What are the NIST CF Implementation Tiers?

What are the NIST CF Implementation Tiers

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CF) provides organizations across various sectors with structured guidelines to manage and mitigate cybersecurity risk. Developed to protect critical infrastructure, the framework has emerged as a flexible and voluntary tool that can be adapted by a broad range of industries. It is predicated on a core set of cybersecurity activities and outcomes aligned with industry standards and best practices for cybersecurity risk management.

Within this framework are the Cybersecurity Framework Implementation Tiers, which serve as a mechanism for organizations to assess their approach to managing cybersecurity risk. These NIST CF implementation tiers—ranging from Partial (Tier 1) to Adaptive (Tier 4)—offer a graduated scale by which organizations can gauge the maturity and responsiveness of their security posture. A higher tier denotes a more elaborate and proactive cybersecurity risk management process characterized by continuous improvement and a robust understanding of cybersecurity risks in organizational operations.

The NIST CF Implementation Tiers, complementing other Framework Components, provide valuable context for applying the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. They facilitate organizations in evaluating their current cybersecurity practices against the desired state and implementing the framework in a measurable and repeatable manner. By doing so, organizations can articulate their cybersecurity processes, identify growth opportunities, and communicate their cybersecurity posture to stakeholders with clarity and confidence.

Organizations can augment cybersecurity measures through the NIST CF Implementation Tiers


NIST CF Implementation Tiers

Tier 1 – Partial

Risk Management Processes: At Tier 1 organizations, cybersecurity risk management is often conducted on an ad hoc or reactive basis. Cybersecurity activities usually lack prioritization and are not aligned with the level of risk they address.

Integrated Risk Management Program: The absence of structured processes for managing cyber risk makes it challenging for these organizations to communicate and handle risks effectively. Consequently, they manage cybersecurity risks on a case-by-case basis due to inconsistent information.

External Participation: These organizations often lack a comprehensive understanding of their role within the larger business ecosystem, including their position in the supply chain and their dependencies. Without this understanding, Tier 1 organizations struggle to share information with third parties and are generally unaware of the supply chain risks they inherit and transmit to other ecosystem members.

Tier 2 – Risk-Informed

Risk Management Processes: In Tier 2 organizations, while risk management practices are endorsed by management, they are not formalized as organization-wide policies. These practices, though not standardized, influence the prioritization of cybersecurity activities in line with organizational risk objectives, the threat landscape, and business needs.

Integrated Risk Management Program: There is a general awareness of cybersecurity risk at the organizational level, but this awareness is not uniformly applied across the organization. Information about cybersecurity is shared informally, and while organizational objectives sometimes consider cybersecurity, this is not a consistent practice. Cyber risk assessments may be conducted, but they are not routine or standardized.

External Participation: Tier 2 organizations have an understanding of their role within the ecosystem, recognizing either their dependencies or dependents, but not both. These organizations typically receive information from external sources but do not share their own information. They are aware of supply chain risks but usually do not take action to mitigate them.


Tier 3 – Repeatable

Risk Management Processes: In Tier 3 organizations, risk management practices are formally approved and established as policy. These practices are regularly updated to reflect changes in business needs and the evolving threat landscape.

Integrated Risk Management Program: This tier adopts an organization-wide approach to cybersecurity risk management. Defined, implemented, and reviewed risk-informed policies, processes, and procedures ensure effective responses to risk changes. Staff are well-trained and knowledgeable in their roles, and senior cybersecurity officials, board members, and business executives maintain regular communication regarding cybersecurity events and risks.

External Participation: Tier 3 organizations have a clear understanding of their role within the ecosystem and actively contribute to broader risk awareness. They frequently collaborate with other entities, sharing internally generated information. These organizations recognize and act on supply chain risks, establishing formal agreements to communicate baseline requirements, governance structures, and policy implementation and monitoring.

What are the NIST CF Implementation Tiers


Tier 4 – Adaptive

Risk Management Processes: In Tier 4 organizations, cybersecurity practices are continually refined based on past experiences, current activities, and predictive analysis. They employ a continuous improvement process, incorporating advanced technologies and practices to stay ahead of emerging threats and technological changes.

Integrated Cyber Risk Management Program: Building on Tier 3 foundations, Tier 4 organizations have a deep understanding of how organizational objectives and cybersecurity risks are interconnected. Senior executives monitor cybersecurity risks alongside financial and organizational risks, making budget decisions based on a comprehensive understanding of the current and potential risk landscape. Cybersecurity risk management is deeply embedded in the organizational culture, evolving through continuous awareness and learning from past activities.

External Participation: Tier 4 organizations go beyond Tier 3 by actively engaging with the broader ecosystem to enhance risk understanding. They share and receive real-time information with internal and external stakeholders, enabling them to effectively address supply chain risks. These organizations have formalized processes integrated into their documentation, detailing their interactions with dependencies and dependents.


Practical Applications and Progress Measurement

Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework’s Tiers is a strategic move that helps organizations measure progress and apply cybersecurity best practices. Through this measurement, organizations can benchmark their current cybersecurity practices and identify areas for improvement.

Critical Infrastructure and Industry Standards

Critical Infrastructure sectors—such as energy, financial services, and healthcare—are increasingly adopting the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to enhance their security postures. These sectors utilize the Framework’s Implementation Tiers as a benchmark to align their cybersecurity measures with industry standards. By doing so, they achieve a better command over managing risks and safeguarding their infrastructure.

Uses and Benefits of the Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework offers a multitude of uses and benefits. It guides organizations through cybersecurity improvement activities, providing a means to assess their current practices against clear maturity levels. Organizations can track their progress from Partial (Tier 1) to Adaptive (Tier 4), transitioning from reactive responses to proactive and dynamic cybersecurity practices.

Success Stories and Maturity Model

Numerous success stories attest to the benefits of applying the Framework’s Tiers. For instance, companies that have moved from Tier 1 to Tier 3 have witnessed a significant improvement in their cybersecurity infrastructure. This progression is a testament to the practicality of using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as a maturity model to develop and refine effective cybersecurity practices.

What do the NIST CF implementation tiers mean for your business?

The NIST CF implementation tiers are designed not as a maturity model but as a benchmarking system to help your business understand and manage risk. These tiers provide a structured approach to assess your current risk management practices and guide improvements.

The NIST CF Implementation Tiers help businesses understand and manage risks


To begin your NIST compliance journey, an external assessment is crucial. This evaluation will pinpoint your current standing and help you make informed decisions about your goals and the steps needed to achieve them.

RedGlow Cyber offers expert guidance on compliance and information security, assisting you in reaching your desired NIST framework tier efficiently and effectively. Contact us today to learn how we can add value to your business.