Understanding IT security frameworks: Types and examples

Security frameworks make it easier to identify, assess, and monitor IT risks. Which types will benefit your organization?

Katrina Dalao
Sr. Content Marketing Specialist
March 6, 2023

Low angle photo of two men talking on an office balcony

The road to a cohesive information security (InfoSec) program is paved with frameworks. Alongside other industry standards and regulations, they help safeguard your company’s data against threats and vulnerabilities.

Headlines such as the Marriott Hotel data breach that exposed the information of up to 500 million guests, and the Twitter data leak of more than 200 million Twitter users prove the critical importance of a reliable information security program.

While every company operates differently, security frameworks are the recommended starting point to build an InfoSec program. CISOs and other security professionals rely on frameworks to identify and prioritize the tasks required to demonstrate information security.

What is a security framework?

A security framework is a set of policies, guidelines, and best practices designed to manage an organization’s information security risks. As the name suggests, frameworks provide the supporting structure needed to protect internal data against cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

By establishing a common set of standards, frameworks make it easier for InfoSec professionals to understand the organization’s current security posture and prepare for upcoming audits.

Security frameworks can be tailored to specific industry regulations, compliance goals, or information security concerns. By adopting various relevant standards, organizations can define exact tasks and develop their own approach to managing risk exposure more intelligently.

What are the types of cybersecurity frameworks?

IT and cybersecurity frameworks are broken down into three different types, according to purpose and level of maturity:

1. Control frameworks

Control frameworks are the foundation of all security programs – the specific controls and processes that help protect against threats. While organizations may have ad-hoc security activities, control frameworks help stay ahead of security risks with a systematic approach to compliance. Control frameworks help:

  • Develop initial security strategy and roadmap
  • Identify a baseline set of controls
  • Assess current technical capabilities
  • Prioritize control implementation

Examples of control frameworks: NIST SP 800-53, CIS Critical Security Controls

2. Program frameworks

The main objective of program frameworks is to present a higher-level view of the organization’s security efforts. As programs mature, these frameworks help give business leaders a better understanding of how the overall security posture. Program frameworks tasks include:

  • Assess state of the current security program
  • Build a comprehensive security program
  • Measure program’s maturity and compare against industry standards
  • Simplify communication with business leaders

Examples of program frameworks: ISO 27001, NIST CSF

3. Risk frameworks

Mature security programs will typically include relevant risk frameworks. These focus on controls needed to review, analyze, and appropriately prioritize the organization’s activities against ongoing security risks. Risk frameworks help to:

  • Define necessary steps to assess and manage risk
  • Structure risk management program
  • Identify, measure, and quantify risks
  • Prioritize security activities and processes

Examples of control frameworks: NIST 800-39, NIST 800-37, NIST 800-30

18 examples of security frameworks

The ideal security framework for your company is one that aligns with internal program maturity and strategic goals, as well as external industry and regulatory standards. Here are the 18 most popular examples of security frameworks and standards:

ISO 27000 series

The ISO 27000 series, developed by the International Organization for Standardization, is the recognized cybersecurity standard. While flexible enough to be applied to any operation, the international standard assumes an organization has an information security management system (ISMS) to manage its data and safeguard against risks.

The two most notable frameworks are ISO 27001 (ISO/IEC 27001), which outlines the requirements of an ISMS, and 27002, which guides organizations on how to develop applicable ISMS controls.

Learn more about ISO 27001 standards and its latest update.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (NIST CSF) was released in February 2013 during the Obama Administration to protect the country’s infrastructure in the US from cyberattacks.

Critical industries such as energy production, healthcare delivery, communications, and transportation are vulnerable targets for hackers and therefore need to uphold high levels of security. The NIST CSF focuses on risk and aligns its security controls with the five phases of risk management: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover.

Although NIST CSF is only mandatory for federal agencies, it is a flexible framework and can help all organizations improve their security posture.

NIST Special Publications (NIST SP)

In contrast to the NIST CSF, a series of NIST Special Publications (NIST SP) offers more technical specifications, recommendations, and reference materials.

NIST SP was initially written for federal agencies and third-party vendors but can help any type of organization build a reliable cybersecurity program. The series is divided into three categories:

  • NIST SP 800 series: focuses on computer security
  • NIST SP 500 series: includes information technology and relevant documentation
  • NIST SP 1800 series: cybersecurity practice guides (relatively new compared to the 800 or 500 series)

SOC1 and SOC2

Created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), both SOC 1 and SOC 2 reports audit how service companies handle customer data and third-party risk management. However, that’s where their similarities end.

SOC 1 focuses on financial controls that meet identified objectives, while SOC 2 takes a broader view on controls related to AICPA’s trust principles — security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. There’s also a lesser-known SOC 3 report, which is like SOC 2, but caters to stakeholders and a more general audience.


HIPAA and HITRUST CSF are two cybersecurity frameworks for patients’ protected health information (PHI).

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal legislation for healthcare compliance. An act of the US Congress created by lawyers and lawmakers, HIPAA applies to “covered entities,” including health providers, health plans and insurance companies, and health clearinghouses. Although there’s no official certification, HIPAA compliance is enforced by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

HITRUST, on the other hand, is a private organization that created its own compliance framework called HITRUST CSF. The framework combines multiple security measures and privacy regulations that apply to any organization that handles sensitive data. However, while HITRUST helps achieve HIPAA compliance, it isn’t a replacement and doesn’t prove a healthcare organization is HIPAA-compliant.

Learn more about the difference between HIPAA vs. HITRUST here.


The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a global framework for any organization that processes, stores, or transmits cardholder information. Launched in 2004 by major credit card companies American Express, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, and VISA, the framework aims to keep cardholder information safe and reduce fraud.

To do this, PCI DSS outlines four compliance levels, depending on the organization’s transactions per annum, and 12 required steps that meet security best practices.


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a framework passed by the European Union (EU) to protect the data privacy and security of its citizens. Enacted in 2016, the GDPR impacts all organizations that collect and process the data of EU citizens, regardless of where the company is located.

We cover all the details in our Complete Guide to GDPR Compliance.

CIS Critical Security Controls

Organizations that are getting their security program off the ground should consider The Center for Internet Security (CIS) Critical Security Controls. A concise 18-control checklist, CIS prioritizes the most essential actions any organization can take to increase protection against cybersecurity risk.

As opposed to more in-depth security frameworks, CIS Controls are general practices that prevent the majority of the latest attacks and build cyber defense capabilities for the future.


The Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT) is a global framework that bridges the gap between security processes and enterprise goals. Developed by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), the framework focuses on creating an enterprise-wide IT governance system.

The latest version, COBIT 2019, is suitable for all enterprises and includes six principles and 40 processes to support governance and business objectives.


The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is a framework for federal government agencies and associated third-party vendors. Similar to the NIST framework, FISMA requires organizations to implement a mandatory set of controls and processes, conduct routine risk assessments, and continuously monitor their IT infrastructure.


The North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC-CIP) was created to ensure the reliability and security of the bulk electric system in North America. It was designed specifically for the power and infrastructure sector and requires compliance by any entity that plays a part in the region’s power grid.

To prevent minor issues from becoming widespread power crises, NERC-CIP sets industry standards and mandates critical to safeguarding operations. The framework includes cybersecurity requirements, incident response and recovery plans, personnel training, and other measures to ensure the continued delivery of electricity.


The Trusted Information Security Assessment Exchange (TISAX) is an assessment and exchange mechanism for information security in the automotive industry. It is the world’s leading automotive information security management standard, and a requirement of any organization that wants to do business with major German automotive players.

Taking its cue from ISO 27001, TISAX is adapted for automotive operations and awards companies with labels for meeting a defined level of information security management. There are three assessment levels and currently eight assessment objectives that can be selected by the organization.


The Sarbane-Oxley IT General Controls (SOX ITGC) is a subset of the broader Sarbane-Oxley Act and sets financial report requirements for all companies preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) or publicly traded companies across all industries.

SOX ITGC attests to the integrity of the data and processes of internal financial reporting controls, including applications, operating systems, databases, and the supporting IT infrastructure. Controls in this framework encompass access to programs and data, program changes, computer operations, and program development.


The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a law enacted in 2018 that enhances consumer privacy rights for the residents of California. Specifically focused on how companies collect and use personal information, CCPA draws heavily from the EU’s GDPR and gives consumers more control over their data. The framework applies to any for-profit entity with any of the following:

  • Earns an annual gross revenue over $25 million
  • Buys, receives, or sells personal information of 100,000 or more California residents, households, or devices
  • Earns 50% or more of its annual revenue from the sale of California residents’ personal information

These companies are required to comply with any consumer requests to know what data is being collected about them, the purpose of data collection, the list of third parties with access control to their data, and the ability to request their data be deleted from record.


The California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 is a relatively new law that builds on CCPA and the consumer data privacy rights in California.

While the CPRA applies to the same organizations as the CCPA, the main difference is that it also encompasses companies that earn 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling or sharing consumers’ personal information. The CPRA also defines sensitive personal information as a new category, encompassing social security numbers, driver’s licenses, passport numbers, financial accounts, and the like.


The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is the Department of Defense’s framework for assessing and enhancing the cybersecurity posture of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). Although the framework is relatively new, established in January 2020, the majority of its security requirements (110 out of 171) are also found in NIST SP 800-171.

The model covers three compliance levels — foundational, advanced, and expert — and is being incorporated into the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). By 2025, all suppliers will need a CMMC certification in order to bid on contracts.

About OneTrust Certification Automation

OneTrust Certification Automation helps you navigate changes within the information security landscape and stay ahead of compliance requirements.

As your business grows, your compliance footprint can easily expand to apply frameworks across various compliance scopes or ensure compliance with multiple frameworks. Certification Automation delivers coverage for more than 29+ frameworks to streamline security compliance with your business.

Our internal labs team of ex-auditors and InfoSec experts help you streamline putting compliance into action with guidance for implementing controls for your line of business stakeholders, depth and connectivity beyond traditional control cross-walking, automated evidence collection and more.


Get a demo to learn more about how OneTrust Certification Automation helps you build, scale, and automate your security compliance program.

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