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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Information Security Management Risks

By Anna Woodward

Of course, it is always clear that “risk” is a possibility that something unsuitable happens. What is not clear is how probable it is, what nature it has, and what harm it can do to an organization.

Betting on some event means the chance of financial loss: the unsuitable outcome. To decide if we want to take on this risk means calculating the chances of winning or the odds of losing. We can implement measures to reduce the chance of the danger, and put strategies in place to handle possible unpleasant outcomes.

Information security management is being aware of all elements involved in a specific risk and their relationship with your enterprise (company, web presence, etc). This is an essential basis for calculating the risk. Knowing about the threat means being able to assess it: we can choose if we want to accept it, wait and see, or plainly avoid taking it at all.

In the field of information security management, professionals should answer four main questions:

1. What can happen (threat)? Client private information (especially, but not only, credit card numbers) can be stolen through an insecure network, through cracked passwords, through flawed cryptography or through non-dependable employees.

Web-pages can be hacked and inappropriate content could be displayed. Business processes could be disrupted through web-attacks, blocking the normal operations of the company.

Identifying risk spots is the primary task for information security management professionals. Normally, due to the technical background of most professionals, there is a bias for focusing on technical problems. In fact, there are often a myriad of possibilities of attacking a computer system.

2. How bad can it get (impact)? Companies are responsible for keeping private information secure. Negligence in keeping this information secure can result in costly claims. Revealing intellectual property through negligence in security can result in an unduly competitive disadvantage.

The company’s reputation can be seriously damaged. Cash-flow can drop the entire time of a web-attack on the servers of the company and usually, for some time after the fact.

3. How often can it happen (frequency)? The short answer is: much more often than you believe. The absence of bad news in the newspapers should not allow you to a false sense of security.

Sometimes the victim doesn’t know that the company has been hacked. Of course, if some credit card has been charged without authorization, the holder will demand a refund. However, it is not always clear where the flaw in the security exists.

In some further cases, intellectual property of a company has been illegally copied and is used without consent. The lawful owner will in many cases not even have a hint of this problem.

4. How dependable are the answers to these three questions (uncertainty)? Although you can be sure that the risk exists, there is no simple way of calculating how often it happens. You can be sure that it happens, you cannot know when and where.

Consider the safety of your company’s virtual data, and have the flaws assessed by an information security management professional. If you take a “wait and see” approach, you risk an attack on your company’s documentation, private information databases, and perhaps, intellectual property.

Excel Partnership, Inc. wants to help your company review your information security management and tailor programs to secure your virtual data. Visit for more information on preventing attack on your documentation, private information databases, and intellectual property.


Managing Risk in Information Technology

As information technology increasingly falls within the scope of corporate governance, so management must increasingly focus on the management of risk to the achievement of its business objectives.

There are two fundamental components of effective management of risk in information and information technology: the first relates to an organization’s strategic deployment of information technology in order to achieve its corporate goals, the second relates to risks to those assets themselves. IT systems usually represent significant investments of financial and executive resources. The way in which they are planned, managed and measured should therefore be a key management accountability, as should the way in which risks associated with information assets themselves are managed.

Clearly, well managed information technology is a business enabler. Every deployment of information technology brings with it immediate risks to the organization and, therefore, every director or executive who deploys, or manager who makes any use of, information technology needs to understand these risks and the steps that should be taken to counter them.

ITIL has long provided an extensive collection of best practice IT management processes and guidance. In spite of an extensive range of practitioner-orientated certified qualifications, it is not possible for any organization to prove - to its management, let alone an external third party - that it has taken the risk-reduction step of implementing best practice.

More than that, ITIL is particularly weak where information security management is concerned - the ITIL book on information security really does no more than refer to a now very out-of-date version of ISO 17799, the information security code of practice.

The emergence of the international IT Service Management ISO 27001 and Information Security Management (ISO20000) standards changes all this. They make it possible for organizations that have successfully implemented an ITIL environment to be externally certificated as having information security and IT service management processes that meet an international standard; organizations that demonstrate - to customers and potential customers - the quality and security of their IT services and information security processes achieve significant competitive advantages.

Information Security Risk

The value of an independent information security standard may be more immediately obvious to the ITIL practitioner than an IT service management one. The proliferation of increasingly complex, sophisticated and global threats to information security, in combination with the compliance requirements of a flood of computer- and privacy-related regulation around the world, is driving organizations to take a more strategic view of information security. It has become clear that hardware-, software- or vendor-driven solutions to individual information security challenges are, on their own, dangerously inadequate. ISO/IEC 27001 (what was BS7799) helps organizations make the step to sytematically managing and controlling risk to their information assets.

IT Process Risk

IT must be managed systematically to support the organization in achieving its business objectives, or it will disrupt business processes and undermine business activity. IT management, of course, has its own processes - and many of these processes are common across organizations of all sizes and in many sectors. Processes deployed to manage the IT organization itself need both to be effective and to ensure that the IT organization delivers against business needs. IT service management is a concept that embraces the notion that the IT organization (known, in ISO/IEC 20000Regulatory and Compliance Risk

All organizations are subject to a range of information-related national and international legislation and regulatory requirements. These range from broad corporate governance guidelines to the detailed requirements of specific regulations. UK organizations are subject to some, or all, of:

- Combined Code and Turnbull Guidance (UK)
- Basel2
- EU data protection, privacy regimes
- Sectoral regulation: FSA (1) , MiFID (2) , AML (3)
- Human Rights Act, Regulatation of Investigatory Powers Act
- Computer misuse regulation

Those organizations with US operations may also be subject to US regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley and SEC regulations, as well as sectoral regulation such as GLBA (4), HIPAA (5) and USA PATRIOT Act. Most organizations are possibly also subject to US state laws that appear to have wider applicability, including SB 1386 (California Information Practice Act) and OPPA (6) . Compliance depends as much on information security as on IT processes and services.

Many of these regulations have emerged only recently and most have not yet been adequately tested in the courts. There has been no co-ordinated national or international effort to ensure that many of these regulations - particularly those around personal privacy and data protection - are effectively co-ordinated. As a result, there are overlaps and conflicts between many of these regulations and, while this is of little importance to organizations trading exclusively within one jurisdiction, the reality is that many enterprises today are trading on an international basis, particularly if they have a website or are connected to the Internet.

Management Systems

A management system is a formal, organized approach used by an organization to manage one or more components of their business, including quality, the environment and occupational health and safety, information security and IT service management. Most organizations - particularly younger, less mature ones, have some form of management system in place, even if they’re not aware of it. More developed organizations use formal management systems which they have certified by a third party for conformance to a management system standard. Organizations that use formal management systems today include corporations, medium- and small-sized businesses, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Standards and Certifications

Formal standards provide a specification against which aspects of an organization’s management sytsem can be independently audited by an accredited certification body and, if the management system is found to conform to the specification, the organization can be issued with a formal certificate confirming this. Organizations that are certificated to ISO 9000 will already be familiar with the certification process.

Integrated Management Systems

Organizations can choose to certify their management systems to more than one standard. This enables them to integrate the processes that are common - management review, corrective and preventative action, control of documents and records, and internal quality audits - to each of the standards in which they are interested. There is already an alignment of clauses in ISO 9000, ISO 14001 (the environmental management system standard) and OHSAS 18001 (the health and safety management standard) that supports this integration, and which enables organizations to benefit from lower cost initial audits, fewer surveillance visits and which, most importantly, allows organizations to ‘join up’ their management systems.

The emergence of these international standards now enables organizations to develop an integrated IT management system that is capable of multiple certification and of external, third party audit, while drawing simultaneously on the deeper best-practice contained in ITIL. This is a huge step forward for the ITIL world.


(1) Financial Services Authority
(2) Markets in Financial Instruments Directive
(3) Anti-money laundering regulations
(4) Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
(5) Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
(6) Online Personal Privacy Act

About the Author

Alan Calder is an international authority on IT Governance and information security management. He led the world’s first successful implementation of BS 7799, the information security management standard upon which ISO 27001 is based, and wrote the definitive compliance guide for this standard, IT Governance: A Manager’s Guide to Data Security and BS7799/ISO17799. The 3rd edition of this book is the basis for the UK Open University’s postgraduate course on Information Security. He has just written, for BSI, a management guide on integrating ISO 27001 and ISO 20000 Management Systems, drawing heavily on ITIL best practice. He is a consultant to companies around the world, including Cisco. as in ITIL, as the “service provider”) exists to deliver services to business users, in line with business needs, and to ensure the most cost-effective use of IT assets within that overall context. ITIL, the IT Infrastructure Library, emerged as a collection of best practices that could be used in various organizations. ISO/IEC 20000, the IT service management standard, provides a best-practice specification that sits on top of the ITIL.