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Business Requirements Analysis—Step 1 of 3

Follow the methodology introduced in the previous section to guide the development of your program. This includes first evaluating your unique business requirements to form the boundaries of the information security program. Major areas that you will evaluate include the strategic objectives for your program, your company's business environment, and tactical issues that you need to address immediately.

As we have emphasized, people, processes, and technology are the major components of an information security program. It is important that you carefully balance these areas because it is easy to focus on a single area such as technology and overlook other important components. Company size and complexity, risks, and unique business factors will define your individual program. A pragmatic approach to evaluating each area is outlined in the following sections.

Strategic Objectives

You can only establish specific security goals after you have clearly articulated strategic business objectives. You need to understand the real security risks and vulnerabilities that your business faces every day. Executives need to work together with the leader of their information security program to establish the company's long-term security objectives. This approach forces the company to think about security at an appropriately high conceptual level.

One example of a strategic objective for your information security program would be the appropriate handling of customer information. Companies now conduct much more business electronically, and their customers trust them with their confidential information. Unless the necessary controls are in place to secure this information, it is possible for dishonest individuals to steal personal information such as credit card numbers and make unauthorized purchases.

Balancing time to market and security is another objective for companies to consider for their information security program. Businesses today are under tremendous pressure to offer new products and services, and how they handle security issues that arise is a major issue. In particular, software companies must decide between shipping a new version of their software sooner even though it contains security bugs or delaying the ship date to address these defects. Shipping sooner can have a direct bearing upon the projected revenue from the new product, but failing to address bugs can negatively affect the company's brand image if something goes wrong.

Ongoing involvement of the executive staff is an important consideration for your information security program. Having active involvement of the executive staff can improve the likelihood of the program's success, but this will divert some time and attention from other activities. Depending too little on the executive staff can result in them pushing the program too far down in the organization. This will have the opposite effect and set up the program to fail.

The level of investment is another important consideration because many programs need to compete for limited resources within a given company. If your company considers information security of strategic importance, it must allocate the necessary funds to ensure that the program is successful. If the company decides that information security is a core competency, it must spend the necessary time and money to build an in-house team. On the other hand, it might be more appropriate to rely upon expert third parties to provide this service.

As you continue to add and improve security, keep in mind that 100 percent security is not a realistic goal. The pervasiveness of security threats, the broad diversity of enterprise networks, and the ingenuity of hackers contribute to this fact. Successful security is more about ceaselessly implementing incremental measures that reduce overall risk. Of course, you must always balance security against other business needs of the enterprise.

The following are examples of broad objectives that your company might develop.

Information Security Guiding Principles
  1. We will use comprehensive architectural planning to ensure that all elements of the information security program are defined and planned.

  2. We will design information security solutions for global operations from the outset, rather than local solutions that are enhanced for "international idiosyncrasies."

  3. The executive staff owns information security, and it is responsible for approval of policies and oversight of the program.

  4. We will treat our customer's data with the highest level of confidentiality and not share this information with third parties without customer permission.

  5. We will not implement a new system that will harm our customers by disclosing their confidential information to unauthorized parties.

  6. We will comply with all industry and governmental security regulations 30 days prior to required deadlines.

  7. We will carefully balance the business need to quickly offer new products and services against the security risks it might pose to our customers or damage to our company brand.

  8. We will adopt proven leading-edge information security technologies that will protect our company and customers.

  9. We will identify internal information security core competencies to address essential value-added activities and outsource all other information security activities.

  10. We will invest in information security at or above industry benchmarks for our business.

Upon completion of your strategic objectives, you are in a position to leverage this work when developing your future information security program and guiding the daily operation of the program. Your objectives should not change dramatically over time, and you should evaluate key decisions and align them with the overall goals of the program.

Business Environment

Every company has a set of unique criteria that determines how it conducts business, and your information security program should support your company's business environment. Company size, complexity, and industry are a few of the criteria that you need to consider when developing your program.

Scale your information security program to the size of your company. A smaller company, where the staff performs multiple functions, might not have a formal information security department or a CISO. In fact, a single individual might perform all the information technology and information security functions of the company.

On the other hand, a larger company that does a significant portion of its business electronically might need to have a CISO. Because disruptions to online systems can have significant impacts to the business, a more formal information security organization can prove to be an advantage.

You also need to scale security processes to the size and complexity of your organization. A smaller company might be able to operate effectively with a few informal policies. When companies expand into multiple offices and geographies, the need for formal policies becomes much more important.

Finally, the industry that your company is serving can determine the importance and scope of your information security program. Financial services industries require higher security due to the potential effect that fraud can have on their business. The health care industry also has high standards for security. Federal regulations require that health care providers protect sensitive personal medical information. In contrast, many small businesses that do not rely heavily on computer systems will not require an extensive information security program.

Table 3-1 provides some criteria that you can use to determine the importance of information security at your company. Using a simple method of 3 for high, 2 for medium, and 1 for low, you can grade your company's dependency upon information security. Note: These forms are provided in Appendix A, "Security Evaluation Framework," which you can photocopy and use at your organization.

Table 3-1 Information Security Business Dependency Matrix


Ratings (High - 3, Medium - 2, Low - 1)

Company Characteristics

Dependence upon systems to offer products and services to customers


Value of company's intellectual property stored in electronic form


Requirement for 24-7 business systems


Degree of change within company (expansions, M&A, new markets)


Business size (number of offices, number of customers, level of revenue) and complexity (processes, systems, products)


Industry Characteristics

Budget for security administration and security initiatives


Potential impact to national or critical infrastructure


Customer sensitivity to security and privacy


Level of industry regulation regarding security (GLBA, HIPAA)


Brand or revenue impact of security incident


Extent of business operations dependent upon third parties (partners, suppliers)


Customers' ability to quickly switch vendors based upon their ability to offer services in a secure manner


Average Overall Ranking (Total Scores/12)


By using this simple ranking, you can obtain a general idea of your company's dependence upon information security. Because no two companies are the same, you can modify this table to evaluate your entire business or to examine specific parts. If you find that your company is highly dependent upon information security, the remaining portions of this book contain detailed suggestions for a comprehensive review and improvement of your program.

If your company has a low ranking, you might want to be more selective in your review and improvement plans because you might not want to devote many resources to security at this point. However, you will want to revisit this analysis on a periodic basis as your company expands and offers new products and services. Your business might become more reliant upon information systems and might need an information security program in place to protect these systems in the future.

Tactical Issues

Although it is important to take a long-term view of your information security program and develop a solid strategy, you might need to address some immediate issues. This can include tactical issues that your company is facing due to either industry requirements or government regulations. As we have mentioned, the health care and financial services industries have some specific requirements that they need to address to conduct business.

On the other hand, you might have recently been hacked and might need to address customer concerns regarding your handling of confidential information. Of course, this takes precedence over all other activities. Regardless of the nature of the issue, you need to do something before you are able to complete your future strategy.

Developing a 90-day tactical plan is an effective way of addressing these issues while you're completing your strategy. Ninety days is enough time to complete the analysis necessary to develop your information security strategy and to begin remediation of any tactical issues. At this point, you should resist the natural urge to go completely into tactical mode. Address some of the most serious issues; however; you need to balance this against the strategic goals for the organization.

Key objectives for the 90-day tactical plan include the following:

  • High-visibility issues that need to be addressed now

  • Critical decisions that cannot be postponed

  • Quick wins that can be accomplished, garnering support for the information security program

  • Defer major architectural decisions and large expenditures until the overall information security strategy has been developed

The plan sends a message to your organization that you are aware of the key issues and have plans to address them now. It also provides an opportunity to improve the rapport with members of the organization who might not be pleased with your current information security organization while showing that you can make a difference.

In the initial discussions about the information security program, it is important to understand the business strategy, along with existing pain points. Look for quick wins that you can accomplish during the first 90 days that will help you win support for strategic initiatives that will be more difficult to accomplish. It is also important to identify or create business champions of the new information security initiatives. The enthusiasm of these early supporters will drive the funding and implementation process.

During the first 90 days, it is important to over-communicate whenever possible, including both good and bad news. Spend a great deal of time with the key managers and the information security staff to understand the situation before drawing any conclusions. One technique that can be effective is to develop a consistent status report to communicate the progress during the first 90 days. Monitor critical information such as the project objectives, recent results, and upcoming milestones and address progress on key issues that management has identified. By following this approach, you can communicate using a common methodology and minimize any misunderstandings regarding the information security program.

Your 90-day plan will be successful if you can accomplish the following:

  • Address some of the current pain points in the organization

  • Establish a rapport with key organizations that are affected by this program

  • Set up a consistent mechanism for tracking the status of projects

  • Avoid the urge to make major architectural decisions until you have conducted adequate research

Remember, no two companies are the same, and you will need to customize your tactical activities, just as you did with your strategic activities. The key point is to make an immediate improvement to the organization while you are developing your strategic plan. The organization will probably not remember what occurred during the 90-day period but rather that you addressed some key issues and developed a strategy.

Business Requirements Summary

The result of this analysis needs to be a broad range of strategies that you can use to develop some achievable objectives for the next few years. These objectives must be broad enough to guide the information security program and provide the organization with a specific roadmap for implementation. For example, a company in the health care industry might have a broad objective of staying in compliance with HIPPA regulations and offering online access to critical medical information to their customers within the next six months. This is an example of broad boundaries that will help to guide deliverables for the information security program.

Objectives will vary considerably between companies and will serve as the overriding principles for an information security program. Company size, complexity, and line of business are a few examples of criteria that will drive the appropriate information security program for your business. Compare any activity that you pursue to these objectives to ensure that you are in alignment. Always tailor your information security program to meet your company's requirements; doing the opposite is the surest route to failure.

After completing your business requirements analysis, you are in a position to proceed with the second step of the methodology, which evaluates your current information security program and designs your future desired program. This step is divided into the three key program components: people, processes, and technology. The next three chapters address each component in turn.

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