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5 Steps To Strengthen Information Risk Profiles

Make sure you include the right employees and business processes when developing risk management strategy.

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Consider the phrase "information risk profile." It sounds serious, important. It sounds like something most companies should have in the information age. Yet it's risk-management strategy that's easy to put off or ignore altogether.

For organizations with an outdated. insufficient or altogether nonexistent information risk profile, it helps to start with a basic question: Just what the heck is one?

"I look at it as conversation that discusses the organization's tolerance for loss, disruption or availability issues regarding their data assets," IP Architects president John Pironti said in an interview. "When does it hurt when they lose something?

Having that conversation, as it were, can help companies define and prioritize smarter approaches to securing and safeguarding their information, no matter what that information might be. This is turn helps minimize the potential pain when things go wrong: Financial loss, PR embarrassment, productivity drains and similar downsides.

[ Are passwords passé? Read Kill Passwords: Hassle-Free Substitute Wanted. ]

Among the many reasons an information risk profile is an important tool in the digital age: A comprehensive one can help organizations clarify what is actually important versus what is perceived to be important. Failing to make that distinction often leads to wasted resources, ineffective strategies and poor decision making.

Pironti, who will chair the Information Security and Risk Management track at Interop, offered this advice on building effective, efficient information risk profiles.

1. Heed The Difference Between "Risk" And "Threat."

Pironti noted a common misconception about information risk: "I think security professionals, myself included, spend too much time thinking that they know 'risk' when they really know 'threat,'" he said. Although "threat" might apply to areas such as malware or phishing scams, "risk" should include a much broader view of data loss, corruption or downtime, no matter the cause.

Comprehensive profiles address not just targeted or indiscriminate security attacks, but risk of all kinds: Employee error, technology failure, vendor mistakes and so on. "At the end of the day, they have the same business impact," Pironti said.

2. Company Should 'Own' The Profile.

"You're looking for the business leadership to really help to understand: What should we care about and why?" Pironti said. This can be easier said than done, Pironti added, because executives and managers are often paid to take risks. But Pironti's view is shared by others in the security and privacy field.

Although information security pros should lead the process, the end result should be owned and maintained by the business. "If security guys just go around and give their perspectives and look for a rubber stamp from the business, it probably won't be embraced [or] viewed as something that's credible," he said. "It's probably not going to make it to the senior leadership or to the board level because it's going to be viewed as an operational review rather than a business-level review."

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