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Week 21: Risk assessment steps 1 and 2: Establishing boundaries/team building

In this week's column Shelley Bard takes the user through steps one and two of risk assessment -- establishing boundaries and building the team.


Risk assessment is the process of analyzing threats to, and vulnerabilities of, an information system, and the potential impact that the loss of information or capabilities of a system would have on national security or your company's bottom line. See last week's intro to this miniseries here.

Using the Information Security Protection Matrix and the risk assessment process referenced above, break down the 10-step process into manageable pieces.

Step 1: Establish the boundaries and scope of risk assessment:
--Examine the adequacy of your system's CIA2 across the five protection zones
--Suggest boundaries: determine by functional area, by ADP environment or by site
--Consider cost versus detail, high versus low-level detail. How much is effective?
--Determine in what stage your data is most vulnerable: transmission, storage or processing.
--Determine your company's most sensitive data to determine which assets are most critical for your limited resources. Protect those assets while you form a plan to cover the rest with a full spectrum of security protection. Critical information is discussed further next week.
--Protect it using the 80/20 principle: 80% of results are derived from only 20% of effort -- a crucial comment on the proper allocation of always-limited resources.

Step 2: Build the team:
--Get management support. Ensure no one will have a conflict of interest investigating vulnerabilities.
--Select team from subject matter experts, asset owners and consultants.
--Determine team size; too big can create too many opinions, too small and you risk bias from incomplete viewpoints. It will also determine how long it will take you to complete the assessment. Consider mini-teams to each take one of the five protection zones for analysis.
--Maintain objectivity. Keep access to the information and resources you need, and have the right team interview the best points of contact.
--Plan risk assessments in parallel or serially, if you have multiple locations. Have the headquarters unit do one first, and create templates or checklists for the other units to follow. This way at the end, you can compare apple to apples.

More information
Business 2.0 magazine subscribers can access "23 Incredibly Easy Steps to Make the Perfect e-Business," which further defines the security aspects of all parts of an enterprise. The 23 steps can be found at

About the author
Shelley Bard, CISSP, is a senior security network engineer with Verizon Federal Network Systems (FNS). An infosecurity professional for 17 years, Bard has briefed and written infosecurity assessments and technical reports for the White House and Department of Defense, special interest groups, industry and academia. Please e-mail any comments to mailto:[email protected].

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Shelley Bard and don't necessarily reflect those of Verizon FNS.

Last week: Beginning the dreaded risk assessment
Next week: Risk assessment steps 3 and 4: Identify the methodology and assets; assign value

This was last published in May 2004

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