The value of information has become one of the most important assets a company can possess. Similarly, collecting, processing, transmitting, and storing information has become too complex. This has increased the chances of information security risks that organisations could face. Therefore an organisation should engage itself in a battle against threat actors which involves minimising errors, weaknesses, flaws, and vulnerabilities within its network system to maintain information security.
Information security risk management helps companies understand where their vulnerabilities lie so that they can create a policy suitable for their business objectives.
What Is Information Security Risk Management?
Information security risk management (ISRM) is the process of managing risks associated with using information systems. It involves identifying, assessing, and controlling or treating risks to an organisation’s assets’ confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
ISRM is important because it helps identify vulnerabilities that can lead to data breaches and other security incidents. It also helps in prioritising the severity of every vulnerability based on its probability and impact.
It is important to note that the ISRM process should be led by the business objectives so that the information security management system can achieve the intended outcomes.
What Are the Risks to Information Systems?
Risk is basically anything that limits or threatens the organisation’s ability to implement its mission. Risks to information systems include:
- Loss of confidentiality because of unauthorised disclosure of sensitive data.
- Loss of integrity because of unauthorised destruction or modification of sensitive information or data.
- Loss of availability due to disruption in using or accessing the system or data.
- Unauthorised use of information systems for unintended purposes, such as sending spam mail from a hijacked account.
What Is the Importance of Information Security Risk Management?
Information Security Risk Management is part of an overall information management strategy and is key to any organisation’s cyber security. Its end goal is to identify and mitigate threats to a company’s network, systems, and data. ISRM also identifies the root cause of the problems and ensures that they don’t happen again.
The ISRM process benefits a company in various ways, including:
- Identifying the vulnerabilities of an information system.
- Determining the extent of vulnerability and its possible impact on the company.
- Determining the best ways to manage a given risk by evaluating its cost, probability of occurrence, and impact on the organisation’s objectives.
- Providing opportunities for organisations to develop proactive strategies for managing risks and their consequences.
- Providing a systematic way for organisations to identify and manage potential threats and vulnerabilities before they can cause significant harm or damage.
Information Security Risk Management Framework
ISRM framework is a systematic approach to managing the risks that lead to information security breaches. It is an important process for any company to take before they begin implementing information security solutions.
Here are the stages in the Information Security Risk Management Framework.
1. Identification of Risks
The first stage in the Information Security Risk Management process is identifying risk. This involves the following;
i) Identifying Assets
This involves the identification of assets that are related to the information system. These assets are considered to have the most significant impact on the organisation if their integrity, confidentiality, and availability are compromised. The assets include applications, servers, network routers, backup disks and systems, switches, and devices used to process, transmit and maintain information or data, such as laptops or mobile phones.
ii) Identifying Vulnerabilities
This involves the identification of system-level or software vulnerabilities that put the assets’ confidentiality, integrity, and availability at risk. These vulnerabilities are weaknesses or deficiencies in organisational processes that could compromise information. The vulnerabilities can include cases such as no data backup, weak passwords, no encryption, no training, no surge protection, no firewalls, etc.
iii) Identifying Threats
This is the identification of threats toward the identified assets. They are the potential causes of assets and information becoming compromised. Threat identification is a significant activity that helps tie risks to known threats and identify different ways the threats can cause the risks to be realised when vulnerabilities are exploited. The threats include theft, virus, floods, hackers, software or infrastructure failure, and disclosure of sensitive information.
2. Risk Assessment
The next stage after identification is the risk assessment. This involves analysing and evaluating the likelihood and potential impact of the identified risks. Risk assessments allow organisations to prioritise risks and focus on those that pose the greatest harm to their operations.
Once a risk has been identified and assessed, an organisation needs to select treatment options. The risk treatment options depend on the organisation’s strategy and operational needs. The common treatment and control options include:
This is implementing controls that fully or nearly fully fix the underlying risk. For instance, applying patches for the identified vulnerability.
This boils down to reducing the likelihood and impact of the identified risk but not entirely fixing it. For instance, instead of patching the identified vulnerabilities, you implement a firewall that allows only specific systems to communicate with the vulnerable service.
This is transferring or sharing the risk with another entity that is better equipped to manage the risk and to help your organisation recover from incurred costs of the risk being realised. For instance, purchasing insurance that covers any losses incurred if vulnerable systems are exploited. However, this should be used to supplement risk mitigation and remediation, not replace them.
iv) Risk Acceptance
This involves not fixing the risk. Risk acceptance is appropriate in cases where the risk is low, and the effort and time it could take to fix the risk would cost more than the costs that would be incurred if the risk is realised. For instance, after identifying a vulnerability, you conclude there’s nothing sensitive on that server, and it can’t be used to access other critical assets. Also, a successful exploit of that vulnerability is complex. So you decide not to spend time and resources on managing the vulnerability.
v) Risk Avoidance
This is changing or removing all circumstances that are causing the identified risk. For instance, you can migrate sensitive data from servers with operating systems that can no longer receive security patches to newer patchable servers.
Regardless of your treatment option, the decision must be communicated within the organisation. The stakeholders should be made to understand the costs of treating or not treating risk and the logic behind that decision.
Moreover, accountability and responsibility should be clearly defined and associated with individuals in the organisation to ensure the right people are engaged at the right time in the process. Should an incident occur, all stakeholders should be provided with timely and thorough information on the nature of the attack, the response of the IT security team, and the framework to use when preventing future breaches.
5. Monitor and Review the Risk
Risk management is an ongoing process, so implement continuous security monitoring and upgrade protocols to keep the organisation’s systems secure. Revisit risks regularly, especially when there is a major change to the processes, system, mission, or vision. Also, you can review risks when there’s a change in the business environment.
For instance, when there are emerging business competitors, weather pattern changes or new security breaches are identified. This process may also involve security awareness training of new security measures.
Ownership in Managing Information Risks
Even the best risk management plans can fail if communication is inconsistent and tasks are not delegated and followed through. Therefore, to manage risk successfully, the risk management plan and process requires a detailed evaluation of the scope of the tasks, training of stakeholders at all levels, assignment of responsibilities, plans for completion with contingencies and deadlines, and any support mechanisms that can assist in the process. Also, defining expectations and timelines must be clear to all stakeholders.
There are various stakeholders in the risk management process, each playing a crucial role.
1. Process Owners
These high-level actors are generally the finance or audit team responsible for the ERM (Enterprise Risk Management) program. The information assurance team at this level owns the ISRM program, which feeds into ERM. Members of this team need to be continually in the field to drive the process forward.
2. Risk Owners
These are the individuals responsible for addressing particular risks in their own systems by budgeting for the management, mitigation, monitoring, and remediation tools used to fix the threats. Risk owners are accountable for ensuring risks are treated appropriately. Therefore, if you approve the budget for any risk management initiative, you are the risk owner.
3. Information Security Risk Management Team
This is the group involved in implementing the selected treatment plan. It includes system administrators or engineers and system users. They handle the computer and security-related aspects of the risk management methodology.
Managing risk is a continuous task, and its success depends on how well risks are assessed, plans are communicated, and roles are upheld. Identifying the critical processes, people, and technology to help address the management steps creates a solid foundation for any organisation’s risk management strategy and program. Also, you can use the same steps in the cybersecurity risk management process.