Whether you’re a bank that handles sensitive financial information, or a medical provider handling confidential health data about patients, odds are that you face cybersecurity threats in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s hackers, malware, or viruses designed to steal valuable data, it’s imperative that every business have a handle on what risks they face, and work within a framework to guard against them.
Thankfully, there are systems, tools, and cyber security solutions that can help any organization concerned about their security to better assess and manage risks posed to their business. This is exactly what any cyber risk management plan is designed to address. Cybersecurity risk management covers a wide array of systems, personnel, and business practices, with the aim of protecting your business ecosystem from exposure to gaps, many of which are created by vendors with whom you share data with.
But exactly what is cyber risk management? And what do you need to know to get started implementing a cyber risk management program? Here are a few of the basic components that you’ll need to know about before getting started, including identifying, analyzing, and tracking cybersecurity threats before they’re able to do any damage.
1. Data Protection
One of the cornerstones of any effective security risk management strategy is analyzing the types of data that you typically work with, and formulating ways to protect it. Organizations should identify their most valuable information assets, where these assets are located at any given time, and who has access to them. When it comes to data protection and cybersecurity risk management, here are a few key areas that you should consider:
- Executive Partnership – It’s critical that your data protection efforts occur with buy-in from senior leadership. The elevation of information risk issues to the decision-making bodies of your organization is a growing trend and one that most companies would benefit from embracing. Senior stakeholders want sufficient visibility into information risk for oversight, compliance, and overall security purposes.
- Governance Frameworks – Thankfully, many trade organizations and governments have published frameworks that can guide your data protection efforts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), for example, has a cybersecurity framework that can be broadly applied to organizations across the board that handle a variety of confidential data types. While your company may (or may not) be required to be in direct compliance with each governance framework, they can be extremely helpful in providing tactical advice on how to protect your critical data.
- Policy Development & Training – Not all threats are external, as data can often be compromised by unintentional mishandling within your organization. In rare cases, there may be a malicious actor within your business who seeks to profit from gaining access to confidential information. That’s why developing a concrete data handling policy is needed for all personnel, roles, and departments. Moreover, staff needs to be constantly trained and educated as new technologies and threats emerge. The goal is to foster complete organizational alignment and assurance that your policies and procedures change when and where necessary.
2. Threat Monitoring
It’s not enough to just know what kinds of cybersecurity risks your business might face. You need to have technologies and procedures in place to constantly monitor critical systems and data for these threats. Effective cyber-risk monitoring focuses on gathering and analyzing data from multiple inputs, systems, and teams to look for patterns that might be indicative of a cyber attack or malicious actor. Your threat monitoring plan should include ways coordinate between various teams, as well how to investigate (and potentially mitigate) a potential cyber threat in real-time. Here are some key concepts related to threat monitoring that you’ll want to bear in mind:
- Continuous Tracking – It’s important that you have systems in place to monitor and track vulnerabilities, as well as potential threats. You’ll want your internal staff and personnel to work with your cyber risk management partner to make sure that all systems are being tracked, and activities logged so that data breaches can be prevented or quickly remediated in the event that one does occur.
- Near-miss Analysis – By analyzing “close calls” in addition to actual security incidents, organizations can better understand vulnerabilities within their systems, in addition to the corresponding threats. Conducting a “near miss” analysis means tracking and analyzing unsuccessful data breaches, or instances where your systems were left vulnerable. By doing so, companies can often uncover the root causes of security incidents (when they do occur), and make the correct adjustments.
- Leading Indicators – Whether it’s a new system implementation, vendor onboarding, or employee turnover, many key business activities can increase risk and vulnerability for a specific amount of time. You’ll want to work with your partner to come up with leading indicators specific to your business that might increase risk. A systematic understanding of the business characteristics and activities that drive risk is essential for proactive threat identification. Mergers and acquisitions, for instance, are often a leading indicator of increased risk. Departments that are absorbed from one company into another may not have the same cybersecurity practices, so it’s important that you take these leading indicators into account and fill in any security gaps as they arise.
3. Cyber Perimeter Establishment
In today’s world, your cyber perimeter extends far beyond the data that’s stored on-site in your offices. With the rise of cloud technology and third-party vendors, your cyber security perimeter now extends to any location where data is stored, transmitted, or accessed. This could be either by internal employees or trusted partners. Organizations need to ensure that they have visibility into this expanded perimeter because as the saying goes “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Here are some of the foundational building blocks to establishing a secure cyber perimeter as a key means of risk management:
- Basic Cyber Perimeter – Given the unstructured and disparate nature of information and data within many organizations, data safeguards need to be put into place as part of any cyber risk management strategy. This is especially true due to the ever-increasing presence of contractors, customers, and vendors that require consistent access to confidential information. Direct measures take both digital and physical forms, and you’ll find it helpful to work with a risk management partner to make sure things like firewalls, media storage, and user access are all up to snuff.
- User Access – Depending on their roles, functions, and departments, various people within your organization will require access to varying levels of confidential information. What’s important is that you clearly define these access roles, and make sure that unauthorized users aren’t able to breach your perimeter (whether intentionally or not). Basic steps you should take in this area are things like unique user logins, automatic session timeouts, and multifactor authentication for remote work sessions.
- Consider the Cloud – As mentioned, your security perimeter now extends into cloud computing. The cloud brings a variety of benefits in terms of efficiency in data sharing and access, but organizations shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security by merely enacting the same practices they use to protect on-premise data. Work with your cyber security partner to form a holistic cyber perimeter strategy that merges traditional protections like firewalls and anti-virus scans, with any additional practices that are required to secure your data in the cloud.
4. Intelligence Gathering
Many organization’s threat gathering and intelligence efforts are scattered across various functions, physical locations, and systems. This creates a somewhat disjointed methodology as it relates to gathering and analyzing intelligence that could indicate a potential threat. It’s one of the common barriers to robust cyber risk management, but organizations still need to establish threat intelligence gathering capabilities. Intelligence gathering should be built on shared intelligence, data, and research from both internal and external sources:
- Threat Hunting – As the sophistication of cybersecurity technology increases, systems can now proactively “hunt” for threats based on data from a variety of sources. This could be from your own internal systems, partner or vendor systems, or various external data sources. Your risk management partner will help you to develop an effective threat hunting program, as well as formulate processes that will gather as much actionable cyber threat intelligence. Threat hunting and intelligence are two of the most important aspects to cyber risk management because it allows you to take a proactive stance as it relates to malicious actors, rather than being solely reactive to incidents as they occur.
- Strategic Intelligence – Next, you’ll want to take a high level, strategic view of how your intelligence gathering efforts will play a pivotal role in your cyber risk management. Strategic intelligence assesses disparate pieces of information that informs organizational decision makers on broad or long-term issues and provides a timely warning of threats. Strategic cyber threat intelligence forms an overall picture of the intent and capabilities of malicious cyber threats, including the actors and tools through the identification of trends, patterns, and emerging threats that can be identified in internal, external, or partner systems.
- Operational Intelligence – It’s not just enough to gather data and intelligence on potential threats. You’ll need to find ways to operationalize your findings that will help in investigating and assessing potential threats as they arise. Operational intelligence is designed to provide specialized, technically-focused intelligence that will guide the support, response, and remediation of specific incidents. This type of intelligence is often gleaned from things like post-incident forensic reports, where you’ll be able to break down the attack chain and identify operational areas that can be improved in the future.
5. Reporting and Compliance
The final basic component of cyber risk management involves aspects of reporting and compliance. Depending on the type of industry you’re in, you’ll likely be subject to some set of compliance regulations designed to protect confidential information. This requires a strong government team with the proper knowledge, expertise, and influence within the organization to ensure proper reporting and compliance. You’ll want to ensure that any monitoring systems are functional, and capable of generating detailed reports in the event of a post-breach compliance audit.
- Forensic Reporting – In the event of a breach, you need to make sure that both your organization and external auditors are able to view detailed activity reports to get a better picture of the cyber “kill chain.” Not only will this help you in determining how the attack actually took place, but it will help auditors trace activity logs within your system more easily. Make sure your critical cybersecurity systems are consistently generating the right logs and reports so that you’ll be better able to guard against similar risks in the future.
- Internal Audits – Those who successfully manage cybersecurity risks don’t just wait for an incident (or government audit), to see what gaps or vulnerabilities they might have. Instead (and this is where a partner can be of assistance), conduct periodic internal audits on your systems, policies, and practices to make sure they’re in alignment with whatever compliance framework you’re subject to. Things like network penetration testing can be conducted by one of the many expert cyber risk management companies to ensure you stay ahead of the game.
- Response Plan – When it comes to compliance and risk management, it’s not always just about keeping the bad guys out. If an incident does occur, you need to have a response plan that’s in compliance and in alignment with FISMA, NIST, or whatever regulatory framework applies to your organization. Each and every employee should know exactly what to do in the event of a breach, and your response plan should be documented in detail so that any auditor can clearly see that you’ve taken all the necessary actions with regards to incident response.
Cyber risk management encompasses a wide range of areas and topics and differs from business to business and industry to industry. But by now you should have a solid grasp of the main components involved in creating a cyber risk management program within your organization. Protecting all data sources, establishing a cyber perimeter, and monitoring threats are all foundational pillars to cyber risk management.
Finally, don’t forget to enlist a partner in determining your approach to cyber risk management, and help you in areas like intelligence gathering and compliance. Whether it’s a change to your business, or advances in hacking techniques, your risk profile is bound to change over time. Work with your internal staff, external vendors, and cybersecurity partners to ensure that you’re keeping pace and filling in any gaps as needed.