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Ep. 6: Moving to a Risk-Based Security Approach

BY eSentire

October 22, 2021 | 4 MINS READ

Cyber Risk

Managed Risk Programs

Cybersecurity Strategy

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Cybersecurity is not an IT problem to solve—it's a business risk to manage. In the Managing Cyber Risk podcast series, Mark Sangster, Vice President and Industry Security Strategist with eSentire, and Cybercrime Magazine’s Hillarie McClure lead conversations with cybersecurity experts, using the dollars-and-cents language of the C-suite to expose the issues, challenges and pitfalls which are often obscured by ones and zeroes.

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The cybersecurity market is booming, security budgets are increasing, and new security technologies are constantly being developed. Then, why do data breaches and ransomware attacks continue to wreak havoc?

In the latest episode of our Managing Cyber Risk podcast series, eSentire’s Mark Sangster explains that these unfortunate outcomes are the result of a patchwork approach to cybersecurity—rather than a strategic one—that fails to properly align budget and resources with true business objectives.

Often, the underlying cause is that companies either don’t truly understand the risks they face or, if they do understand those risks, they struggle to identify the critical assets or systems they need to protect—and the most cost-effective ways to protect them.

The unfortunate reality of cybersecurity is that adversaries have a distinct advantage: they only need to find a single weakness to gain initial access into an environment.

Tia Hopkins, our VP, Cyber Risk Advisory and Solutions Architecture, contributes the sobering addition that “adversaries have access to the same tools and, in some cases, more financial resources than we do on the good side of the fight”.

In a world of finite resources, how can organizations make the most effective cybersecurity investments?

Understanding cyber and business risk

“One of the biggest challenges that companies face is the communications gap between the technical experts and the business leaders,” says Mark. Business leaders may inadvertently get in the way of good security, either by failing to appreciate today’s threat environment or by laboring under common misconceptions that their business may not be a target.

The foundation of any effective cybersecurity program is the recognition that cyber threats are business threats. Or, as Mark puts it: Cybersecurity is not an IT problem to solve—it's a business risk to manage.

One way to start that conversation is to ask straightforward questions, such as:

But, as business leaders begin to dedicate money towards their cybersecurity programs, the question now becomes: where should those investments go?

Reducing risk over time: taking a risk-based approach

As we explained in a recent post, a risk-based approach to cybersecurity allows business leaders to direct investments in the most effective way with the goal of reducing risk over time. In a world of scarce resources, this approach leads to superior cybersecurity outcomes when compared to maturity-based or compliance-based approaches.

To get started with a risk-based approach, Mark recommends that organizations perform a risk assessment to determine all the relevant factors that will shape their program: vulnerabilities, threats, industry, regulatory guardrails, and so on.

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can engage a security provider for Managed Risk Services to determine the right strategies, tools, skills/personnel, and KPIs that you need.

As you get started on transitioning to a risk-based approach, ask yourself:

  1. Does my executive team accept that cyber risk is an enterprise risk?

  2. What are my business’ “sources of value” and do I understand the specific risks that can impact those sources of value?

  3. Have I identified all potential vulnerabilities that can impact my organization today?

  4. Do I know the specific TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) that threat actors can use to target my business?

  5. How am I planning to address the vulnerabilities that were discovered?

Additionally, we recommend conducting some tabletop exercises to help understand that many decisions that aren’t technical ones, and that much of managing cybersecurity events is about managing the effects on your business.

As Mark explains, “One of the best ways to start this conversation is to run a security awareness session with the executives to help them see—at a high level—what are some of the threats.”

Measuring the results

Unlike the maturity- and compliance-based approaches, it’s difficult to establish a standardized framework for how to measure the effectiveness of a risk-based approach, because different organizations have different risk tolerances and risk appetites that inform their decisions.

In the place of standardized measures, organizations must create meaningful KPIs and metrics that can track progress. For example, are you improving at detecting and closing vulnerabilities? Are your phishing and security awareness training programs improving your employees’ ability to recognize phishing attempts?

In Tia’s experience, not only are boards becoming increasingly interested in the effectiveness of their cybersecurity programs, but—in a very positive development—the nature of the questions is changing to reflect a more refined understanding of cybersecurity: “It’s gone from, ‘Are we safe?’ to ‘How are we reducing risk over time?’”

Learn more about moving to a risk-based approach

Listen to Moving to a Risk-Based Security Approach episode of the Managing Cyber Risk podcast series as Mark and Tia join host Hillarie McClure to discuss how advancements in technology and a longer list of tools aren't always better at protecting us, how organizations can move to a risk-based approach to cybersecurity, the important difference between risk tolerance and risk appetite—and much more!


eSentire, Inc., the Authority in Managed Detection and Response (MDR), protects the critical data and applications of 2000+ organizations in 80+ countries, across 35 industries from known and unknown cyber threats by providing Exposure Management, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services designed to build an organization’s cyber resilience & prevent business disruption. Founded in 2001, eSentire protects the world’s most targeted organizations with 65% of its global base recognized as critical infrastructure, vital to economic health and stability. By combining open XDR platform technology, 24/7 threat hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire's award-winning MDR services and team of experts help organizations anticipate, withstand and recover from cyberattacks. For more information, visit: www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.

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