As cyber crime surges, businesses must counter with concrete defense. But this defense will never be possible without a crystal clear view of the security posture. A security posture assessment is the most assured pathway to a 360 degree security view, and luckily, it's possible for businesses of all sizes to undertake this valuable assessment.
Ideally, you want your security posture to be as strong as possible, but you also need to be realistic about the risks you're taking and what you can afford to protect. That's why it's important to have a security posture assessment, which will give you a better understanding of where your organization stands.
Let’s get into the details.
What is a security posture?
A security posture is a term used in information security to describe the current state of a business entity’s security controls, configuration and strength. It's an indicator of an organization’s risk in the face of all manner of threats.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) emphasizes three items when defining security posture: “networks, information, and systems”. The security status of these three facets informs the security posture of an organization. Besides, the business’ resilience against cyberattacks and data intrusions greatly leans on the “capabilities established by the business to manage its defense and to react as the situation changes.”
Put it another way, an organization's security posture measures the level of exposure to attacks and intrusions; the measures established to shield the business from cyber attacks; ability to detect, respond in case of an attack, and recover; and the automation level of the entire security infrastructure.
What is cyber security posture assessment?
A security posture assessment is an evaluation of an organization's security posture as defined above. It's a way to identify the security strengths and weaknesses, and to come up with a plan to address any vulnerabilities. The goal is to unveil any security risks, assess the vulnerabilities and come up with ways to manage the situation.
Security posture assessment can be performed by an internal team or cyber security companies. It should include a review of the security policies and procedures, as well as an evaluation of the organization's technical architecture. The goal of a security posture assessment is to identify any areas that need improvement and to develop a plan to address them.
A solid security posture grants you the ability to detect cyber threats, dark web threats, and theft of intellectual property among other threats, plus the ability to neutralize the situation without affecting the business’s activities. Without this assessment, you may have a hard time deciding which cybersecurity projects to start with and which action plans to take toward a stronger cybersecurity posture. Moreover, you may end up spending mega bucks on what you ought not to, overwork your security staff, and still not know where the problem actually lies.
Here is a summary of the most important items that a security posture assessment will bring out:
- The organization's current security posture.
- The potential risks to the organization's data.
- The weaknesses in the security infrastructure.
- The areas that need improvement.
The assessment traverses all the security facets including external and internal zones before integrating them into one comprehensive assessment approach. You get to know all the nooks and cranny of your business’ state of security including the strengths and loopholes, and what measures you need to employ to enhance the security posture moving forward.
When does a business need to conduct a cyber security posture assessment?
The rule of thumb dictates that all organizations should conduct the assessment regardless of any triggers. You never know when the “devil” strikes, and in fact, most attacks happen when organizations feel most comfortable. But it’s also understandable that certain constraints such as resources can mean making a decision on whether or not to carry out this assessment.
Should you find yourself in this dilemma, here are the most common and compelling situations that tell it’s time to conduct the assessment;
- When you want to know the current status of your cybersecurity preparedness.
- You want to unveil the loopholes present in your network.
- You’re looking for the right strategy to protect your business’s critical assets.
- You want to implement a concrete action plan that will reinforce your cybersecurity defense.
- You find it hard to decide on which cybersecurity approach to undertake.
- You’re changing or expanding your business but are not sure of which cybersecurity measures will match the new size of the business.
- You've been the victim of a cyber attack.
- You've experienced a significant change in your business, such as a merger or acquisition.
- You've moved to a new office or data center.
- You've made changes to your IT infrastructure.
- Your security policies and procedures have changed.
The key steps for a successful cyber security posture assessment
These are the main phases or steps that are involved in a successful security posture assessment strategy:
1. IT asset inventory
No security assessment can succeed in the absence of a clear understanding of the current IT assets (hardware, software, and networks). This is a baseline necessity as it enables you to keep an eye on the type of IT that is currently in use as well as age.
The age of your hardware or software, for example, can significantly affect your security. Old software or hardware means it’s no longer receiving updates from the providers, and these are the kind of vulnerabilities you want to establish.
2. Risk assessment
Identify all the weak points in the network through which an attacker can gain access to your systems. Note that the bigger your business the larger the attack surface. Hence the need to perform through risk assessment.
You can use any of these three most common frameworks for risk assessment:
- Operationally Critical Threat, Asset and Vulnerability Evaluation (OCTAVE Allegro)
- Factor Analysis of Information Risk (FAIR)
- NIST Risk Management Framework (RMF)
3. Analysis and prioritization
This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. You need to identify which systems are most at risk and prioritize them based on the potential impact they could have if they were compromised.
You also need to take a look at your existing controls and see how well they're working. Are they effectively mitigating the risks you identified above? If not, you need to find ways to strengthen them. And don't forget about your people—you need to ensure adequate training and awareness of the best practices that govern security.
4. Presentation of findings
Outline the threats your organization faces and how best to address them. Be sure to make your findings user-friendly, so they can be easily understood by non-technical personnel. You'll also need to explain the risks associated with each threat, as well as the potential consequences if they're not addressed.
Your goal is to create a realistic and actionable security posture for your organization. So be prepared to answer questions and make recommendations that will make everyone feel safe.
5. Action plan
Once you've completed the security posture assessment, it's time to create an action plan. This is where you'll decide on the steps you need to take to improve your security posture.
Your action plan should be tailored to your business and the risks it faces. It should also be achievable, so you can actually implement it without stretching your resources too thin.
And last but not least, the action plan should be regularly reviewed and updated as needed, so you can stay ahead of the ever-changing security landscape.
Examples of common cybersecurity posture assessments
There are times you might want to carry out specific assessments based on available resources or where you feel most vulnerable. Here are some examples;
Harvard University defines an IT audit as “the examination and evaluation of an organization's information technology infrastructure, applications, data use and management, policies, procedures, and operational processes against recognized standards or established policies.”
The purpose of this audit is to essentially assess the IT environment and highlight all potential gaps in the entire IT infrastructure. Audits assess the design of technology controls, how well they are implemented, and unveil any breaches.
This assessment exposes information systems to a simulated type of attack to determine the level of security and bring to light any exploitable vulnerabilities. Use the results from this procedure to fill up any gaps in your network.
Cybersecurity companies have seen it all, and are mostly best placed to conduct impactful assessments. This kind of assessment allows a business to ‘detach’ itself and allow an external peek into its systems, from a security context so to speak.
The cybersecurity consultants will source all the information about the business’ security posture including resilience in the face of risks, the regulatory environment, and industry pressure. They will then use the results to customize or advise a solution that perfectly addresses the risks they find.
A compliance check evaluates the implemented security measures to determine whether they actually meet all the regulatory and industry requirements such as HIPAA, PCI DSS or GDPR.
The goal of this assessment is to constantly establish whether or not the business is up to date with all the mandatory requirements as required by the governments or industry standards where they operate.
It’s advisable to use the services of compliance experts who are already experienced in implementing the mandatory compliance in your region or industry.
Disaster recovery checks
Disaster recovery and business continuity planning go hand in hand to ensure that the business can weather any form of disturbance from disasters. The goal of this assessment is to be sure of full recovery whenever disasters strike, without incurring too much loss.
Of course there are many more types of assessments that you can opt to carry out. But it’s best practice to conduct a comprehensive assessment on a regular basis.
While some businesses might have some slight room to debate whether or not to conduct a security posture assessment, you can only go for so long before you regret the decision not to conduct one. This is one of those assessments that many businesses tend to ignore. Many others do it just as a formality when required by governments or industry regulators. This is a slippery approach that has cost many businesses.
You perform a cyber security posture assessment not so that you can comply. Not so that you can satisfy customers. The true essence of the assessment is to identify and seal security loopholes, ensuring that your security posture is equal to any form or size of attack. Once you do this, the rest like compliance and customer satisfaction will naturally fall into place. So if yours is a truly forward looking and ambitious business, then do the right thing — conduct a comprehensive security posture assessment.