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Definition

risk-based security strategy

A risk-based security strategy is one in which an organization identifies specific security precautions that should be taken in an information technology (IT) environment and documents when and where those precautions should be applied. Risk-based security strategies help organizations identify which digital assets require the most protection. Three essential areas a business should address with a risk-based security strategy are; what are their key information assets, who has access to those assets/how they are protected, and who may want to steal or damage those assets. 

Risk-based security should be carefully planned and continually monitored to ensure the strategies support a well-rounded and in-depth approach to cybersecurity. The most effective risk-based security practices complement the organization's other enterprise risk management (ERM) strategies. 

Risk-based security strategy elements

There are five basic risk-based security strategy steps that an organization should follow when practicing risk-based security. These steps include:

  1. Asset valuation -- In this step, an organization should determine what and where its key assets are and who owns them. This step should also include any business impact and costs that come with the integrity or availability of an evaluated compromised asset. The goal is to ensure that assets most important to the day-to-day operation of an organization are given a high priority.
  2. Identifying threats -- The organization should identify malicious actors that may want to steal information or damage assets. This includes competitors, angered employees, or non-hostile threats such as untrained workers. Other potential threats to keep in mind include natural disasters such as floods or fires. Each threat should be assigned a threat level that is based on its likelihood of occurring.
  3. Identify vulnerabilities -- This step is about identifying potential software and network vulnerabilities. Pen tests and automated vulnerability scanning tools can aid in this.
  4. Risk profiling -- This step assesses the likelihood that a threat will exploit a vulnerability. Profiling activities evaluate existing safeguards and measuring the risk to specific assets. The goal is to assign each asset its own risk score.
  5. Risk treatment -- This step involved deciding whether to tolerate, treat or terminate risks. It's important that each decision is documented, with reasons given for each choice. Penetration tests should be used to simulate each threat and ensure the security of specific assets. This process should be repeated for each threat that has been identified.

Risk-based security strategy implementation

Although the implementation of risk-based security may be a time-consuming task, it will ensure the safety of information assets and align security efforts with business goals. Discussions between security professionals and business managers should begin by identifying potential threats and the likelihood of a potential threat occurring. This will allow stakeholders to start assigning risk levels to each threat and potential vulnerability.

Once this work has been completed, network administrators can review their access control policies to verify the organization is enforcing the principle of least privilege (PoLP). Once an audit of technical controls is enacted to ensure everything is working as expected, tests can then be initiated to simulate each threat.

This video explains why it's important to get executive support when implementing risk-based security strategies.

This was last updated in September 2019

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