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Week 24: Identify current countermeasures and estimate likelihood of exploitation

In this week's column, Shelley Bard continues her series on how to perform risk assessments.


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.

Using the Information Security Protection Matrix and the risk assessment process referenced in the Week 20 column, break down the 10-step process, focusing this week on steps seven (identify current countermeasures) and eight (estimate likelihood of exploitation).

List all countermeasures being used, explaining any that are vague or can have multiple meanings. Using this methodology for risk assessment, you must consider the existing countermeasures and their ability to reduce the vulnerabilities.

When analyzing countermeasures consider which reduce risk or help with loss prevention or limitation. Examples of countermeasures include: physical security (doors, window bars, fences, locks, paper shredder, alarms); administrative (security policies and procedures, training); personnel (guards, escorts, clearances); communications/computer system (smart cards, biometrics, digital switches, firewalls, intrusion detection, encryption, boot passwords).

When considering the likelihood of exploitation, look at influencing factors, the presence or absence of vulnerabilities and threats and their level, tenacity and strength. Are adequate countermeasures in place for each vulnerability?

More information
People often ask about the efficacy of using automated tools for risk assessments. You should use tools to help with your analysis, not to take the place of your analysis. Various tools can help with certification and accreditation, risk assessments and business impact analyses. Entering these terms in a search engine will direct you to these products.

About the author
Shelley Bard, CISSP, CISM, is a senior security network engineer with Verizon Federal Network Systems (FNS). An information security 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

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

Last week: Week 23: Risk assessment steps five and six: Identify threats and determine vulnerabilities
Next week: Completing the risk assessment -- steps nine and 10

This was last published in May 2004

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