• Risk Assessments, Frameworks, and Approaches

    March 8, 2021 | Joe Sullivan
  • Risk Assessments are the topic for this episode of the CISO Dojo Podcast.

    What is a risk assessment: The identification, evaluation, and estimation of the levels of risks involved in a situation, with comparisons against benchmarks or standards, and determination of an acceptable level of risk.

    There are two types of risk assessments we discuss in this episode:

    • Quantitative Risk Assessment: This one uses actual data and amounts during the risk assessment.
    • Qualitative Risk Assessment: “Relative measure of risk or asset value based on rankings such as low, medium or high; not important, important very important, or on a scale from 1 to 10.”

    Risk Assessment Frameworks

    We are going to discuss two commonly use frameworks often utilized for risk assessments:

    FAIR (Factor Analysis of Information Risk)

    Defines value/liability as:

    • Criticality
    • Cost
    • Sensitivity
    • Embarrassment
    • Competitive advantage
    • Legal/regulatory
    • General

    FAIR also defines six kinds of loss:

    • Productivity
    • Response
    • Replacement
    • Fines and judgments
    • Competitive advantage

    NIST Special Publication 800 – 30 Risk Assessment Framework: NIST 800-30 is a 9 step approach to risk assessments that includes:

    • Step 1: System Characterization  
    • Step 2: Threat Identification  
    • Step 3: Vulnerability Identification  
    • Step 4: Control Analysis  
    • Step 5: Likelihood Determination  
    • Step 6: Impact Analysis  
    • Step 7: Risk Determination  
    • Step 8: Control Recommendations  
    • Step 9: Results Documentation

    Types of Risk Assessments

    In this episode we briefly cover a few common types of risk assessments:

    RIA: Risk Impact Assessment

    • This is the initial risk assessment that classifies the risk level of the system (Low, Moderate, High, Very High) and mitigating controls.

    BIA: Business Impact Assessment

    • This is usually used during BPC/DR planning and determines the impact of losing your business-critical systems.

    PIA: Privacy Impact Assessment

    • This one identifies PII that is collected; why the information is collected; and how the data will be used, shared, stored, and protected.

    DRIA: Detailed Risk Impact Assessment

    • This one is more detailed than a regular risk assessment and outlines more robust security controls that are commensurate with the inherent risks of the system.

    We aren’t going to get into Risk Analysis, because there’s a larger conversation that needs to be had here. An organization needs understand what their top risks are so they can know here to start the risk assessment process.

    Top security risks for businesses

    Let’s take a look at where a lot of organizations are incurring the greatest amount of risk with their security posture, or lack of security posture.

    Your Organization is a Target

    Traditionally smaller businesses weren’t an appealing target for threat actors. That changed when ransomware arrived on the scene. Smaller organizations are a more appealing target for ransomeware because they typically have less budget to spend on backing up their data, business continuity, and disaster recovery.

    When a small business experiences ransomware, more often than not , they are forced to pay the ransom to recover their data and return to normal operations. If it’s not ransomware, the second favorite cyber attack of threat actors is crypto mining malware that runs silently on the systems consuming resources and mining cryptocurrency for the attacker.

    Cyber Security Budget

    Many of the organizations aren’t aware if they are over invested or under invested in security. Over investments takes funds away from other strategic business objectives, while under investment incurs too much risk for the organization.

    Over investment isn’t a difficult problem to solve, but under investment can be challenging to rectify. The best approach to determining where you stand is to map out the maturity of your organization in relation what the industry is doing. I’ll use the NIST Cybersecurity Framework functions to measure the maturity of the security program:

    • Identify
    • Protect
    • Detect
    • Respond
    • Recover

    Next, map the maturity levels of 0-5 using the Capability Maturity Model. 0 is the least mature and 5 is the most mature. Most organizations should strive for a maturity level of 3 across the five functions of the NIST CSF. If you are not at level 3, you are under invested in that particular function. If you are at a 4-5 maturity level for a particular function, you might be over invested in that function.

    Patching and Vulnerability Management Risk Assessments

    An effective cyber security program includes patching and vulnerability management. Unpatched vulnerabilities provide opportunities for threat actors to compromise your systems and networks. Even in the best organizations achieve about a 75% success rate. In an organization that lacks patching and vulnerability management the risk for a breach is considerable.

    A successful patching and vulnerability management program starts with asset inventory. You need to know what assets you have and then you need a way to identify and monitor your patching and vulnerability exposure and remediation progress.

    Email Security Risk Assessments

    Breaches often start with malware, phishing, or spam as the entry point into the organization. This indicates a lack of technical controls at the email server, as well as the administrative control of a security awareness program.

    If you are hosting email in house with no spam filtering, anti-malware, or other technical controls, now is a good time to consider outsourcing email to Office 365 or Google Apps. The benefits are less maintenance, more security, reduced costs and administration time.

    Data Backup, Testing, and Recovery

    A lot of organizations lack a backup plan, back up retention, and testing of backups. The problem is usually a lack of understanding of what their mission critical data is. This goes back to the lack of a mature security program.

    Organizations that are backing up their data usually fail to test their backups due to a lack of time and lack of staff. This is something that should also be addressed in the over all security program for the organization or perhaps outsourced to a third party for business continuity and disaster recovery purposes.

    BYOD Cyber Security Risk Assessments

    Mobile devices are growing in popularity as an entry point for threat actors and careful consideration should be given to BYOD programs.

    While there is a lot of benefit to BYOD (bring your own device) there are also a lot of risks. The main issues are co-mingling of data, eDiscovery, terminations, data security, and mobile device management.

    Mobile device manage is critical if you allow employees to utilize their own mobile devices for work purposes. You should also include and mobile device threat prevention solution that detects and prevents malware, phishing over text message (smishing), and rooting or jail breaking of mobile devices.

    Also consider a VPN for secure connections from the mobile device back to the corporate network.

    No Cyber Security Program

    This by far is one of the most common problems I encounter when consulting with small, medium, and even large enterprise level businesses.

    There should be an overarching policy from the executive level that the organization understands the importance of cyber security and will have a cyber security program.

    A typical cyber security program should include:

    • Security Awareness
    • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
    • Physical Security
    • Acceptable use policies for email, Internet, and mobile devices
    • Password policy
    • Encryption Policy
    • Cloud Storage and provisioning policy
    • Incident response policy
    • Vendor Management Policy
    • Cyber Risk Appetite Statement

    The above is not a comprehensive list and will differ from organization to organization. Preventing breaches, business impact, and security incidents starts with risk assessments and a cyber security program.

    Having a formal security program also means having someone in charge of security to drive it forward. This is usually a CISO or VCISO depending on the size of the organization.