How regular health checks help security governance
The growing awareness of organisations’ responsibilities for cyber security and overall cyber resilience means that health checks are becoming an important IT governance tool. Regularly checking security control maturity levels ensures a clear picture of the state of cyber security efforts for all stakeholders – security teams, senior executives and boards. Regular health checks mean that things can’t stray too far from target compliance levels before any variance is quickly identified and addressed.
Closer surveillance of security controls is very different from the traditional approach to cyber security governance and provides the opportunity for more frequent security assessments. It may, in fact, even be more cost effective for addressing today’s fast changing security threat environment.
Traditional cyber security and your corporate governance obligations
Since the introduction of information security standards, like ISO 27001 and NIST Cyber Security Framework (CSF), organisations have built their information security management (ISM) programmes around security controls, supporting procedures and defensive security architectures. ISO 27001, for example, comprises 114 security controls, within 14 functional categories, covering everything from security policies and organisational security through to cryptography, security operations and business continuity planning. NIST 800-53 Rev4, similar in many ways, has more than 900 controls across 18 functional categories.
Once implemented across an organisation these controls can be used to manage a security effort with audit programmes to ensure security compliance obligations are met by their suppliers, partners, and other stakeholders. Annual IT audits are common, particularly for large organisations, where external auditors assess and certify the adequacy of the relevant aspects of the ISM system. These audits are necessarily disruptive, expensive and often require any unsatisfactory results to be remediated before compliance notification is granted.
Supporters of this approach see 3rd party audits as more reliable than self assessment but critics argue that despite their cost and scope, major audits can still fail to uncover systematic security problems. That is why regulators everywhere are starting to question the adequacy of a single annual assessment. The lack of frequency and the fact that the resulting reports are out of date the day after they are completed is absolutely inconsistent with the increasing urgency of cyber security efforts everywhere.
Transparency and timeliness of Security Management Systems
The reality is that implementing controls for ISO 27001 is not easy, even for well-resourced security teams, and ensuring all these controls remain effective all the time is virtually impossible. The scale of such an undertaking is massive and as a result audits are often undertaken too infrequently. So, for the rest of the time, the controls put in place to protect the security of your organisation remain unchecked and so open to cyber attack.
Control implementations, audits, risk mitigation efforts and the ongoing barrage of cyber attacks continue to test the effectiveness of many IT governance regimes. This is particularly the case where manual audit processes don’t permit the full investigation of every possible control and attest to its security. As a result, at a time when executives’ and boards’ responsibilities for cyber security is being made increasingly clear by regulators, concerns are emerging for many at the inadequacy of IT governance processes and their ability to protect their organisations 24/7.
One way to address underlying security weaknesses is regular security check-ups. Like their medical equivalent, health checks provide a means to rapidly assess the health of an organisation’s critical security systems. By inspecting an essential set of security controls or KPIs, from behind the firewall, the level of cyber security effectiveness can be quickly measured and a deeper investigation initiated if required.
Health Checks for real time IT security governance
The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) promotes an approach to cyber health and hygiene known as the ACSC Essential Eight. By implementing and monitoring eight essential security controls, organisations can prevent up to 85% of targeted cyber attacks from being successful. This means that any control that diverges from its specified configuration can be instantly flagged for investigation by the security team and mitigation efforts quickly commenced. A security health check means that at any time you can quickly and reliably know the state of your cyber security.
The fundamental importance of good cyber security hygiene means that every organisation, even those that have implemented ISO27001, can benefit hugely from a quick check. The real time monitoring of the patch status of applications, for example, or the efficacy of multi-factor authentication, will quickly report any weaknesses and instruct mitigation efforts to prevent a future vulnerability exploit. The ability of a health check to dynamically measure any changes in the effectiveness of security controls adds a real time visibility and response capability to any security team. In addition to enabling pre-emptive risk mitigation efforts, its cost, speed and accuracy can’t be replicated using traditional governance and audit methods.
When it comes to your health – is no news good news?
If we have a lingering cough, in this day and age, it’s a good idea to get a health check. The doctor uses a blood test (or swab) as a diagnostic tool to look for certain markers of an underlying issue. The blood test findings will result in an all clear or maybe prompt an x-ray and deeper investigation. Cyber health checks are no different. You can quickly check key security controls for anything of concern and if found, it can quickly be alerted to an expert for a deeper investigation.
Cyber health checks are a great way for security teams to stay on top of their security controls. Whether it’s your organisation or a 3rd party supplier a cyber health check keeps you informed the status of security risks relevant to you.
Huntsman Security offers the Huntsman Essential 8 Auditor to assist in smart checking your cyber health. It quickly assesses your current security controls and reports any problems to key stakeholders for their information and attention.