Understanding maturity models in cybersecurity: Definition and types

Jeff Peters
October 1, 2023 by
Jeff Peters

In the fast-paced world of cybersecurity, keeping up with evolving threats is vital. Navigating this complex landscape can be much more efficient if you have a strategic, proactive approach with clear steps. 

Thats where popular frameworks and maturity models in cybersecurity come into play. Let’s explore the nuanced world of the relatively new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) and other frameworks shaping industry standards. 

Maturity models in cybersecurity 

Defining cybersecurity maturity models 

Maturity models are strategic roadmaps that provide a path for teams to progressively develop and refine their security protocols. In the case of CMMC, those "roadmaps" are broken into levels based on the sensitivity of the information shared with federal contractors. The more sensitive the information shared, the higher the level of security practices that must be applied in order to comply. 

Earn your CMMC certification

Earn your CMMC certification

Enroll in a boot camp and become one of the first Certified CMMC Assessors (CCA) or Professionals (CCP)!

We'll dive into the specifics of those levels in a moment, but first, lets peel back a layer: Why is there such a push toward these types of maturity models for organizational security?

Why the push for cybersecurity maturity models?

Cybersecurity is a relatively new practice. As it has moved from something delegated to the IT team to a core component of organizational risk, there has been a natural push to clearly define and measure key cybersecurity controls. 

At their core, that's what these frameworks and types of cybersecurity maturity models do; they help to articulate specific processes and goals that elevate an organizations cybersecurity posture. They give you a snapshot of where you are now in relation to the industry — and provide next steps that are both actionable and measurable.

Types of cybersecurity maturity models 

A crucial step towards building a cybersecurity program is understanding the different types of maturity models. We'll start with the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). Although the newest, it's mostly built on a collection of existing best practice frameworks.

Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) 

CMMC is a structured and scalable model designed to address the security of organizations involved in the defense supply chain. Designed to safeguard sensitive U.S. government data, the CMMC consists of three progressive levels, each indicating a different stage of cybersecurity maturity. 

  • Level 1: At this foundational level, organizations are expected to implement 17 cybersecurity practices. The goal is to safeguard Federal Contract Information (FCI) by complying with the federal regulations stipulated in FAR Clause 52.204-21. 
  • Level 2: At this advanced level, organizations must also implement the 110 security requirements in NIST SP 800-171 Revision 2. The goal is to elevate the cybersecurity posture to better protect Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). 
  • Level 3: At this expert level, organizations must also include a subset of NIST SP 800-172 requirements to further enhance security.

Although CMMC is designed to address the defense industrial base, any organization can use it as a framework to help guide its security program. Its best to view these maturity model levels not only as compliance markers, but as strategic milestones in fostering a resilient and robust cybersecurity culture across the organization. 

Other noteworthy frameworks

While the CMMC is a great framework that is still being actively developed, it’s not the only player in the game. Other frameworks like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and ISO/IEC 27001 offer their unique blend of strategies and insights to cater to a wide array of organizational needs and goals. 

In addition, there are more specific frameworks, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). If your company processes customer payments, it must implement a sound cybersecurity system that meets PCI-DSS industry standards to protect that data.

Comparative analysis can be a great way to decide which model aligns best with your organizational strategy. Through this, you can identify the unique attributes of each framework and empower your organization to navigate the cybersecurity landscape with its vision and strategy. 

Advancing with cybersecurity maturity models 

Continuous skill development is also essential for cybersecurity teams. These models provide an organization's strategic roadmap and can serve as catalysts for professionals seeking to elevate their expertise. Embracing these maturity models fosters a culture of continual learning and adaptation for companies and individual contributors. 

Aiding professional development 

The comprehensive scope of these maturity models can help you gain deeper insights into the best practices and industry standards in cybersecurity, allowing you to make informed decisions about where you or your team should grow their expertise. 

Earn your CMMC certification

Earn your CMMC certification

Enroll in a boot camp and become one of the first Certified CMMC Assessors (CCA) or Professionals (CCP)!

Additionally, understanding different maturity models helps you confidently identify the challenges you must overcome. This can open access to more specialized roles, helping your team advance into new roles or you to grow your cybersecurity career. 

Choose your maturity model and get started

Maturity models in cybersecurity serve as essential guides for companies looking to cement their reputation as technologically reliable entities while also providing professionals with a platform to hone their expertise.

Investing in these models can be incredibly beneficial for both groups — providing powerful resources to thrive in the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape. 

Jeff Peters
Jeff Peters

Jeff Peters is a communications professional with more than a decade of experience creating cybersecurity-related content. As the Director of Content and Brand Marketing at Infosec, he oversees the Infosec Resources website, the Cyber Work Podcast and Cyber Work Hacks series, and a variety of other content aimed at answering security awareness and technical cybersecurity training questions. His focus is on developing materials to help cybersecurity practitioners and leaders improve their skills, level up their careers and build stronger teams.