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12/13/2013
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Advancing The IT Security DNA Through Risk Management

Shifting focus from the bright shiny things to critical business processes can actually stand to advance security technical maturity along with true risk mitigation

If an IT security organization feels it's in a maturity rut, perhaps stuck in the compliance-focused hamster wheel or lacking enough line-of-business support to make necessary security investments, one of the fast ways out of it is to take the spotlight away from security processes and technology and move it to business processes and business risks.

"Shifting the focus from technical things, from the bright, shiny security objects, to instead being about critical business processes, that shift is a big deal for risk management," says Sam Curry, chief strategy officer and chief technologist for RSA, the security division of EMC.

In its work with members of its Security for Business Innovation Council (SBIC), RSA recently helped publish a report on how to transform information security, with highlighted recommendations from security executives at a selection of Global 1000 firms. Among the five major suggestions for future-proofing security processes, three of them revolved around reworking IT risk management so its activities are cast in the light of its relativity to the business.

According to leading CISOs and CSOs, in addition to shifting their focus from technical assets to critical business processes, they should also be instituting business estimates of cybersecurity risks in order to show the financial impact to the business when risks come to play, as well as establishing a business-centric risk assessment process.

Critical to all of it is meaningful collaboration -- essentially folding in IT risk management decision-making into every business initiative of the company just as enterprise risk management is involved to calculate other business risks.

[Are you using your human sensors? See Using The Human Perimeter To Detect Outside Attacks.]

"A key aspect of risk management is having a process in place to ensure that for every initiative in your organization, a risk assessment is done at a very early stage in the lifecycle," says one SBIC participant, Vishal Salvi, CISO for HDFC Bank Limited.

It's why Dwayne Melancon of Tripwire recommends cross-functional teams to help establish a good hybrid perspective on IT risks.

"A number of organizations I work with have cross-functional teams that look at risk holistically to better understand dependencies, and these teams make recommendations about which risks the company should focus on from a business perspective," says Melancon, CTO of Tripwire. "The discussion and agreement process makes it a lot easier to allocate scarce resources to the highest priorities for the whole business."

Melancon says that focusing too much on technical risks instead of business risks is a common mistake of IT professionals working in isolation while conducting risk assessments.

"A top down, risk-based approach is best -- it allows you to focus on the 'so what?' aspect of risk to the business, instead of going down a technical rat hole around a risk that doesn't really impact the business in a significant way," he says.

This last point is important in understanding how collaboration between IT security and line-of-business leaders should work; the teamwork shouldn't be focused on making business people learn the intricacies of IT security technology. In fact, it means the opposite, Curry says.

"The security guys have to wake up and learn about business. It means the security people have to start carrying business books around and start talking to their peers and that will do more to advance the DNA of a company from a security perspective than the reverse," Curry says. "And when you do that, you find the technical maturation happens more easily."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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