“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

— Haruki Murakami

In the organizational context, this quote can be more accurately stated as: “Risk is inevitable. Suffering is optional!”

For companies and organizations, risk – particularly cybersecurity risk – is not only inevitable, but it’s also everywhere. The risk of fraud, financial losses, data theft, and system downtime due to cyber threats like malware, phishing, social engineering, password theft, supply chain attacks, etc., are ever-present and growing in number, scale and complexity. To prevent or at least mitigate these risks, organizations must take action sooner rather than later. The first step should be to design a robust security strategy. Continuing to rely on older cybersecurity protocols can be very dangerous for any organization. To stay ahead of evolving risks and outsmart clever cybercriminals, they must move away from the traditional maturity-based security strategy to a more modern, future-ready risk-based security strategy.

In this brief blog, we unpack the differences between these two approaches and explain why a risk-based security strategy is the better choice for organizations.

What is a Risk-based Security Strategy?

Simply put, a risk-based security strategy involves the identification of specific cyber risks and the IT assets that represent the most serious risks. It also focuses on ways to prioritize these risks and apply relevant precautions accordingly.

This strategy enables enterprises to systematically and accurately:

  • Identify business-critical information assets
  • Understand who has access to these assets
  • Document what protective strategies are in place
  • Identify the bad actors who may benefit from stealing, damaging or manipulating those assets.

The Drawbacks of a Maturity-based Security Strategy

The traditional maturity-based security strategy focuses on monitoring every asset constantly to achieve a certain level of cyber maturity. To this end, organizations aim to build capabilities that could strengthen their ability to assess, monitor, and respond to threats. For instance, they might set up a Security Operations Center (SOC) or improve access control via multi-factor authentication (MFA).

If the organization aims to strengthen its weak cybersecurity position by building and monitoring everything, a maturity-based security strategy can be helpful. But for most organizations, this approach is now inadequate. As business assets and data grow, a maturity-based cybersecurity strategy may make implementation, control and oversight unmanageable. It can also be prohibitively expensive without actually reducing enterprise cybersecurity risk. Often, such initiatives are never fully implemented, and the cyber risk only grows. 

In almost every organization, some assets and applications represent more significant potential for risk than others. That’s why a risk-based security strategy is more valuable for identifying, prioritizing and reducing these risks. It enables organizations to move away from the bloated, time-consuming and expensive maturity-based strategy of monitoring everything all the time to a more targeted strategy of monitoring specific applications or assets with the highest (or high) risk potential.

Risk-based Security Strategy: The Next Step Towards Cybersecurity Maturity

With a risk-based security approach, risk reduction is the primary goal. It enables firms to focus on identifying, prioritizing, and managing the most critical cybersecurity risks. To this end, security analysts identify which workflows, processes, information assets, and people generate the most significant risks. They also analyze and define the threat landscape by determining the potential threat actors and the tactics, techniques, and procedures that could potentially be used to exploit gaps in an enterprise security ecosystem.

With this approach, enterprises can focus on building strong controls for the riskiest vulnerabilities instead of building control everywhere. Thus, they can effectively address the threats that target their key assets and most important business areas. Moreover, they can measure, quantify, and strengthen these controls at a lower overall cost.

Enterprises can embed these security controls into their broader business risk management framework. The risk-based approach provides a common language that improves alignment between leadership and the trenches and between cybersecurity, IT, business, and other functions. By linking risks to controls and controls to business value, risk-based security closes the gap between risk reduction goals and implementation faster and better.

A Final Word

In the current threat landscape where attackers launch attacks frequently and with increasing impunity, a risk-based approach is a more flexible, efficient and effective risk reduction strategy. It enables enterprises to prioritize risks and proactively respond to them, and if they’re attacked, they can react faster and better protect their business-critical information assets. The risk-based security strategy improves alignment between cyber risk reduction goals and broader business goals. It also reduces enterprise bloat and yields a higher return on investment than the maturity-based approach.

If you’re looking to design and implement a risk-based security strategy for your organization, talk to a Packetlabs risk management expert.