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Leveraging the NIST Cybersecurity Framework for Improved Threat Detection and Response

BY eSentire

April 3, 2024 | 11 MINS READ

Cyber Risk

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Threat detection and response are critical components of a robust cybersecurity strategy. However, simply relying on automated detections is no longer enough to protect your organization from downtime.

To reduce the chances of business disruption from advanced and unknown threats, security teams must operationalize threat intelligence by conducting proactive, hypothesis-driven threat hunts. By actively searching for, investigating, and neutralizing threats early in the attack chain, you can improve your ability to withstand and recover from the most advanced cyber threats.

Aligning your cybersecurity strategy with a widely recognized risk management framework enables you to develop a systematic approach to managing cyber risks. NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) stands out as a particularly popular choice, as its comprehensive set of risk management practices is aligned with other cybersecurity regulations and standards, including HIPAA, PCI DSS, Systems and Organization Controls (SOC) 2, and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001.

In this blog, we share how implementing NIST CSF can improve your threat detection and response capabilities and demonstrate compliance to regulators, auditors, customers and other stakeholders.

Reducing Cyber Risk with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF)

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework equips organizations of all sizes and sectors with standards and best practices for managing and mitigating cyber risk. Established in 2014 to standardize risk management in sectors like energy, banking, and healthcare, the NIST CSF evolved to become a widely adopted cyber risk management tool.

While mandatory only for U.S. federal agencies and their contractors, the NIST CSF benefits any organization by offering a structured, proactive approach to cybersecurity. Therefore, alignment with NIST CSF allows you to have a multi-layered defensive cyber risk management strategy with comprehensive vulnerability coverage.

The framework is structured around the six functional areas: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover, and Govern. Each function sets out recommended cybersecurity activities, outcomes and references.

NIST CSF: Detect (DE) Function

The Detect function of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework focuses on establishing controls to identify malicious activity within your network. Your ability to detect threats early is central to a proactive cybersecurity posture, allowing you to initiate a rapid coordinated response.

Implementing the Detect function involves strategic use of security tools and capabilities mapped to the three primary categories: Anomalies and Events, Detection Processes, and Continuous Monitoring. This includes setting up anomaly detection tools, ensuring continuous monitoring of your environment, and integrating security information and event management (SIEM) platforms to aggregate and analyze data from multiple signals within your environment.

Effective threat detection requires 24/7 visibility and around-the-clock coverage across your attack surface, backed by the latest threat intelligence. By combining data about Indicators of Compromise (IOCs), malicious IPs, and attacker tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) with multi-signal telemetry and visibility across your environment, you can detect unknown or emerging threats before they ever have a chance to disrupt your business.

NIST CSF: Respond (RE) Function

The Respond function of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework sets recommendations for immediate actions that should be taken following the detection of a cybersecurity event. Effective response protocols enable you to withstand and swiftly recover from cyber incidents, minimizing operational disruption and reducing your downtime costs. Moreover, a well-orchestrated threat response demonstrates a high level of preparedness and resilience.

To implement the Respond function, establish a comprehensive Incident Response Plan (IRP). This plan should include containment actions to prevent the lateral spread of threats, recovery protocols to restore affected systems and data, and communication strategies for handling the messaging during and after an incident. Response actions should be informed by data collected from operationalizing threat intelligence and threat hunting to ensure they are effective and tailored to the identified threats.

Additionally, incorporating a thorough post-incident recovery and analysis into your IRP is vital for proactive risk management. Your IRP should include procedures for post-incident digital forensics analysis to determine the attack's root cause, scope and attacker pathways. This analysis helps enhance your response capabilities and strengthen your security posture against future attacks.

Importance of the Detect and Respond Functions to Build Cyber Resilience

Modern malware and ransomware attacks are highly customizable and hard to detect. The rise of Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) and Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) models enable unskilled threat actors to easily purchase malware toolkits, customize them for each victim, and carry out attacks with increasing frequency.

Given the large volume and variation of these threats, traditional signature-based security controls are often unable to detect and effectively prevent attacks.

Effective threat detection and response capabilities are critical to quickly identify and mitigate cyber threats early in the attack chain which significantly improves the recovery time and minimizes downtime costs to an organization. Rapid detection is key to enabling timely response and preventing minor incidents from escalating into major breaches. Once a threat is detected, robust response mechanisms allow you to promptly contain and neutralize the threat, minimizing its impact on business operations.

Proactive Threat Hunting Explained

As cyber threats become more complex and elusive, integrating proactive, hypothesis-driven threat hunting is essential for robust threat detection and response.

Proactive threat hunting is the practice of actively searching for signs of malicious activities or IOCs that are not yet detected by existing security solutions. It employs manual or automated techniques to proactively look for new and unknown threats within your environment.

Threat Intelligence Operationalization Framework

In practice, proactive threat hunting minimizes your Mean Time to Detect (MTTD) and Mean Time to Respond (MTTR). By actively seeking out IOCs and anomalous behaviors, you can preemptively address vulnerabilities, reducing your overall cyber risk.

Differences Between Proactive Threat Hunting and Traditional Security Measures

According to Forrester, threat hunting is “A practitioner-led, hypothesis-driven exercise,” emphasizing the critical role of human expertise and judgment, supplemented by technology, to identify sophisticated or unknown threats.

Compared to traditional, alert-based security measures (e.g., firewalls, Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms), proactive threat hunting enables security teams to:

The Role of Operationalizing Threat Intelligence in Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

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“Every organization should have threat detection engineers or content developers, either in-house or through a partnership with a managed detection and response (MDR) provider. When you have a successful threat hunt, you have to go the last mile and then convert those into detections.”

Chas Clawson

Field CTO, Sumo Logic

Integrating real-time, actionable information about emerging or existing threats into your detection and response capabilities enables you to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities and tailor response strategies to the specific characteristics of the threat landscape.

While proactive threat hunting can greatly enhance your cybersecurity posture, few organizations have the resources to operationalize threat intelligence and conduct global threat hunts in-house. In fact, a recent CyberRisk Alliance survey indicates that only 39% of organizations currently use threat intelligence to mitigate cyberattacks.

Building an in-house threat hunting program requires significant investment in expertise, tooling and access to industry-leading threat intelligence. For a proactive security posture, your team should be able to detect and respond to a sophisticated threat in minutes before it spreads laterally through your environment and attackers are able to exfiltrate critical data or deploy ransomware.

Outsourcing threat hunting to an MDR provider offers several advantages:

How eSentire Helps You Improve Threat Detection and Response

Given the increasing sophistication and frequency of cyber attacks, having a structured framework for managing cyber risk is critical for any business. Among various cybersecurity standards, NIST CSF stands out as one of the most trusted cyber risk management frameworks due to its flexibility, comprehensiveness, and holistic approach to cybersecurity.

Aligning your cybersecurity strategy with a recognized framework like the NIST CSF enhances your organization’s ability to identify, protect against, detect, respond to, and recover from cyber threats. Rather than outlining a fixed set of cybersecurity controls, the Framework emphasizes the importance of continuously evaluating and improving your cybersecurity posture to keep up with the threat landscape.

However, building a proactive security program mapped to NIST CSF while being tasked with streamlining your budget may be challenging for many security leaders. Outsourcing your security operations to an MDR provider can equip you with the expertise, knowledge of compliance mandates, tools, and multi-signal visibility at a lower cost compared to in-house approaches.

At eSentire, we are mission-driven to ensure you have the cybersecurity systems, processes, and controls to effectively mitigate your cyber risks:

To learn more about how eSentire can help you mitigate cyber risk and achieve cybersecurity regulatory compliance with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, connect with an eSentire cybersecurity specialist.


eSentire, Inc., the Authority in Managed Detection and Response (MDR), protects the critical data and applications of 2000+ organizations in 80+ countries, across 35 industries from known and unknown cyber threats by providing Exposure Management, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services designed to build an organization’s cyber resilience & prevent business disruption. Founded in 2001, eSentire protects the world’s most targeted organizations with 65% of its global base recognized as critical infrastructure, vital to economic health and stability. By combining open XDR platform technology, 24/7 threat hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire's award-winning MDR services and team of experts help organizations anticipate, withstand and recover from cyberattacks. For more information, visit: www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.

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