybersecurity.


Choosing CIS vs NIST depends on your organization’s specific needs. Go for NIST for detailed cybersecurity plans and CIS Controls for quick, practical steps.

For instance, if you are a large enterprise handling customer data, choose NIST to create a detailed security plan. If you are a small online store facing phishing attacks, use CIS for quick email security.

Are you not sure what cybersecurity standards to adopt for your business?

Astra’s security experts review your security posture and conduct NIST vulnerability scanning from the inside to ensure you’re following best practices and from the outside to ensure you’re protected from hackers.

Astra Cloud Pentest benchmarks your cloud security against industry standards like CIS and NIST to ensure world-class security.


Does NIST have a certification?

No, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does not provide certification. Instead, NIST develops guidelines and standards for various industries to enhance cybersecurity and promote best practices, but it does not issue certifications itself.

Why use CIS controls?

CIS controls provide a structured framework for cybersecurity, helping organizations effectively manage and enhance their security posture. They offer practical guidelines and best practices to prevent, detect, and respond to threats, ultimately safeguarding sensitive data and minimizing risks.

Jinson Varghese

Jinson Varghese Behanan is an Information Security Analyst at Astra. Passionate about Cybersecurity from a young age, Jinson completed his Bachelor's degree in Computer Security from Northumbria University. When he isn’t glued to a computer screen, he spends his time reading InfoSec materials, playing basketball, learning French and traveling. You can follow him on Medium or visit his Website for more stories about the various Security Audits he does and the crazy vulnerabilities he finds.
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