Three Danger Signs I Look for when Scoping Risk Assessments

Scoping an enterprise-level risk assessment can be a real guessing game. One of the main problems is that it’s much more difficult and time consuming to do competent risk assessments of organizations with shoddy, disorganized information security programs than it is organizations with complete, well organized information security programs. There are many reasons why this is true, but generally it is because attaining accurate information is more difficult and because one must dig more deeply to ascertain the truth. So when I want to quickly judge the state of an organization’s information security program, I look for “danger” signs in three areas.

First, I’ll find out what kinds of network security assessments the organization undertakes. Is external network security assessment limited to vulnerability studies, or are penetration testing and social engineering exercises also performed on occasion? Does the organization also perform regular vulnerability assessments of the internal network? Is internal penetration testing also done? How about software application security testing? Are configuration and network architecture security reviews ever done?

Second, I look to see how complete and well maintained their written information security program is. Does the organization have a complete set of written information security policies that cover all of the business processes, IT processes and equipment used by the organization? Are there detailed network diagrams, inventories and data flow maps in place? Does the organization have written vendor management, incident response and business continuity plans? Are there written procedures in place for all of the above? Are all of these documents updated and refined on a regular basis? 

Third, I’ll look at the organization’s security awareness and training program. Does the organization provide security training to all personnel on a recurring basis? Is this training “real world”? Are security awareness reminders generously provided throughout the year? If asked, will general employees be able to tell you what their information security responsibilities are? Do they know how to keep their work areas, laptops and passwords safe? Do they know how to recognize and resist social engineering tricks like phishing emails? Do they know how to recognize and report a security incident, and do they know their responsibilities in case a disaster of some kind occurs?

I’ve found that if the answer to all of these questions is “yes”, you will have a pretty easy time conducting a thorough risk assessment of the organization in question. All of the information you need will be readily available and employees will be knowledgeable and cooperative. Conversely I’ve found that if the answer to most (or even some) of these questions is “no” you are going to have more problems and delays to deal with. And if the answers to all of these questions is “no”, you should really build in plenty of extra time for the assessment. You will need it!

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

Leave a Reply