How to effectively evaluate your cybersecurity
Sophie Thenot and Anthony Guieu from Wavestone outline how institutions can ensure their cybersecurity meets the standards necessary for safe operations in 2020.
Security managers often bring us in to evaluate their cybersecurity maturity level. We help firms analyze the return on investment for cybersecurity, properly allocating the budget, comparing level of security to that of others in similar sectors or common standards, and measure exposure to recent attacks.
But these projects are not only the work of systems security managers. These projects also come from executive committees who seek a 360 view of the security of their institution to better evaluate potential risk. So, what are key success factors that we have seen in the field?
Step 1: Know the purpose and expectations of your evaluation
Evaluations can be entirely different levels of depth. From a high-level interview with the Chief Security officer to an in-depth assessment of the security mechanisms and processes of all the subsidiaries of a multinational group, everyone can choose their areas of focus and advance step-by-step.
Our first advice is to keep in mind the objectives of your evaluation. This will allow you to orient yourself toward the right security benchmarks and ultimately define the depth of the evaluation. Do you only want to measure the security maturity of your subsidiary’s information systems or also its efficiency? Perfectly documented security processes and an ISO 27001 certification can unfortunately hide problems on the ground that can expose you to vulnerabilities. It can be judicious to combine a technical test (pentest, red team, etc.) to the evaluation in order to avoid situations that seem fine on the surface but hide underlying issues.
Step 2: Find and mobilize the right people at the right level, easy to say but harder to do…
The next difficulty that you can encounter in your assessment is to succeed at meeting the right people. From experience, we advise you to confirm your list of the necessary collaborators as soon as possible.
Logically, this list will certainly depend on the granularity of the analysis but also on the organization of the business. For example, the necessary people will differ if the security staff are at the group level and function as a service center or if they are merged into each entity and service. Consequently, if you want to have a high-level estimate first, it could suffice to only have a half day exchange with the Chief Security Officer, who generally has a sufficient and global vision of the subject.
The second stage of analysis can be performed in gathering information from all actors involved in cybersecurity at the group level. In this group, it can be interesting to meet a large group of people involved in information systems and the cloud.
Finally, when the assessment must be thorough and exhaustive, it becomes necessary to widen the list of collaborators to all of the concerned entities. Obviously, you should expect a larger workload, so do not skimp on preparation and tools to help you in your work. It can also be the right moment to think about your presentation format: face-to-face, distance, strategic, operational, etc.
Step 3: Equipment, finding the right balance between too much and not enough
Choosing the right tools is one of the main assessment challenges that you will face. The more complete the assessment, the more it will require tools that ensure simplification and understanding of the whole project. Indeed, for large evaluations, the consolidation and restitution of results are two of the great challenges that you will encounter. In particular, commonly used tools don’t take into account the organizational complexity of large groups or the effectiveness of allocated resources. It is for these reasons that, from our side, we have chosen to develop a specific tool.
A good tool also allows you to position yourself against your competitors and understand your exposure to current attack trends and points where your COMEX is particularly sensitive, ensuring you can legitimize the assessment.
So it begins! It’s time to get your hands dirty and start the work of collecting information! There is a classic phrase that applies to these situations: entirely feasible from a distance. Be aware and transparent about the limits of the exercise: those questioned will sometimes have the impression that the assessment is too theoretical and this is normal, according to their objectives. During this phase, it will also be necessary to be able to juggle between the various unknowns because it is not uncommon to have people who are ultimately absent for long periods of time, added parameters, changes in methodology. Make it a point of honor to remain agile.
Step 4: Reforming at the right level to act, everything is a question of the point of view
A good habit to keep is to honestly adapt each reform to each person. From the managerial summaries where we talk about trends without much detail to presentations for technical teams that are highly detailed, adapting the discourse to the necessary format is important to convey the right messages to the right people.
Usually, we start the reforms in terms of the organization’s budget and workforce dedicated to cybersecurity. These very concrete points allow you to attract attention and be able to then analyze the situation from four different angles:
· Compliance with different global benchmarks (ISO/NIST)
· Assessment of the level of maturity of different entities compared to others in the same sector or market
· Quantification of the effort reach the market level and/or the required level according to cybersecurity benchmarks
· Evaluation of the level of robustness of the organization against the last known cyberattacks
With senior management, the restitution is often going to focus on organizational and governance matters. However, there can always be surprises. In cases where businesses have already been hit by serious cyber attacks, we have had surprisingly precise and technical questions from executive committees. For example, we have been asked for details on encryption algorithms and “How secure is my active directory?”
As mentioned earlier, the maturity assessment is an effective means for measuring the effectiveness and progress of your cybersecurity roadmap. Consequently, even if you don’t want to immediately begin an assessment involving all security systems and dozens of teams at your business, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the approach and its usefulness in starting out with more modest goals.
At Wavestone, with years of experience and expertise, we have developed the W-Cyber-Benchmark, a multi-use tool that has been implemented by dozens of clients. We know that just writing about it isn’t enough, so don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss further!