NIST Risk Management Framework

The Proven NIST Risk Management Framework in 47 Steps

Managing risk is of paramount importance in information systems and organizations. A NIST risk management framework enables security personnel, system owners, and information system auditors to identify risks, prioritize controls, and ensure appropriate protective controls are in place.

This process helps ensure that an organization’s information systems can continue to operate as required despite threats.

A NIST risk management framework also enables security personnel to conduct risk impact analysis on information systems that organizations can use for security authorization and monitoring. 

This article will illustrate this using the 47 NIST risk management framework steps.

Page Contents

What is the NIST risk management framework?

The NIST risk management framework is a practice that defines and outlines the framework. It has components such as risk assessment, monitoring, and management. It enables organizations to identify risks and develop a management plan.

A NIST risk management framework helps an organization prepare for issues and analyzes the potential impact. Thus, it gives an idea of how best to handle organizational risk. It also provides guidelines for the effective management of any issues that arise.

A brief overview of the 47 steps inside each topic will demonstrate the relevance of using the NIST risk management framework by utilizing the prepare, categorize, select, implement, assess, author, and monitor steps therein.

NIST Risk Management Framework steps graphic


Step 1: Prepare

The first step in creating a NIST risk management framework is to prepare from an organizational and then a system level.

1. Risk Management Roles

Organizations must identify and assign individuals specific security and privacy roles. Roles should be based on the organization’s size, risk level, and risk profile. In addition, the assigned roles should have clear responsibilities and accountability to implement organizational risk management policies properly.

2. Risk Management Strategy

A risk management strategy is essential for organizations looking to mitigate risks and stay safe. It allows organizations to identify, assess, monitor, and reduce risks that could lead to harm.

The strategy should include policies and procedures for monitoring, measuring, reporting, and responding to threats.

3. Risk Assessment (Organization)

The risk assessment focuses on assessing the organization’s security and privacy risks. This risk-based approach includes identifying, analyzing, and evaluating possible information systems and organizational asset shortcomings.

4. Organizationally-Tailored Control Baselines and Cybersecurity Framework Profiles (Optional)

Organizationally tailored security baseline and cybersecurity profile profiles are essential for organizations implementing NIST risk management processes. These security profile profiles should be tailored to the specific needs of the associated IT systems and organizations. They should include information about the type of risk, corresponding security controls, and any legal or regulatory requirements.

5. Common Control Identification

Common control identification involves identifying, documenting, and publishing organization-wide standard controls that systems can inherit. This task determines and demonstrates the policies, procedures, standards, and other factors that can be applied consistently across different systems and organizational units to reduce risk.

6. Impact-Level Prioritization (Optional)

Organizations must prioritize their information systems with the impact level in mind. Impact-level prioritization involves assessing the impact of different organizational systems’ risk on the overall organization in low, moderate, or high terms.

7. Continuous Monitoring Strategy

The Continuous Monitoring Strategy seeks to develop and implement an organizational strategy for continuous monitoring controls. A NIST risk management framework should include a comprehensive set of processes that anticipate, identify, assess, and address risks associated with information systems.

In addition, continuous monitoring should consist of security testing, vulnerability scanning, and system configuration reviews.

 8. Business Focus

The business focus area focuses on the organization’s business and its mission, functions, and processes. It signals a shift from organizational to system-level preparation objectives. It requires the identification of goals, objectives, and strategies necessary to support security and privacy within the organization.

9. System Stakeholders

Identifying system stakeholders involves determining who is affected by the risk management decision and understanding their interests, motivations, and concerns. Understanding system stakeholders’ interests, motivations, and problems with risk management during the system development life cycle (SDLC) helps ensure decisions are made with full knowledge of the implications.

10. Asset Identification

Asset identification is identifying and documenting all assets that require protection. Types include tangible assets such as property, equipment, and data, as well as intangible assets such as intellectual property and trade secrets. Asset identification aims to ensure that all essential assets are identified and their value recognized.

11. Authorization Boundary

An authorization boundary should identify the boundaries of access control, data protection, and system resource usage. The authorization boundary should include policies and procedures for users, administrators, and other stakeholders. It should also define each user’s roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

12. Information Types

The information types include sensitive information that needs to be protected and any potential threats or vulnerabilities that could lead to unauthorized access or misuse. Organizations must identify information that needs to be protected and any risk management strategies that can help mitigate them.

13. Information Life Cycle

The focus is on identifying information at all stages of the information life cycle. Information can include physical, electronic, written, and oral communication types. The life cycle information should be presented in an easily digestible fashion using graphics of data representation. It helps organizations identify information processing, storage, transmission, and disposal risks.

14. Risk Assessment (System)

A risk assessment uses reporting to assess an organization’s risk profile. It involves a system-level assessment and management processes. It helps organizations prioritize security measures to protect their information systems. It also helps ensure the response plan addresses the risks identified in the assessment process.

15. Requirements Definition

The definition of requirements involves defining a system’s security and privacy requirements and operational environment. Therefore, in addition to legal requirements and industry standards, it is essential to consider both existing and external security and privacy requirements when setting security and privacy requirements for an information system.

By considering all relevant information related to security and privacy requirements, organizations can ensure that their NIST risk management framework is practical and meets their unique needs.

16. Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Architecture ensures that the system is appropriately integrated into the organization’s overall architecture and that its components are adequately protected from a security and privacy standpoint by correctly placing it within the enterprise architecture.

17. Requirements Allocation

Requirements allocation provides security and privacy requirements to the system and operational environment. It helps ensure that information systems meet applicable security and privacy standards and comply with organizational policies and regulations.

18. System Registration

System registration requires documenting the system, its components, and relevant policies and procedures. Therefore, ensuring that the system complies with all applicable security standards is critical.

The system registration process will vary depending on the organization, but it should include a review of existing standards and requirements for systems both internally and externally.

The remaining steps are crucial to understanding and implementing the framework. Several elements are working together during these last six steps. The illustration below from Kingsmen Security Group shows this very effectively.

NIST RiSK management steps from


Step 2: Categorize

When categorizing an information system and its characteristics, you must first assess the possible threats that may affect it. Identifying and analyzing each risk type individually from the data confidentiality, integrity, or availability (CIA triad) point of view is essential.

19. System Description

System description requires organizations to document the characteristics of their system. This includes information about the system’s architecture, components, and interfaces. It also provides information about the system’s purpose, function, and risk appetite.

These documents help organizations identify, evaluate, and prioritize security and privacy controls for their system.

20. Security Categorization

A security categorization requires organizations to categorize their information systems based on the impact of potential security breaches. Organizations should consider factors such as the sensitivity of data, the frequency of system use, and the potential for harm or damage in determining an appropriate security categorization.

Organizations can effectively manage risk and prioritize security investments by categorizing their information systems based on risk strategy and impact level.

21. Security Categorization Review and Approval

The security categorization review and approval process involves documenting and communicating the security categorization decisions and obtaining management or company approval.

This allows everyone involved in risk management to understand the decisions and ensure that NIST risk management priorities are followed.

The security categorization review and approval process ensures essential activities are practical and management decisions consistent with business objectives and strategies.

Step 3: Select

Controls must be selected and documented that reduce or eliminate the risks at the appropriate impact level required.

22. Control Selection

Control selection utilizes the appropriate controls for the system and its operating environment. Therefore, identifying appropriate controls for a system that needs protection against risks identified during risk assessments is vital.

Proper controls must be selected based on understanding the system’s security requirements, operation environment, and risk profile. Professionals should tailor proper controls to meet the specific security needs of your organization and NIST SP 800-53.

23. Control Tailoring

Control tailoring involves customizing the controls selected for an environment to ensure they are suitable and effective. It assesses the system, components, and operating environment to determine the most appropriate security measures.

To best protect information assets, it is essential to tailor security controls to risk profiles and business requirements.

24. Control Allocation 

Control allocation aims to identify and assign appropriate security and privacy controls to protect the system and its operating environment. A risk manager should assess the effectiveness of existing controls, analyze any gaps in coverage, and ensure that allocating additional controls would not negatively impact operations or performance.

This process involves assessing the risk profile of a system and determining which security and privacy controls are appropriate for protecting it.

25. Documentation of Planned Control Implementations

This critical step documents security and privacy controls within the system environment to ensure that security and privacy policies are correctly implemented. In addition, it should include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the control and the potential problems associated with not implementing it.

26. Continuous Monitoring Strategy

This system monitoring strategy ensures that risk management controls remain effective and are regularly tested. It should include a schedule for periodically testing, reviewing, updating existing controls, and documenting any changes made.

In addition, the monitoring strategy should consist of reviewing new technology or procedures that could impact the NIST risk management framework.

27. Plan Review and Approval

The review and approval involve assessing security and privacy plans for system and operational environments and issuing and acceptance. These plans should include information gathered about system architecture, policies, procedures, and controls designed to protect information security.

Step 4: Implementation

After developing a NIST risk management framework, it’s critical to follow it to ensure effective risk management strategies. To do this, you must develop a plan for implementing the chosen controls to mitigate risk.

28. Control Implementation

It is vital to implement security and privacy controls promptly and appropriately. Therefore, the implementation process should include a review of existing processes and procedures and information gathered during previous steps.

29. Update Control Implementation

It is essential to document any changes made to the planned control implementation. It includes changes to the control’s design, scope, or effectiveness. A post-implementation review is essential to ensure all controls are implemented and functioning as intended.

The post-implementation review should include testing the control efficacy and documenting changes to the controls as installed initially.

Step 5: Assessment

Each of the selected controls should be evaluated individually to determine their effectiveness. Then, based on security control assessments, determine which controls best fit your organization’s NIST risk management framework and are most effective in mitigating risk. This assessment will inform your ongoing monitoring of risk levels after implementing the chosen controls.

30. Assessor Selection

When selecting the assessment or assessor for a control type assessment, one must consider their knowledge and experience in the particular control type being assessed. It is best practice to use multiple assessors to ensure a comprehensive assessment, reduce potential bias, and provide autonomy to experienced reviewers.

31. Assessment Plan

An assessment plan outlines the process and steps necessary to assess implemented controls. It should include information about who will conduct the assessment, the times and methods, and how the results will be documented. It should be approved and reviewed at this stage.

32. Control Assessments

Control Assessments help identify, analyze, and evaluate the effectiveness of existing controls. These assessments typically involve reviewing the organization’s framework and identifying relevant controls. The results of these assessments are used to inform risk management decisions, such as which controls need improvement or the development of new controls.

33. Assessment Reports

Assessment reports are commonly prepared for organizations after the NIST risk management framework assessment. These reports should detail the criteria used to evaluate an organization’s NIST risk management framework and the issues it faces. They should also identify gaps or deficiencies and provide recommendations to address them.

34. Remediation Actions

Remediation Action focuses on reassessing controls and implementing remediation actions, such as reconfiguring system settings, implementing additional security measures, or upgrading software.

After implementing any required remediation actions, it is critical to reassess the effectiveness of the controls implemented previously to determine whether further actions are needed. This process validates that the controls effectively and adequately mitigate identified risks.

35. Plan of Action and Milestones

After discovering any remediations required, it is critical to reassess the effectiveness of the controls implemented previously to determine whether further actions are needed. This process validates that the controls effectively and adequately mitigate identified risks. The team should update assessment reports and plans here before moving to the authorizing stage.

Step 6: Authorize Controls

36. Authorization Package

An authorization package is a collection of information that an authorizing official needs to make an informed risk management decision. It includes all the components necessary for them to understand a risk management program and its proposed controls.

In addition, the package should include information about the proposed controls, Implementation, and maintenance related to the already developed security and privacy plans, assessments, and other changes.

37. Risk Analysis and Determination

Risk analysis and determination are vital processes. For example, during a review of the authorization package, management and officials analyze various factors of the controls suggested, such as cost-benefit analysis, legal compliance, and stakeholder expectations, to determine risk accuracy and acceptability.

38. Risk Response

Risk response involves:

  • Identifying risk and its potential consequences
  • Determining the best way to mitigate it
  • Accepting any shortcomings

A response strategy should be authorized by management to ensure appropriate support for risk management activities. Once a risk response strategy has been accepted, it must be implemented consistent with management authorization and within the context of the NIST risk management framework.

39. Authorization Decision

An authorization decision is to accept risk from the operation of an information system. The process involves evaluating the risk associated with the system and determining whether it is acceptable.

40. Authorization Reporting

Authorization reporting is a crucial component of risk management. It involves documenting and reporting authorization decisions and any control deficiencies that represent a significant risk. In addition, it allows security experts to implement the control and monitor the chosen controls.

Step 7: Monitor Controls

A process of monitoring and reviewing controls must be developed and maintained to assess the effectiveness of these processes regularly. This process should identify any changes in the risk environment and evaluate existing controls for their efficiency. It should also investigate and address any occurrences of non-compliance or failure of controls.

41. System and Environment Changes

Monitoring the system continuously and environment changes impacting security and privacy is vital. For example, security and privacy controls and documentation should be regularly updated and evaluated to ensure they effectively mitigate risk, i.e., .effective in protecting information systems against external threats.

42. Ongoing Assessments

Assessing existing controls to identify potential weaknesses or gaps in the system is a critical step in monitoring. It also requires frequent testing of these controls to ensure they work correctly. It is vital to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of risk management processes, identify improvement areas using analytics and other metrics, and update the documentation accordingly.

43. Ongoing Risk Response

This process should focus on assessing the adequacy of controls, identifying new risks, and reviewing previously identified risks for changes in their likelihood or impact. In addition, risk response plans should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure they align with the organization’s current risk profile.

44. Authorization Package Updates

It is essential to monitor the progress of risk management implementation and effectiveness. The authorization package should be updated to reflect any changes made due to the NIST risk management process.

Gauging progress includes plan reviews, assessment reports, action plans, and milestones based on results. In addition, it allows for quicker response times should any new issues be identified.

45. Security and Privacy Reporting

It is essential to continuously report the security and privacy posture of the system concerning authorization officials. It includes documenting any changes that may have occurred to the system’s security and privacy controls.

Also, it is essential to include details on any incidents and any resulting corrective actions. This information allows system security and privacy posture monitoring against authorization requirements.

While reporting system security and privacy posture, tracking progress toward meeting established goals and objectives is also necessary; for example, this information can help ensure that the system complies with authorization requirements.

Overall, reports should be used to track the security and privacy of a system over time, allowing for continuous assessment of its status and risk profile.

46. Ongoing Authorization

Ongoing authorization is an essential part of the NIST risk management framework. It involves continuously assessing a system’s security and privacy posture to ensure that risk remains acceptable.

It includes conducting regular reviews, testing, and audits to ensure controls continue functioning as intended and to initiate management approval of needed changes.

47. System Disposal

It is crucial to have a system disposal strategy for when systems are removed from operation. For the process to succeed, it is essential to establish policies and procedures for disposing of end-of-life hardware and software.

In addition, it will help ensure that appropriate actions are taken, such as updating information systems and related documentation if a system is no longer fit for use or has exceeded its life cycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is NIST risk management critical?

Organizations need to have a NIST risk management framework in place as it helps them to identify risks, develop strategies to address them and create contingency plans in case of unexpected events. In addition, risk management helps organizations prioritize risks and focus resources on those with the highest potential impact.

As a result, it can help minimize potential financial losses, improve operational efficiency, and ensure operations run smoothly. Additionally, risk management can also help organizations prepare for unexpected or adverse events before they occur.

What strategies should I use to implement a risk management framework within my business?

  1. Implementing a NIST risk management framework within your business is essential to ensure your organization’s security and assets. Here are some strategies you can use with NIST or an ISO standard like ISO 31000 risk management:
  2. Establish risk management objectives: First, it is vital to identify the problems associated with your business activities and develop objectives that focus on mitigating them.
  3. Develop risk mitigation strategies: The next step is to strategize ways to mitigate risk by implementing effective mitigation strategies such as insurance policies, contingency plans, employee training, etc.
  4. Monitor and review: ensuring the effectiveness of your NIST risk management framework is essential to monitor and review continuously.
  5. Educate employees: Ensure that all your employees understand their responsibilities concerning risk management by implementing effective communication processes.
  6. Communicate changes: Lastly, ensure that all stakeholders, including employees and partners, are informed of any changes or updates to the NIST risk management framework.

Challenges of implementing the NIST Risk Management Framework

Developing a NIST risk management framework to reduce potential risks can be daunting. However, it is possible with the right strategy and steps in place. Here’s how you can go about it:

1. Create a risk management team that comprises knowledgeable individuals from different departments to identify and assess potential risks within your organization.

2. Establish a risk register to document all of the identified risks. This register should include risk probability, impact, financial implications, and severity.

3. Develop strategies to manage and mitigate the risks and set a timeline for implementing these strategies.

4. Monitor and review the progress of implementing the NIST risk management framework and identify any areas of improvement.

5. Implement a communication and feedback system for stakeholders so that they are kept up to date on any updates or changes regarding the risk management process. It will ensure everyone is on the same page when planning and executing the risk mitigation strategies.

Benefits of using the NIST Risk Management Framework

The NIST Risk Management Framework is a set of risk management standards and best practices developed by the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Adopting this framework by organizations helps ensure that security risk management is performed efficiently and effectively. Some of the key benefits of using the NIST Risk Management Framework include the following:

  1. Identifying, analyzing, and prioritizing risks in an organized manner
  2. Providing guidelines for developing security policies, processes, and procedures
  3. Ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations
  4. Supporting information technology departments in building solid relationships with other business units

Overall, following the NIST Risk Management Framework enables organizations to make better-informed decisions related to security risk management, which ultimately helps them achieve more excellent business value from their investments in information security.

Final Thoughts

A NIST risk management framework is a practical approach to managing the risk of information systems and organizations. It enables you to proactively identify, assess, and manage risks rather than deal with the fallout of security incidents after they happen.

It is a crucial component of any information security strategy. Please review our website for other guides and tips on NIST RMF and its Implementation, as the 47 steps are only the high-level piece of the puzzle.