We started our series on risk management a few weeks ago by introducing the concept of risk. One of the general stereotypes about risk is that it lacks some discreteness of security compliance–it doesn’t lend itself to checklists or paint-by-numbers approaches. This is, overall, a good thing, but can prove challenging for enterprises not ready for it.
Here, we wanted to discuss something that many don’t associate with risk management–visualization and analytics. While risk is a human-driven process overall, decision-makers would do well with a set of easily digestible information to help foreground risk as a measurable process.
How Does Data Visualization Help Prevent Cyber Attacks?
Cyberattacks are rarely isolated, and even if a single attack is observed in a given system, it is often connected with other attacks, other attack surfaces or other vulnerabilities.
One of the worst approaches an organization can take to mitigating or resisting cyberattacks is to silo their experience or the experiences of other organizations and never learning anything from them.
This is where analytics and visualization can come in handy. Consider the following factors of cybersecurity:
- Massive Data Sets: The key metrics that encompass performance, security and compliance for enterprise systems cover gigabytes, perhaps even terabytes, of information regularly. It’s not feasible, nor even productive, to assume that security professionals and administrators monitor this kind of information manually.
- Dedication and Interpretation: Following the previous point, real security issues require specialists to dig through data and make judgments about preemptive or proactive steps to stop them.
- Proactivity: Speaking of which, most organizations don’t want to play whack-a-mole with cyber threats. Accordingly, predictive security will encompass a few critical data-intensive areas, including risk assessment, system monitoring and real-time event analysis.
- Threat Complexity: Modern security threats are complex. We haven’t lived in a simple cybersecurity context for decades, and the notion of a single piece of malware, a collection of streamlined attack surfaces or systems that are hardened against all threats, isn’t realistic. Most attacks come in the form of social engineering and other phishing attacks, which will lead to malware, ransomware and advanced persistent threats (APTs).
What data visualization provides security experts is a way to make sense of information that creates a clear picture of the current security state while including insight into potential steps to avoid these threats in the future.
The core of many visualization suites is a dashboard, sometimes called a Security Operations Center (SOC) dashboard or CISO dashboard. The purpose of this visualization is to collect critical security information about the system in a logically and visually coherent manner.
For the purposes of cybersecurity, this is relatively straightforward. Automated systems can monitor security events, track any security system breach, and raise alerts in case of a breach. Modern security systems can even mobilize artificial intelligence to gather information about user behaviors and raise warnings about suspicious activities.
And, while visualization and analytics are clearly helpful with cybersecurity, they haven’t completely moved over into a more challenging discipline: risk management.
Analytics and Risk Assessment
Assessing and managing risk is, in many cases, a more nuanced process than straightforward security monitoring. Risk is all about coordinating your organization’s security and operational priorities against compliance requirements and cyber threats.
However, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, risk can move from an abstract exercise following a framework into a standards-based practice that grounds your understanding of your system in a more concrete set of controls, processes and regulatory demands.
What does this mean for analytics and risk management?
- Measurable and Quantifiable Risk: Many financial institutions have ways to quantify their risk profiles, but organizations implementing cybersecurity infrastructure often do not. It’s difficult to quantify some areas of risk–in many cases, an organization either implements security measures or does not. But, in many cases, visualization can help you understand requirements on a continuum, where compliance may not necessarily be the best option.
- Self-Defining Metrics: While a security framework may ground how you understand your infrastructure and its current state, risk allows you to extend those metrics as you need, emphasizing different KPIs, success criteria or even categories for data or system protection.
- Clear Understanding of System and Risk State: Writing a risk profile policy and implementing it sounds great on paper, but leadership needs a way to see and understand what it all means. Even simple technologies like heat maps or color-coded grids provide a quick and intelligible understanding of the risk situation.
- Quick Understanding of Risk and Gaps: Decision-making as a real-time activity is at the heart of cybersecurity. Risk management should provide decision-makers with insight to make those rapid choices even before security threats pose a problem. More importantly, this understanding can reduce the time CIOs, CISOs or other IT and security experts need to explain the security situation.
Building a Risk Management Visualization Framework (with Metrics)
Analytics call for metrics, and metrics come with an understanding of the existing system. Fortunately, some of these metrics are easier to implement… but others call for a deeper investigation into the organization’s needs.
Some critical security and risk aspects to consider include:
- Security and Compliance Gaps: Perhaps the most straightforward metrics to consider, your organization can simply determine the requirements of cybersecurity, compliance and business priorities and how close the organization is to meeting those priorities. But, more importantly, you can set priorities as tiers–compliance as a minimum and higher levels of technology or practices meeting more concrete business goals.
- Response Times: Visualization can give you a map of your response times, including Time to Detect and Time to Respond. Your organization should clearly understand how quickly it should respond to security incidents. And, if you’re running penetration tests or other exercises, you can have visual representations of different response times, trends in improvement (or lack of improvement), and other information to help drive security mitigation and recovery approaches.
- Data Pathways: It’s one thing to conceive of the journey that your company’s data may take, but it’s entirely another to map it out. Analytics platforms can show you just that, including all locations stored and transmitted, who touches it and any place, if any, where it is partially or fully exposed to threats.
- Combining Risk Profiles: Risk isn’t a monolithic process. A comprehensive visualization dashboard for risk can include risk elements from several operations around your business, including third-party risk, social engineering risks, compliance risks and others.
Risk management can be part human and part machine, expertise and intelligent analytics. We employ the Continuum GRC ITAM platform to support cloud-based and visualization-driven risk management.
Are You Ready to Take Control of Your Risk?
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