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Viewing Security Management as a Business Practice, Part 3: Integrating Information Security with Business Management

Christopher Alberts concludes his series on risk management by comparing the approaches of the two organizations profiled in the series and exploring the relationship between security risks and business objectives.
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Information-security threats can affect an organization's ability to maintain continuity of its operations. With limited funds and staff for security improvement activities, managers need to ensure that resources are allocated in the most efficient and effective manner. Examining information-security risks in relation to an organization's business drivers can help set the direction for security policy by striking a balance between business and security goals.

This three-part series examines the link between information security and business issues. Parts 1 and 2 presented examples of how two organizations evaluated and managed their information-security risks. This article concludes the series by contrasting the paths that the two organizations took, and examines the relationship between security and business processes.

Conducting the Evaluation

Although the organizations described in Parts 1 and 2 were very different, they both implemented the Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability EvaluationSM (OCTAVESM) approach for evaluating and managing information-security risks. OCTAVE defines a flexible approach for conducting information-security risk evaluations and can be tailored for a variety of operational environments. The organization featured in Part 1 of this series was a mid-sized hospital with a staff of 400 people, while Part 2 focused on a small nonprofit professional society with a staff of 80 people. Because the operational environments of the two organizations were so different, they tailored the OCTAVE approach in different ways. This section examines a few of those differences, starting with the motivation for conducting the evaluation.


Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability EvaluationSM and OCTAVESM are service marks of Carnegie Mellon University.

Motivation for Conducting the Evaluation

The primary motivating factor for the hospital was a desire to comply with the impending HIPAA data-security regulations. The hospital's president wanted the hospital to be ready when the regulations were approved. Just a few years ago, hospital personnel worked feverishly at the last minute to correct Y2K problems. The president vowed that his organization would not fall behind the curve with respect to HIPAA.

The CIO at the professional society was concerned about protecting the reputation of his organization. The professional society collected a wide variety of information about both individuals and organizations, and the society's reputation could be affected if the confidential information of individuals or member organizations became public.

Thus, the two organizations had very different motivations for conducting an information-security risk evaluation.

Analysis Team

Both organizations selected the OCTAVE approach for evaluating and managing information-security risks. OCTAVE requires a small, interdisciplinary team of an organization's personnel, called the analysis team, to lead the organization's evaluation process. The hospital's analysis team included the following personnel:

  • A middle manager from the patient records department

  • A nurse

  • Two information technology (IT) staff members

Notice that the team didn't include any of the organization's senior managers. The experience, leadership, and planning skills of the middle manager were critical for implementing OCTAVE in the hospital. Since she selected the rest of the team, she specifically chose people who had a broad perspective and who could work well together.

The analysis team at the professional society looked very different. The CIO wanted to form a team that had insight into most of the organization. The team included the following people:

  • The CIO

  • The chief financial officer (CFO)

  • A systems administrator

  • A network administrator

Notice that the professional society's analysis team comprised two senior people and two staff members. Because the society was small, people were often required to multitask. It was common for senior managers at the society to work closely with staff members on a project. The hospital was more hierarchical; mixing senior managers and staff members on an analysis team wouldn't work in that environment. Team members from the staff level of the hospital wouldn't express their opinions openly in the presence of senior managers, and would defer to the decisions of those managers.

Augmenting the Skills of the Analysis Team

The hospital's personnel didn't possess all of the skills required to conduct the OCTAVE Method. A consultant was brought in to help facilitate the process, ensuring that the evaluation would be completed in a timely manner. In addition, the IT contractor responsible for maintaining the hospital's computing infrastructure led the technological pieces of the evaluation.

The professional society allocated a very small budget for conducting the evaluation. The analysis team lacked experience in evaluating the organization's computing infrastructure for technological weaknesses. However, the society couldn't afford to bring in external people with specialized skills to assist with a vulnerability evaluation. The society's analysis team chose to tailor the evaluation methodology to accommodate gaps in the team's skill set.

Effort to Conduct the Evaluation

The overall time investment of the two organizations differed significantly. Each analysis team member from the hospital spent about 10 working days conducting the evaluation. The team's effort was spread over three and a half months of calendar time. In addition, people throughout the hospital participated in a series of data-gathering workshops at the beginning of the evaluation. Overall, the hospital spent close to 50 days of staff time conducting the evaluation.

The professional society was a much smaller and less hierarchical organization. Because the analysis team had broad insight into the organization, there was no need for data-gathering workshops. In addition, the team performed a limited evaluation of the computing infrastructure. Each analysis team member spent about three working days conducting the evaluation. This effort was spread over two months of calendar time. The overall time investment to conduct the evaluation was 12 working days.

People from each organization conducted an OCTAVE evaluation by tailoring it for their unique operational environment. As a result, each organization developed a unique approach for improving its security posture.

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