Where to Start with Your Risk Management?

Understanding and identifying risks is essential to a well-built and sustainable business. Being in touch with the threats and the ways to counter them is essential for a safer working environment.

Risk Management is the most important instrument for Information Security Governance. It provides a framework for the assessment and successful management of risks. Sadly, this is something usually poorly done or even neglected completely by a surprisingly large number of organizations today. Risk management allows companies to devise and implement economically viable risk counter-measures. All activities involve risks, which are in turn a derivative of threats, vulnerabilities, and impact. Properly identifying weaknesses and assessing the associated risks is essential, and pays off in the long run.

What are the methods applied?

There’s a wide spectrum of methods used for Risk Management today. For the most part, these methods consist of the following elements, performed, more or less, in the following order:

  • Identify and list assets;
  • Identify and characterize threats before they appear;
  • Assess the vulnerability of critical assets to specific threats;
  • Determine the possibility of risk and the consequences it may bring;
  • Identify ways to reduce or even remove risks;
  • Prioritize measures based on a strategy.

The general principle

Looking at the ideal Risk Management, a prioritization process is followed whereby the risks with the greatest loss (or impact) and the greatest probability of occurring are handled first, and risks with lower probability of occurrence and lower loss are handled in descending order.

In practice, on the other hand, the process of assessing overall risk is complex. On one hand, we have to consider the resources used to mitigate risks with a high probability of occurrence but lower loss. On the other, we have the mitigation resources for risks with high loss but a lower probability of occurrence. Balancing between these resources can often be mishandled.


the choices for addressing assessed risks

The first one is acceptance – sometimes it is cheaper to leave an asset unprotected to a specific risk instead of spending the money required to protect it. Acceptance cannot be done without considering the risk itself and all options possible.

The second is mitigation – involves deciding on the implementation of countermeasures aimed at lowering the risk to an acceptable level (as illustrated with the algorithm below). One should keep in mind, it is not possible to mitigate the risk entirely.

Next is transference – this is usually referred to as the “insurance scenario.” A conscious decision to hire an external company to assume the risk in return for remuneration. Transference of risk is also achieved through outsourcing, with its own risks.

Finally, avoidance – when risks discovered are high or extreme and cannot be easily mitigated, avoiding the risk (and the project altogether) may be the best option. The math here is simple: if you stand more to lose from mitigating the risk than what you will earn from this project, then avoidance is the way to go.


Risk Management is at the heart of Information Security, because it provides an important instrument to balance and rationalize countermeasure expense with business success and expected Return On Investment (ROI).

When opting for one of the choices for dealing with risks, one has to take into account something called the  Annualized Loss Expectancy (ALE), which is the expected monetary loss that can be expected for an asset due to risk over a one year period. ALE is derived from Single Loss Expectancy (SLE) multiplied by the Annualized Rate of Occurrence (ARO) and can be used to directly analyze cost vs. benefit.

Regarding Risk Management, if spending on threat countermeasures is considerably higher than that risk’s ALE, then it may not be worth the investment. Or, in other words, one must evaluate the positive impact countermeasures will have on ROI by making sure the expense is not larger than the ALE.

Risk Management is meaningful only when decisions are made based on meaningful risk analysis, which in turn involves preliminary processes such as penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, and objective audit.

The stages in the risk management process:


  • Obtain necessary data access to business process and operations structure;
  • Identify and notify participants and decision-makers;
  • Identify and distribute scope, objectives, and requirements;

Identifying risks:

  • Ensure participation of appropriate staff and management in risk assessment;
  • Review scope, objectives, and process;
  • Conduct risk identification, consolidate related risks;

Assessing & prioritizing risks:

  • Identify and obtain consensus on impact, severity, probability;
  • Identify time window when risk could occur;
  • Assess and prioritize all existing risks;

Deciding on control options:

  • Identify mitigation options for each risk;
  • Identify risks to be accepted, avoided, transferred, or mitigated;
  • Assign plan operative instructions for avoided, transferred, or mitigated risks;
  • Establish/update risk database;

Establishing mitigation plans

  • Develop draft mitigation plans and resources;
  • Obtain manager review and approval of mitigation plans;
  • Ensure mitigation plan is funded, directed, and integrated;

Implementing mitigation plans

  • Finalize Risk Management plan;
  • Devise mechanisms to monitor triggers, cues, and mitigation;
  • Implement mitigation as authorized, funded, and scheduled;
  • Provide reporting on mitigation results and progress;

Monitoring mitigation plans

  • Periodically review mitigation plan results;
  • Stop or modify mitigation plans and resources;
  • Retire risks when appropriate;
  • Update risk database for mitigation process and retirement.

The Role and Purpose of Training & Awareness in Information Security


Do not be alarmed to find out your organization is somewhere in the first couple of levels on the diagram below. Awareness is the first step, and you have much to gain by simply educating your personnel or just yourself.




Enterprises and organizations cannot protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information in today’s highly networked systems environment without ensuring that all people involved in using and managing IT:

  • Understand their roles and responsibilities related to the organizational mission;
  • Understand the organization’s IT security policy, procedures, and practices;
  • Have at least adequate knowledge of the various management, operational, and technical controls required and available to protect the IT resources for which they are responsible.

As cited in audit reports, periodicals, conference presentations, and various other media, it is generally understood by the IT security professional community that people are one of the weakest links in attempts to secure systems and networks.

The “human factor” – not technology – is key to provide an adequate and appropriate level of security. If people are the key but are also a weak link, more and better attention must be paid to this “asset”.

A robust and enterprise-wide awareness and training program are paramount for ensuring that people understand their IT security responsibilities, organizational policies, and how to properly use and protect the IT resources entrusted to them.


A needs assessment is a process that can be used to determine an organization’s awareness and training needs. The results of a needs assessment can convince management to allocate adequate resources to meet the identified awareness and training needs.

In conducting a needs assessment, it is important that key personnel is involved. As a minimum, the following roles should be addressed in terms of any special training needs:

Executive Management – organizational leaders need to fully understand directives and laws that form the basis for the security program. They also need to comprehend their leadership roles in ensuring full compliance by users within their units.

Security Personnel (security program managers and security officers) – these individuals act as expert consultants for their organization and therefore must be well educated on security policy and accepted best practices.

System Owners – owners must have a broad understanding of security policy and a high degree of understanding regarding security controls and requirements applicable to the systems they manage.

System Administrators and IT Support Personnel – entrusted with a high degree of authority over support operations critical to a successful security program, these individuals need a higher degree of technical knowledge in effective security practices and implementation.

Operational Managers and System Users – these individuals need a high degree of security awareness and training on security controls and rules of behavior for systems they use to conduct business operations.

A variety of sources of information in an agency can be used to determine IT security awareness and training needs, and there are different ways to collect that information. Below is a sample list that suggests techniques for gathering information as part of a needs assessment:

  • Interviews with all key groups and organizations identified;
  • Organizational surveys;
  • Review and assessment of available resource material, such as current awareness and training material, training schedules, and lists of attendees;
  • Analysis of metrics related to awareness and training (e.g., a percentage of users completing required awareness session or exposure, percentage of users with significant security responsibilities who have been trained in a role-specific material);
  • Review of security plans for general support systems and major applications to identify system and application owners and appointed security representatives;
  • Review of system inventory and application user ID databases to determine all who have access;
  • Review of any findings and/or recommendations from oversight bodies (e.g., Congressional inquiry, inspector general, internal review/audit, and internal controls program) or program reviews regarding the IT security program;
  • Conversations and interviews with management, owners of general support systems and major applications, and other organization staff whose business functions rely on IT;
  • Analysis of events (such as denial of service attacks, website defacements, hijacking of systems used in subsequent attacks, successful virus attacks) might indicate the need for training (or additional training) of specific groups of people;
  • Review when technical or infrastructure changes are made;
  • The study of trends first identified in industry, academic, or government publications or by training/education organizations. The use of these “early warning systems” can provide insight into an issue within the organization that has yet to be seen as a problem.




Learning is a continuum; it starts with awareness, builds to training, and evolves into education. Security awareness efforts are designed to change behavior or reinforce good security practices.

Awareness is not training. The purpose of awareness presentations is simply to focus attention on security. Awareness presentations are intended to allow individuals to recognize IT security concerns and respond accordingly.

Training strives to produce relevant and needed security skills and competencies.

Education integrates all of the security skills and competencies of the various functional specialties into a common body of knowledge and strives to produce IT security specialists and professionals capable of vision and response.