The Strongroom

Five Most Common Security Frameworks Explained

Updated 28th March 2018


Written by Jason Wild

An information security framework is a series of documented, agreed and understood policies, procedures, and processes that define how information is managed in a business, to lower risk and vulnerability, and increase confidence in an ever-connected world.

There are about 250 different security frameworks used globally, developed to suit a wide variety of businesses and sectors. In New Zealand, the importance of security frameworks has grown over the last few years, with many businesses using more than one.

Here are New Zealand’s most common security frameworks:

International Standards Organisation (ISO) 27K

One of the most widely known security standards, this is a mature framework focused on information security. It’s very comprehensive and broad, and can be used across a wide range of types and sizes of businesses. Developed by the International Standards Organisation (ISO), it is the security equivalent of the ISO 9000 quality standards for manufacturers and operational excellence.

Because it’s tried and tested, countries often use it as a basis on which to create a manual about security and what to do; an example being the New Zealand Information Security Manual (NZISM). However, like many of the ISO standards, it can be a bit daunting, and many smaller organisations are put off by the effort required to gain accreditation and the perception that it can be difficult to implement.

NZISM Protective Security Requirements (PSR) Framework

This is New Zealand’s national technical security policy, and it describes baseline and minimum mandatory security standards for government departments and agencies. It forms an important part of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s Protective Security Requirements (PSR) framework, which sets out the Government's expectations for managing personnel, information and physical security.

As it’s a New Zealand document, it’s a popular starting point for Kiwi companies, and it has been made publicly available to allow greater access, increase awareness, improve transparency, and to share good practice.

Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Essential 8

Not a standard as such, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Essential 8 is a set of controls or strategies that, if implemented correctly, could mitigate up to 85% of the most common information security attack techniques.

The Essential 8 are part of a larger set of strategies that make up the ASD Strategies to Mitigate Cyber Security Incidents. These are based on the ASD’s experience in responding to real-world attacks and in performing vulnerability assessments and penetration testing of Australian Government agencies. The ASD state that the Essential 8 are so effective, they consider them to be the cyber-security baseline for all organisations.

Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT)

COBIT is a high level framework focussed on identifying and mitigating risk. It was developed for IT governance professionals to reduce technical risk, but it’s evolved into a standard to align IT with business goals. What it lacks is informative practical advice. While it’s not as widely followed as others, COBIT is mostly used within the finance industry to comply with standards such as Sarbanes-Oxley, but if your business wants to adopt a formal risk management framework, it’s also worth considering.

US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The NIST framework has evolved over 20 years and could be seen as the father figure for others. It contains a wide ranging collection of information security standards and best practices. It is mature and very comprehensive and is very good for large enterprises, as well as those with a US connection. It can be aligned to the ISO standards, such as ISO 9000 quality management. Because NIST contains a lot of practical guidance, it can also be adapted relatively easily to smaller and non-US organisations.

Industry-Specific Standards

In addition to the common frameworks above, there are also a number of industry-specific standards such as PCI DSS (for credit card handling), HIPAA (US legislation to safeguard health/medical information) and HISO (the NZ health information security framework) as well as any number of local regulations such as the European GDPR and the NZ Privacy Act. Adopting one of the more general security frameworks above may not make you fully compliant with these specific standards or regulations, but they will go a long way to helping you achieve compliance.

Security frameworks are vital for future success, and the decision about which to adopt should not be left to your IT team; boards and senior management need to be fully involved and responsible. That’s because information security is a business risk issue, not an ‘IT problem’, and should be addressed at the executive level of your organisation.

From experience dealing with many different businesses in New Zealand, we have found directors and senior managers understand the necessity for a framework, but have questions about how to proceed. Taking the next step involves choice. None of these frameworks are mutually exclusive, so you can tailor one or more to suit your specific needs.

If you need advice to see the wood for the trees, or want to make an existing security framework more effective, we have experts who can help. Get in touch for more information.



Jason Wild

Information Security Consultant

Jason provides information security consulting as part of our vCISO offering. He has 29 years’ experience in the IT industry, with over 20 years in management and consulting roles.

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