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10 Pitfalls Of IT Risk Assessment

Avoid these assessment mistakes to make better long-term security decisions
6. Failing-To-Assess-And-Forget Syndrome
Organizations today simply do not do risk assessments often enough, experts warn. It's the only way to keep up with the changing threat landscape, says Luke Klink security consultant for Rook Consulting.

"Executing regular risk assessments enables business executives to put their security budgets to efficient use," he says. "With some investment of work upfront by performing detailed risk assessments, no longer will we have to rely on the 'spray-and-pray' protection approach, but execute true management of risk in a tactical and surgical manner."

According to Torsten George, vice president of marketing and products for integrated risk management vendor Agiliance, the most progressive organizations are following NIST guidelines for continuous monitoring to inform better situational awareness and improved assessment intervals.

"This approach provides increased risk posture visibility, improved response readiness, and minimizes overall risk," George says. "In reality, security risk assessments should be conducted continuously and even embedded into an organization's incident response management process, whereby each incident triggers an automatic high-level risk assessment. If a highly critical risk is discovered, a more detailed risk assessment can be conducted."

7. Relying Too Heavily On Assessment Tools
But automated tools that help enable continuous monitoring of IT assets shouldn't be the end-all, be-all of risk assessment. Some risks simply can't be identified without more in-depth digging offered by manual penetration testing, says Benjamin Caudill, co-founder and principal consultant at Rhino Security Labs.

"Often the most vital risks are those which can only be found through dedicated, manual analysis," he says, pointing to logic flaws in websites as a solid example. "The reason this should be on the radar of CISOs and other executives is the concept of exclusively tool-based risk assessments give management a false sense of security and can't identify a number of vulnerabilities."

8. Conducting Vulnerability-Centric Assessments
As organizations assess the technological vulnerabilities that contribute to risk, they often fail to keep in mind that it is the security or insecurity of the data itself that is the risk factor rather than the system holding the data.

"[Risk assessment] is often vulnerability-centric, rather than data-centric," says Barry Shteiman, director of security strategy for Imperva. "Often IT will choose to protect platforms that contain data, without actually understanding which kind of data is in the systems and who is accessing or have access to this data."

Enterprises should keep in mind that a vulnerability risk factor on a piece of internal network infrastructure may not have the same impact as the risk posed by a user accessing IP and compromising it.

9. Forgetting To Gauge The Human Risks
Similarly, organizations must also remember that systems and software vulnerabilities are only one component of a risk assessment, says Joseph Steinberg, CEO of Green Armor Solutions.

"Concerns about social engineering or the increased likelihood of human error when complex technologies are used in an organization often take a back seat to technological risks when assessments are performed," he says.

Failing to account for behavior patterns within the organization can actually lead to invalid assumptions in the final assessment.

"For example, the assessment may verify that only the correct people have access to sensitive data," says Chris Baker, owner of CMB Computers, a technology consultancy. "However, the assessment may not verify training of employees to protect data."

10. Leaving Out Facilities
As enterprises run their assessments, one big point that often falls off the radar is physical security. Quite often the security of facilities will directly impact the technology assets contained within, says Jim Mapes, CSO of BestIT, stating it goes beyond simply locking down data centers and server rooms.

"Physical is not only a potential risk for the safety of employees and the loss of equipment or hardcopy data assets, but may also be used to plant clandestine devices to allow for follow-on attacks launched from a remote location," Mapes says.

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