Home > Articles

This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

How to Think About Risk Management

There are some core concepts that we should cover first. The first concept to consider is threats. A threat is defined as an attacker or any person, trusted or mistrusted, who wants to break into, steal, cause damage, manipulate, or deny access to your information assets. In Information Warfare parlance, there are three general classes of threats. They are unstructured, structured, and highly structured threats. Briefly, these are defined as

  • Unstructured: A non-funded adversary with no specific organization or long term planning. Example: disgruntled employee or a lone "cracker."

  • Structured: A funded attacker or group of attackers with some organization and funding with generally longer term planning. Examples: organized crime or well-funded "cracker" organizations.

  • Highly Structured: A highly funded attacker or group of attackers, usually with national state assets. Examples: national intelligence agencies or terrorist organizations.

These are general classes of threats, and there are certainly overlaps between them, so don't think of them as hard and fast rules. These are generalizations of all the "bad guys" out there to help you think about who might want to cause harm to your assets, to "steal" them so they can use them for their own purposes or even just to deny you access to your assets. It's folly to try and divine the motivations of a threat. You'll never really know what your attacker is thinking, so don't get caught up in trying to convince yourself that some attacker won't be motivated to do something. People do things for all sorts of irrational reasons, and computer crackers are no exception.

The point here is that understanding the threat is only part of the process of managing risk. You should consider the threats against your assets, but you will also need to consider the second concept at the same time: value. It is not only important to define how valuable your assets are to you, but also to understand who might be willing to spend some of their own assets to steal or "borrow" yours and what those assets might be worth to them. The secretary's computer might seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but maybe your attacker just wants to use her drive space to store something on, or perhaps the attacker needs the secretary's computer to break into the network at large and then break into something far more important. Keep this in mind when analyzing threats and value in your organization.

In economic terms, it's also useful to remember that assets are not only monetary. An asset's value could simply be the time needed to break into your system, or perhaps something more abstract, the opportunity cost of breaking into your system versus some other organization's systems. The bottom line is that value goes beyond just putting a price on an asset; an attacker might not have money in mind at all when breaking into a network.

Consider this example: An unstructured threat, a bored student, decides to try and break into your network. The student might have no funding at all to attack your assets but is simply curious and motivated to see if he can break into a highly secure facility. Time, for that threat, might be also be a low value asset because the student is on summer break and has free time in extreme abundance. Not all threats are so pedestrian; there are also highly funded and highly motivated organizations that have all the resources necessary to penetrate even the most well guarded assets. The point here is not to underestimate the resources at the disposal of a particular class of threats you might be attempting to defend against. Even though you will never truly be able to read the mind of someone who wants to beak into your computers, it can help to try to think like your opponent. Try to imagine what your enemy might do and, if possible, attempt to break into your own networks from the perspective of those various threats you are attempting to defend against. Just try not to underestimate your threats. A lack of imagination has been the undoing of more than one organization.

With those two critical concepts out of the way, the next core concept to cover is protection or to simply answer the question: What is it exactly that you want to protect? And within that question lies another: What is it about that asset you want to protect? One useful way to answer that question is by considering the following acronym: CIA. It stands for confidentiality, integrity, and availability. This defines what it is about the asset that is important.

For instance, if the asset has to be kept secret, then confidentiality is the goal. Is it critical that the asset not be altered or tampered with? If so, then integrity is a protection goal. And finally, must the asset be available, to whom, and under what circumstances? None of these goals are mutually exclusive; they are simply another means of determining what is important in a security model. You can have an asset that needs all three of these protection goals accomplished—and another with only one.

It's critical that you consider what it is, out of the CIA acronym, that you want to protect within each asset. If your goal is to make sure your website stays up and all the information on your site is public, then IA is important for that system. For e-mail perhaps you are only concerned with confidentiality, or perhaps your company is a health care provider and has a legal requirement to maintain the confidentiality of its customers' information. For each asset, the goals are different, and the reasons for those goals are going to be different.

The next concept to consider is means. How will you accomplish your risk management goals? With any risk management problem, you have three options, which also have their own acronym—AMR: avoid, mitigate, recover.

Specifically with avoidance you can try to prevent or avoid the worst case, with mitigation you attempt to mitigate or manage your risk, and with recovery, you simply plan how you will recover from that risk. As with CIA, none of these are inherently mutually exclusive. You must consider which of these options is acceptable to you before proceeding with your risk management plan.

Above all else, it's important to keep these elements in mind when designing a security model. One example of a "simple" attack on an electronic infrastructure would be to use explosives to destroy the systems. This concept, while far-fetched for our unstructured threat, is not outside the realm of possibility for the structured threat and is part and parcel for the highly structured threat. If you consider how inexpensive explosives are and that they could be placed inside a server, and then that server could be placed inside the co-location facility your systems are located in, the capacity for causing tremendous damage becomes shockingly clear. It's a far simpler solution than a complicated electronic attack when the goal is simply to cause destruction. That's why it's critical to really consider all of these elements when thinking about the risks your systems might face. Your system could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a complicated world, and it takes some careful thought to put together a good plan.

Just remember, risk management is a process, not a silver bullet. You cannot "engineer" your way into being secure. Security can only be accomplished by practicing risk management, and that's what this material is all about. With all of this said, this book is not intended to be a comprehensive risk management tome, but merely a guide to the subject to help you think about how to build secure firewalls as part of the process of troubleshooting them. We recommend that if you find these risk management concepts to be new, you read up on risk management before embarking on a new or improved security plan.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020