In general business terms, asset lifecycle management concerns maximizing ROI on all assets, from acquisition through retirement. But in information technology (IT) and cybersecurity circles, it refers to the cyclical process of developing, integrating, managing, and safely disposing of IT hardware and software. Organizations need to implement effective IT asset management procedures to cover the entire lifecycle.
The Anatomy of IT Asset Lifecycle Management
All companies need to develop an asset and configuration management program, internally or with the help of a managed security services provider (MSSP).
There are four stages to cover:
- Stage 1: Strategy and development of IT assets
- Stage 2: Onboarding and integration of IT assets
- Stage 3: Active security management of IT assets
- Stage 4: Safe disposal and archiving of IT assets
Sections below will address solutions to consider for each stage, then touch on some other approaches to IT asset management focusing on elements beyond the assets themselves.
Stage 1: Strategy and Development of IT Assets
The first stage of the asset management lifecycle involves initial planning, leading to targeted development or acquisition of needed IT assets. Companies should analyze all existing IT and security infrastructure at stage one, identifying all physical and virtual assets they currently own, operate, or oversee. This includes all computers, physical servers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, along with all software, files, and network architecture. User accounts may count, too.
Once all existing IT infrastructure is accounted for, companies need to project their future needs, both short and long term. This includes the assets needed to grow productivity and to augment existing security configurations commensurate with projected growth.
Outside security program advisory assistance can provide an objective opinion on what assets will be needed.
Risk Analytics Should Guide All IT Asset Procurement
An impactful IT asset management lifecycle needs to be informed by risk analytics at all stages. This is especially true of the first stage, as the number and variety of vulnerabilities in your system should dictate what IT assets you need to develop internally or acquire externally.
You should conduct a cyber risk report during this stage, accounting for factors such as:
- Network vulnerabilities – Servers and network infrastructure supporting hardware, software, and data management may need to be augmented with protective IT assets.
- Web app vulnerabilities – Websites and web applications may lack critical security infrastructure to keep personnel and client users safe, requiring additional IT assets.
- Other, niche vulnerabilities – Existing hardware and software assets may have flaws that expose you or your clients to advanced threats, such as those on the deep web.
Many MSSPs offer low-cost options for initial risk reporting—RSI Security provides a free report service.
Outsourced IT Oversight and Asset Management
Ultimately, critical decisions need to be made about what assets and systems will be developed—internally or with outside help—and which will be purchased wholesale from IT asset suppliers or vendors. For many companies, these decisions will be made by the chief information security officer (CISO), a c-suite executive with ultimate control over all IT and cybersecurity systems.
However, many growing companies may find that a traditional, in-house CISO overburdens IT budgets, getting in the way of necessary acquisitions and developments. Using a virtual CISO (vCISO) can help streamline executive control at a fraction of the cost. A dedicated team of cybersecurity experts is available on call, facilitating all administrative elements of IT asset lifecycle management.
Best of all? Freeing up CISO resources enables more robust asset procurement.
Stage 2: Integration into Cybersecurity Architecture
Once all required IT and cybersecurity assets have been built or bought, it’s time to integrate them into your existing infrastructure. This process is often referred to as IT or cybersecurity architecture implementation. The most critical consideration is ensuring that new assets communicate and work seamlessly alongside all other hardware and software, maximizing visibility and control for management. On the client side, privacy and accessibility are essential.
One of the challenges in asset integration is connecting assets across various systems.
For example, as companies grow increasingly mobile and decentralized, cloud solutions are replacing many legacy, location-based technologies. But cloud security cannot come at the expense of perimeter protections, such as firewall or web filtering configurations. Instead, companies may seek system-wide approaches, like implementing a Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA). In any case, integration is critical to security throughout assets’ lifecycles.
Regulatory Compliance Considerations for All IT Assets
One of the most critical considerations for asset onboarding and integrating is ensuring their specifications and configurations meet all regulatory requirements applicable to your company. Therefore, a full-suite asset and configuration management program must account for current regulatory needs and any that your company may be subject to in the future.
For example, consider:
- If you currently accept or debit credit card payments, you almost certainly need to maintain compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS). PCI DSS compliance is required irrespective of both industry and location.
- If you currently work with businesses in the healthcare industry (or intend to), you may qualify as a covered entity or business associate subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Covered entities from any industry must follow the Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules for HIPAA compliance.
- If you currently process data belonging to European Union citizens or residents of California (or intend to), you’ll need to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Neither GDPR nor CCPA Compliance depends upon your company’s location but, rather, that of its clientele.
Working with a regulatory compliance advisor facilitates seamless compliance throughout the many changes to regulatory requirements that occur during the lifecycles of all your IT assets.
Inventory Monitoring Across New and Existing IT Assets
Compliance is not the only consideration when integrating new assets into your cybersecurity architecture. Other critical concerns include integrity across all existing system components and the files they house.
Many companies opt for a holistic security information and event management (SIEM) approach for system components. This will, most often, include regular scans of all security systems, with reports on any changes or irregular activity across endpoints and accounts.
A file integrity monitoring (FIM) approach helps oversee the contents of digital storage. FIM solutions report on deletions, additions, and other changes to files that aren’t authorized by diving deeper into file contents. They can be trained on specific contents within the files, such as personally identifiable information (PII) via PII scanners. Alternatively, FIM functionality can be folded into broader vulnerability management.
Stage 3: Risk Mitigation and Management Practices
The next stage in IT assets’ lifecycles and management involves ongoing maintenance and risk mitigation. This requires monitoring for vulnerabilities inherent to your assets and external threats posed by cybercriminals. Risk is a measure of the relationship between these two variables that projects the likelihood and estimated severity of a potential attack, leak, or other cybersecurity event.
Organizations must take steps to reduce risk and document these efforts for some compliance reporting and audits.
One preventive measure companies can take is a patch management program that regularly scans for any gaps or flaws in security across all IT and assets. As a bonus, patch monitoring can also scan for any necessary asset updates required for maintaining regulatory compliance. Assets are only protected if safeguards are up-to-date and functioning as planned.
Threat Detection and Response Across All IT Assets
The most critical aspect of ongoing IT asset management is ensuring no individual assets fall victim to cybercrime. The best way to do this is to seek out and mitigate risks before they turn into actual security incidents. A managed detection and response (MDR) program provides:
- Threat detection – Continuous monitoring for vulnerabilities and threats across all IT assets, with real-time updates accessible and actionable from a centralized dashboard.
- Incident response – Streamlined seizure and recovery processes that stop the spread of an event, minimize downtime, and facilitate swift, full recovery of any lost resources.
- Root cause analysis – Deep analysis into all incidents detected, identifying and resolving all root causes, and preventing the recurrence of similar events in the future.
Additionally, MDR can be optimized for compliance needs. For example, it can seek out breaches of protected health information (PHI) for HIPAA, or improper processing of cardholder data (CHD), per PCI.
Advanced IT Asset Threat Hunting Functionalities
Some companies may find that baseline threat management or threat hunting programs (like MDR) are inadequate for the types of risks their IT assets are likely to face. Advanced analysis, like penetration testing, can address the most dangerous advanced persistent threats (APTs).
Pen-testing is a form of “ethical hacking” in which a security team simulates an attack on your systems—in good faith—to anticipate what a malevolent attacker would do. There are two types:
- External – The simulated attack begins from outside the organization, with no prior knowledge or access privileges. This is also commonly referred to as “black box.”
- Internal – The simulated attack begins from within, providing testers with some pre-negotiated extent of specialized knowledge or access privileges. This is also referred to as “white box.”
There are also hybrid methods, sometimes called “grey box,” that incorporate both external and internal methods. These may be ideal for companies with a decentralized network of IT assets.
Stage 4: Safe Asset Disposal and Archival Practices
The final stage in the IT asset management lifecycle involves navigating the end of individual lifecycles. No piece of software or hardware will last forever; all IT assets eventually need to be deleted, archived, or changed to the point of being a different IT asset altogether. In doing so, companies need to ensure all traces of sensitive information are entirely wiped off the IT asset or rendered unrecoverable. Getting rid of an asset does not mean disregarding it.
In some cases, there is an urgency to remove IT assets, or contents thereof, as soon as they are no longer needed. For example, PCI DSS Requirement 3 calls for traces of CHD to be removed as soon as they are no longer required for a business or legal reason. Implementing cybersecurity awareness training can help ensure all personnel are following proper asset disposal procedures. Modules should include active exercises to assess staff readiness.
The Importance of Third-Party Asset Lifecycle Management
Another critical consideration about IT asset management, especially in the final stage, is accounting for safe disposal practices across all third parties who access or come into contact with your IT assets. These third parties include vendors, contractors, and other strategic partners critical to your business.
If one of these parties accidentally disposes of an IT asset improperly, it could compromise your entire security system—and the cause may not be detected until it’s too late.
The best solution to these concerns is a targeted third party risk management (TPRM) program. Specifically, you need one that inventories all IT assets in contact with third parties and scans them regularly for any irregularities. The sooner you can identify improper asset management, including improper disposal, the sooner you can address the issue and prevent potential losses.
Other Critical IT Asset Management Considerations
Most IT asset lifecycle management solutions focus on monitoring the assets themselves or their threats and vulnerabilities. However, companies may also consider programs that focus on other factors directly, covering asset lifecycles as a by-product. For example:
- Identity and access management – Companies may protect IT assets by tightly restricting access to them and monitoring user behaviors that concern the IT assets.
- Incident response and management – Companies may focus on creating safeguards to prevent attacks on their assets and fully, swiftly recover from incidents that do occur.
In either of these cases, the asset lifecycle is not the focus of the security program. And yet, depending on the company’s situation, either solution may provide equivalent (or greater) ROI.
RSI Security: Professional Asset Management Services
The anatomy of the IT asset management lifecycle comprises four primary stages—initial strategizing and procurement, integration into existing systems, ongoing asset maintenance, and safe disposal or archiving.