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Risk Management in Network Security: 7 Best Practices for 2024


Protecting an organization against every conceivable threat is rarely possible. There is a practically unlimited number of potential threats in the world, and security leaders don’t have unlimited resources available to address them. Prioritizing risks associated with more severe potential impact allows leaders to optimize cybersecurity decision-making and improve the organization’s security posture.

Cybersecurity risk management is important because many security measures come with large costs. Before you can implement security controls designed to protect against cyberattacks and other potential risks, you must convince key stakeholders to support the project.

Having a structured approach to cyber risk management lets you demonstrate exactly how your proposed changes impact the organization’s security risk profile. This makes it much easier to calculate the return on cybersecurity investment – making it a valuable tool when communicating with board members and executives.

Here are seven tips every security leader should keep in mind when creating a risk management strategy:

  • Cultivate a security-conscious risk management culture
  • Use risk registers to describe potential risks in detail
  • Prioritize proactive, low-cost risk remediation when possible
  • Treat risk management as an ongoing process
  • Invest in penetration testing to discover new vulnerabilities
  • Demonstrate risk tolerance by implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework
  • Don’t forget to consider false positives in your risk assessment

What is a Risk Management Strategy?

The first step to creating a comprehensive risk management plan is defining risk. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) risk is “the effect of uncertainty on objectives”.

This definition is accurate, but its scope is too wide. Uncertainty is everywhere, including things like market conditions, natural disasters, or even traffic jams. As a cybersecurity leader, your risk management process is more narrowly focused on managing risks to information systems, protecting sensitive data, and preventing unauthorized access.

Your risk management program should focus on identifying these risks, assessing their potential impact, and creating detailed plans for addressing them. This might include deploying tools for detecting cyberattacks, implementing policies to prevent them, or investing in incident response and remediation tools to help you recover from them after they occur. In many cases, you’ll be doing all of these things at once.

Crucially, the information you uncover in your cybersecurity risk assessment will help you prioritize these initiatives and decide how much to spend on them. Your risk management framework will provide you with the insight you need to address high-risk, high-impact cybersecurity threats first and manage low-risk, low-impact threats later on.

7 Tips for Creating a Comprehensive Risk Management Strategy

1. Cultivate a security-conscious risk management culture

No CISO can mitigate security risks on their own. Every employee counts on their colleagues, partners, and supervisors to keep sensitive data secure and prevent data breaches. Creating a risk management strategy is just one part of the process of developing a security-conscious culture that informs risk-based decision-making.

This is important because many employees have to make decisions that impact security on a daily basis. Not all of these decisions are critical-severity security scenarios, but even small choices can influence the way the entire organization handles risk.

For example, most organizations list their employees on LinkedIn. This is not a security threat on its own, but it can contribute to security risks associated with phishing attacks and social engineering. Cybercriminals may create spoof emails inviting employees to fake webinars hosted by well-known employees, and use the malicious link to infect employee devices with malware.

Cultivating a risk management culture won’t stop these threats from happening, but it might motivate employees to reach out when they suspect something is wrong. This gives security teams much greater visibility into potential risks as they occur, and increases the chance you’ll detect and mitigate threats before they launch active cyberattacks.

2. Use risk registers to describe potential risks in detail

A risk register is a project management tool that describes risks that could disrupt a project during execution. Project managers typically create the register during the project planning phase and then refer to it throughout execution.

A risk register typically uses the following characteristics to describe individual risks:

  • Description: A brief overview of the risk itself.
  • Category: The formal classification of the risk and what it affects.
  • Likelihood: How likely this risk is to take place.
  • Analysis: What would happen if this risk occurred.
  • Mitigation: What would the team need to do to respond in this scenario.
  • Priority: How critical is this risk compared to others.

The same logic applies to business initiatives both large and small. Using a risk register can help you identify and control unexpected occurrences that may derail the organization’s ongoing projects. If these projects are actively supervised by a project manager, risk registers should already exist for them. However, there may be many initiatives, tasks, and projects that do not have risk registers. In these cases, you may need to create them yourself.

Part of the overall risk assessment process should include finding and consolidating these risk registers to get an idea of the kinds of disruptions that can take place at every level of the organization. You may find patterns in the types of security risks that you find described in multiple risk registers. This information should help you evaluate the business impact of common risks and find ways to mitigate those risks effectively.

3. Prioritize proactive, low-cost risk remediation when possible

Your organization can’t afford to prevent every single risk there is. That would require an unlimited budget and on-demand access to technical specialist expertise. However, you can prevent certain high-impact risks using proactive, low-cost policies that can make a significant difference in your overall security posture. You should take these opportunities when they present themselves.

Password policies are a common example. Many organizations do not have sufficiently robust password policies in place. Cybercriminals know this –that’s why dictionary-based credential attacks still occur. If employees are reusing passwords across accounts or saving them onto their devices in plaintext, it’s only a matter of time before hackers notice.

At the same time, upgrading a password policy is not an especially expensive task. Even deploying an enterprise-wide password manager and investing in additional training may be several orders of magnitude cheaper than implementing a new SIEM or similarly complex security platform.

Your cybersecurity risk assessment will likely uncover many opportunities like this one. Take a close look at things like password policies, change management, and security patch update procedures and look for easy, low-cost projects that can provide immediate security benefits without breaking your budget. Once you address these issues, you will be in a much better position to pursue larger, more elaborate security implementations.

4. Treat risk management as an ongoing process

Every year, cybercriminals leverage new tactics and techniques against their victims. Your organization’s security team must be ready to address the risks of emerging malware, AI-enhanced phishing messages, elaborate supply chain attacks, and more. As hackers improve their attack methodologies, your organization’s risk profile shifts. As the level of risk changes, your approach to information security must change as well.

This means developing standards and controls that adjust according to your organization’s actual information security risk environment. Risk analysis should not be a one-time event, but a continuous one that delivers timely results about where your organization is today – and where it may be in the future.

For example, many security teams treat firewall configuration and management as a one-time process. This leaves them vulnerable to emerging threats that they may not have known about during the initial deployment. Part of your risk management strategy should include verifying existing security solutions and protecting them from new and emerging risks.

5. Invest in penetration testing to discover new vulnerabilities

There is more to discovering new risks than mapping your organization’s assets to known vulnerabilities and historical data breaches. You may be vulnerable to zero-day exploits and other weaknesses that won’t be immediately apparent. Penetration testing will help you discover and assess risks that you can’t find out about otherwise.

Penetration testing mitigates risk by pinpointing vulnerabilities in your environment and showing how hackers could exploit them. Your penetration testing team will provide a comprehensive report showing you what assets were compromised and how. You can then use this information to close those security gaps and build a stronger security posture as a result.

There are multiple kinds of penetration testing. Depending on your specific scenario and environment, you may invest in:

  • External network penetration testing focuses on the defenses your organization deploys on internet-facing assets and equipment. The security of any business application exposed to the public may be assessed through this kind of test.
  • Internal network penetration testing determines how cybercriminals may impact the organization after they gain access to your system and begin moving laterally through it. This also applies to malicious insiders and compromised credential attacks.
  • Social engineering testing looks specifically at how employees respond to attackers impersonating customers, third-party vendors, and internal authority figures. This will help you identify risks associated with employee security training.
  • Web application testing focuses on your organization’s web-hosted applications. This can provide deep insight into how secure your web applications are, and whether they can be leveraged to leak sensitive information.

6. Demonstrate risk tolerance by implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The National Institute of Standards and Technology publishes one of the industry’s most important compliance frameworks for cybersecurity risk mitigation. Unlike similar frameworks like PCI DSS and GDPR, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is voluntary – you are free to choose when and how you implement its controls in your organization.

This set of security controls includes a comprehensive, flexible approach to risk management. It integrates risk management techniques across multiple disciplines and combines them into an effective set of standards any organization can follow. As of 2023, the NIST Risk Management Framework focuses on seven steps:

  • Prepare the organization to change the way it secures its information technology solutions.
  • Categorize each system and the type of information it processes according to a risk and impact analysis/
  • Select which NIST SP 800-53 controls offer the best data protection for the environment.
  • Implement controls and document their deployment.
  • Assess whether the correct controls are in place and operating as intended.
  • Authorize the implementation in partnership with executives, stakeholders, and IT decision-makers.
  • Monitor control implementations and IT systems to assess their effectiveness and discover emerging risks.

7. Don’t forget to consider false positives in your risk assessment

False positives refer to vulnerabilities and activity alerts that have been incorrectly flagged. They can take many forms during the cybersecurity risk assessment process – from vulnerabilities that don’t apply to your organization’s actual tech stack to legitimate traffic getting blocked by firewalls.

False positives can impact risk assessments in many ways. The most obvious problem they present is skewing your assessment results. This may lead to you prioritizing security controls against threats that aren’t there. If these controls are expensive or time-consuming to deploy, you may end up having an uncomfortable conversation with key stakeholders and decision-makers later on.

However, false positives are also a source of security risks. This is especially true with automated systems like next-generation firewalls, extended detection and response (XDR) solutions, and Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) platforms.

Imagine one of these systems detects an outgoing video call from your organization. It flags the connection as suspicious and begins investigating it. It discovers the call is being made from an unusual location and contains confidential data, so it blocks the call and terminates the connection.

This could be a case of data exfiltration, or it could be the company CEO presenting a report to stockholders while traveling. Most risk assessments don’t explore the potential risk of blocking high-level executive communications or other legitimate communications due to false positives.

Use AlgoSec to Identify and Assess Network Security Risks More Accurately

Building a comprehensive risk management strategy is not an easy task. It involves carefully observing the way your organization does business and predicting how cybercriminals may exploit those processes. It demands familiarity with almost every task, process, and technology the organization uses, and the ability to simulate attack scenarios from multiple different angles.

There is no need to accomplish these steps manually. Risk management platforms like AlgoSec’s Firewall Analyzer can help you map business applications throughout your network and explore attack simulations with detailed “what-if” scenarios. Use Firewall Analyzer to gain deep insight into how your organization would actually respond to security incidents and unpredictable events, then use those insights to generate a more complete risk management approach.

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