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New Metrics Assign Grades to Your Security Posture

Free, user-driven metrics a step toward making security measurement more of 'a science instead of a black art'

A coalition of enterprises, government agencies, universities, and vendors from around the globe tomorrow will release a set of free metrics for measuring an organization’s security posture.

The nonprofit Center for Internet Security (CIS) hopes the metrics will serve as a standard method for assessing security readiness. “Today there are thousands of ways to measure this… but no two organizations measure these things the same way, and no two divisions [in the same organization] measure them in the same way,” says Bert Miuccio, CEO of CIS. “Today we are creating an objective, data-driven way to measure the security status of an enterprise.”

Miuccio says this “number grade” can be used to help a company make more informed security buying decisions or change its security strategy, for instance. “This lets decision-makers understand the security status of their organization over time,” he says.

CIS consists of more than 150 member companies, including Fidelity National Financial, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin TSS, Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Group, Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets, Southwest Airlines, Union Bank of California, and the Federal Reserve Board and U.S. Dept of Homeland Security ‘s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT)

Security experts say only time will tell whether CIS’s security metrics will take off. But even if it only gets the conversation going, that is progress, since there hasn’t before been an effective, standard way to test and measure security postures, they say.

“It’s at least the basis for the next try,” says Fred Pinkett, vice president of product management for Core Security. “There has come a time in security where we need to be looking at this more scientifically than the technical people in the back room saying ‘Listen to us’ and ‘Go about your business.’ We need the business to understand what we’re doing.”

Companies need a way to determine why their security policies and procedures may not be working. “They put all of these policy and procedures in, but they may still be getting attacked and they want to know what’s going on,” Pinkett says. “Measuring and testing yourself” is a good way to start truly understanding what’s working and what’s not, he notes.

The first set of metrics that the CIS will release tomorrow for download are: mean time between security incidents; mean time to recover from security incidents; percentage of systems configured to approved standards; percentage of systems patched to policy; percentage of systems with anti-virus; percentage of business applications that had a risk assessment; percentage of business applications that had a penetration or vulnerability assessment; and percentage of application code that had a security assessment, threat model analysis, or code review prior to production deployment.

Miuccio says the metrics define what to measure and how, and then let an organization look at the trends over time. They also allow an organization to compare its scores with other organizations in its vertical market to see where it stands compared to others in the same industry, he says.

Ensuring a meaningful comparison among organizations’ security postures won’t be easy, experts say. “It’s always great to have data. It’s interesting to see what constraints they put around the data so they get an apples-to-apples comparison,” says Dick Mackey, vice president of consulting for SystemExperts.

Meanwhile, CIS will also launch a software-based security metrics service for its members that helps them correlate their security practices with their number grades, as well as anonymously compare their grades to other organizations in their field.

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  • Core Security Technologies
  • SystemExperts Corp.

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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