Understanding and Applying the CIS Controls for Robust Cyber Defense

November 26, 20235 min read

Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, making it essential for organizations to employ effective strategies to defend against cyber-attacks. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls provide a prioritized set of actions that form the foundation of basic cyber defense. Understanding and applying these controls is critical in creating a robust cybersecurity infrastructure that can mitigate the risk of attack. Here we’ll delve into the details of what the CIS Controls are, and how they can be effectively applied.

Introduction to the CIS Controls


  • The CIS Controls are a recommended set of actions for cyber defense that provide specific and actionable ways to stop today’s most pervasive and dangerous attacks.
  • They are developed by the Center for Internet Security (CIS), an organization that harnesses the expertise of a global community of IT professionals.


  • Originally developed as the Consensus Audit Guidelines, CIS Controls have evolved in response to evolving threats.
  • They are periodically updated with input from a broad array of businesses and organizations, ensuring that they remain effective against current cybersecurity challenges.


  • To provide organizations with a prioritized path to improve their cyber defense posture.
  • To help organizations rapidly implement well-vetted security practices that are known to mitigate common attacks.

Understanding the CIS Controls

The CIS Controls are organized into a set of 20 critical security actions, which are further grouped into Basic, Foundational, and Organizational controls. Let’s break down each category.

Basic Controls

  • Inventory and Control of Hardware Assets
    • Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all hardware devices so only authorized devices have network access.
  • Inventory and Control of Software Assets
    • Keep an inventory of authorized software and ensure that no unauthorized software can be installed or run.
  • Continuous Vulnerability Management
    • Regularly acquire, assess, and act on information regarding new security vulnerabilities.
  • Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges
    • Manage administrative privileges carefully, tracking their use and revoking them when no longer needed.
  • Secure Configuration for Hardware and Software
    • Establish, implement, and manage the security configuration of computers using a rigorous configuration management and change control process.
  • Maintenance, Monitoring, and Analysis of Audit Logs
    • Collect, manage, and analyze audit logs to detect and understand unauthorized access or anomalies, and to recover from attacks.

Foundational Controls

  • Protection against malware, secure configuration of network devices, data recovery, secure network engineering, and limitation of network ports, protocols, and services are some of the foundational actions.

Organizational Controls

  • These controls aim at people and processes, like implementing a security awareness and training program, application software security, incident response management, and penetration tests and red team exercises.

Applying the CIS Controls

Applying the CIS Controls requires a systematic approach that entails assessment, planning, implementation, and continuous monitoring.

  1. Assessment and Planning
    • Conduct a thorough evaluation of the current cybersecurity posture.
    • Prioritize the implementation of controls based on the assessment results.
  2. Implementation
    • Start with Basic Controls as they lay the groundwork for a solid defense structure.
    • Implement Foundational Controls next to build upon the basics, then move on to Organizational Controls.
  3. Documentation and Policy Creation
    • Develop clear policies for each control that detail the procedures, responsibilities, and timelines.
  4. Automation and Integration
    • Whenever possible, automate repetitive and routine tasks to help maintain consistency and reduce human error.
    • Integrate the controls into existing processes to ensure cybersecurity is a part of all operations.
  5. Continuous Improvement
    • Regularly review and test the controls to ensure they are effective.
    • Update and adapt the controls in response to new threats and organizational changes.
  6. Training and Capacity Building
    • Ensure that all employees are trained on the importance of cybersecurity and their role in maintaining it.
    • Invest in training for IT staff to keep up to date with the latest cybersecurity practices.

Implementing and maintaining the CIS Controls requires ongoing commitment but can significantly strengthen an organization’s cyber defenses. By understanding the structure and purpose of the CIS Controls and applying them methodically, organizations can establish a resilient cybersecurity posture that can evolve alongside emerging threats.