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Managing Information Security Risks: The OCTAVE (SM) Approach

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Managing Information Security Risks: The OCTAVE (SM) Approach


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From the CERT Coordination Center at the SEI, this book

describes OCTAVE, a new method of evaluating

information security risk.

This book is from the CERT Coordination Center and

Networked Systems Survivability (NSS) group at the SEI,

the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon

University. There is growing interest in OCTAVE. The DOD

Medical Health System is one early adopter. There is also

keen interest from the financial sector. The authors are

the lead developers of the OCTAVE method and are

experts in helping organizations manage their own security



  • Copyright 2003
  • Dimensions: 7-3/8" x 9-1/4"
  • Pages: 520
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-321-11886-3
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-321-11886-8

From the CERT Coordination Center at the SEI, this book describes OCTAVE, a new method of evaluating information security risk.@BULLET = This book is from the CERT Coordination Center and Networked Systems Survivability (NSS) group at the SEI, the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. @BULLET = There is growing interest in OCTAVE. The DOD Medical Health System is one early adopter and there is also keen interest from the financial sector. @BULLET = The authors are the lead developers of the OCTAVE method and are experts in helping organizations manage their own security risks.@SUMMARY = This is a descriptive and process-oriented book on a new security risk evaluation method, OCTAVE. OCTAVE stands for Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation (SM). An information security risk evaluation helps organizations evaluate organizational practice as well as the installed technology base and to make decisions based on potential impact.@AUTHBIO = Christopher Alberts is a senior member of the technical staff in the Networked Systems Survivability Program (NSS) at the SEI, CERT Coordination Center. He is team leader for security evaluations and OCTAVE. Christopher is responsible for developing information security risk management methods, tools, and techniques. Audrey Dorofee is a senior member of the technical staff in the Survivable Network Management Project in the NSS Program at SEI, CERT Coordination Center. CERT is the original computer security incident response center and is internationally recognized as a leading authoritative organization in this area.

Sample Content

Online Sample Chapter

Security Risk Analysis with OCTAVE

Downloadable Sample Chapter

Click below for Sample Chapter(s) related to this title:
Sample Chapter 9

Table of Contents

List of Figures.

List of Tables.




1. Managing Information Security Risks.

Information Security.

What Is Information Security?

Vulnerability Assessment.

Information Systems Audit.

Information Security Risk Evaluation.

Managed Service Providers.

Implementing a Risk Management Approach.

Information Security Risk Evaluation and Management.

Evaluation Activities.

Risk Evaluation and Management.

An Approach to Information Security Risk Evaluations.

OCTAVE Approach.

Information Security Risk.

Three Phases.

OCTAVE Variations.

Common Elements.

2. Principles and Attributes of Information Security Risk Evaluations.


Information Security Risk Management Principles.

Information Security Risk Evaluation Principles.

Risk Management Principles.

Organizational and Cultural Principles.

Information Security Risk Evaluation Attributes.

Information Security Risk Evaluation Outputs.

Phase 1: Build Asset-BasedThreat Profiles.

Phase 2: Identify InfrastructureVulnerabilities.

Phase 3: Develop Security Strategy and Plans.


3. Introduction to the OCTAVE Method.

Overview of the OCTAVE Method.


Phase 1: Build Asset-Based Threat Profiles.

Phase 2: Identify InfrastructureVulnerabilities.

Phase 3: Develop Security Strategyand Plans.

Mapping Attributes and Outputs to the OCTAVE Method.

Attributes and the OCTAVE Method.

Outputs and the OCTAVE Method.

Introduction to the Sample Scenario.

4. Preparing for OCTAVE.

Overview of Preparation.

Obtain Senior Management Sponsorship of OCTAVE.

Select Analysis Team Members.

Select Operational Areas to Participatein OCTAVE.

Select Participants.

Coordinate Logistics.

Sample Scenario.

5. Identifying Organizational Knowledge(Processes 1 to 3).

Overview of Processes 1 to 3.

Identify Assets and Relative Priorities.

Identify Areas of Concern.

Identify Security Requirements for MostImportant Assets.

Capture Knowledge of Current Security Practices and Organizational Vulnerabilities.

6. Creating Threat Profiles (Process 4).

Overview of Process 4.

Before the Workshop: Consolidate Information from Processes 1 to 3.

Select Critical Assets.

Refine Security Requirements for Critical Assets.

Identify Threats to Critical Assets.

7. Identifying Key Components (Process 5).

Overview of Process 5.

Identify Key Classes of Components.

Identify Infrastructure Components to Examine.

8. Evaluating Selected Components (Process 6).

Overview of Process 6.

Before the Workshop: Run Vulnerability Evaluation Tools on Selected Infrastructure Components.

Review Technology Vulnerabilities and Summarize Results.

9. Conducting the Risk Analysis (Process 7).

Overview of Process 7.

Identify the Impact of Threats to Critical Assets.

Create Risk Evaluation Criteria.

Evaluate the Impact of Threats to Critical Assets.

Incorporating Probability into the Risk Analysis.

What Is Probability?

Probability in the OCTAVE Method.

10. Developing a Protection Strategy—Workshop A (Process 8A).

Overview of Process 8A.

Before the Workshop: Consolidate Information from Processes 1 to 3.

Review Risk Information.

Create Protection Strategy.

Create Risk Mitigation Plans.

Create Action List.

Incorporating Probability into Risk Mitigation.

11. Developing a Protection Strategy--Workshop B (Process 8B).

Overview of Process 8B.

Before the Workshop: Prepare to Meet with Senior Management.

Present Risk Information.

Review and Refine Protection Strategy, Mitigation Plans, and Action List.

Create Next Steps.

Summary of Part II.


12. An Introduction to Tailoring OCTAVE.

The Range of Possibilities.

Tailoring the OCTAVE Method to Your Organization.

Tailoring the Evaluation.

Tailoring Artifacts.

13. Practical Applications.


The Small Organization.

Company S.

Implementing OCTAVE in Small Organizations.

Very Large, Dispersed Organizations.

Integrated Web Portal Service Providers.

Large and Small Organizations.

Other Considerations.

14. Information Security Risk Management.


A Framework for Managing Information Security Risks.







Implementing Information Security Risk Management.


Appendix A. Case Scenario for the OCTAVE Method.

MedSite OCTAVE Final Report: Introduction.

Protection Strategy for MedSite.

Near-Term Action Items.

Risks and Mitigation Plans for Critical Assets.

Paper Medical Records.

Personal Computers.


ABC Systems.


Technology Vulnerability Evaluation Results and Recommended Actions.

Additional Information.

Risk Impact Evaluation Criteria.

Other Assets.

Consolidated Survey Results.

Appendix B. Worksheets.

Knowledge Elicitation Worksheets.

Asset Worksheet.

Areas of Concern Worksheet.

Security Requirements Worksheet.

Practice Surveys.

Protection Strategy Worksheet.

Asset Profile Worksheets.

Critical Asset Information.

Security Requirements.

Threat Profile for Critical Asset.

System(s) of Interest.

Key Classes of Components.

Infrastructure Components to Examine.

Summarize Technology Vulnerabilities.

Record Action Items.

Risk Impact Descriptions.

Risk Evaluation Criteria Worksheet.

Risk Profile Worksheet.

Risk Mitigation Plans.

Strategies and Actions.

Current Security Practices Worksheets.

Protection Strategy Worksheets.

Action List Worksheet.

Appendix C. Catalog of Practices.
About the Authors.
Index. 0321118863T03112002


Many people seem to be looking for a silver bullet when it comes to information security. They often hope that buying the latest tool or piece of technology will solve their problems. Few organizations stop to evaluate what they are actually trying to protect (and why) from an organizational perspective before selecting solutions. In our work in the field of information security, we have found that security issues tend to be complex and are rarely solved simply by applying a piece of technology. Most security issues are firmly rooted in one or more organizational and business issues. Before implementing security solutions, you should consider characterizing the true nature of the underlying problems by evaluating your security needs and risks in the context of your business.

Considering the varieties and limitations of current security evaluation methods, it is easy to become confused when trying to select an appropriate method for evaluating your information security risks. Most of the current methods are "bottom-up" -- they start with the computing infrastructure and focus on the technological vulnerabilities without considering the risks to the organization's mission and business objectives. A better alternative is to start with the organization itself and determine what needs to be protected, why it is at risk, and develop solutions requiring both technology- and practice-based solutions.

A comprehensive information security risk evaluation approach

  • incorporates assets, threats, and vulnerabilities
  • enables decision-makers to develop relative priorities based on what is important to the organization
  • incorporates organizational issues related to how people use the computing infrastructure to meet the business objectives of the organization
  • incorporates technological issues related to the configuration of the computing infrastructure
  • should be a flexible method that can be uniquely tailored to each organization

One way to create a context-sensitive evaluation approach is to define a basic set of requirements for the evaluation and then develop a series, or family, of methods that meet those requirements. Each method within the approach could be targeted at a unique operational environment or situation. The Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation (OCTAVE) project was conceived to define a systematic, organization-wide approach to evaluating information security risks comprising multiple methods consistent with the approach. We also designed the approach to be self directed, enabling people to learn about security issues and improve their organization's security posture without unnecessary reliance on outside experts and vendors.

An evaluation by itself only provides a direction for an organization's information security activities. Meaningful improvement will not occur unless the organization follows through by implementing the results of the evaluation and managing its information security risks. OCTAVE is an important first step of an information security risk management approach.

History of OCTAVE

Before we developed OCTAVE, we performed expert-led Information Security Evaluations (ISEs) for organizations. A team of security experts would visit a site, interview selected information technology personnel and users of key systems, and examine selected pieces of the computing infrastructure for technological weaknesses. The assessors used their expertise to create a list of organizational and technological weaknesses (vulnerabilities). When the managers at a site received the list of vulnerabilities and corresponding recommendations, they often did not know where to begin to address the weaknesses. Should they address the organizational issues first, or should they address the technological issues? With limits on the funds and staff available, which five things should be addressed first? These are good questions. Unfortunately, when you only examine vulnerabilities, it is hard to establish appropriate priorities.

You need to look at the vulnerabilities in the context of what the organization is trying to achieve before you can start establishing priorities.

In addition to our experience with vulnerability evaluations, we had also developed and applied a variety of software development risk evaluation and management techniques Williams 00 and Dorofee 96. These techniques focused on the critical risks that could affect project objectives.

With these experiences, we decided to focus on a risk-based approach rather than a vulnerability-based approach. A risk-based approach could help people understand how information security affects their organizations' missions and business objectives, establishing which assets are important to the organization and how they are at risk. Vulnerability evaluations could then performed in the context of risk information. Because information security risks are tied to an organizations' missions and business objectives, it became necessary to include staff members from an organization's business lines in addition to information technology personnel in the evaluation.

A second important observation from our vulnerability evaluation days concerned the level of involvement of a site and their subsequent ownership of the results. Because the vulnerability evaluations were highly dependent on the expertise of the assessors, there was little participation of site personnel involved in the process. When we were able to go back to a site, we saw the same vulnerabilities from one visit to the next. There had been little or no organizational learning. People in those organizations did not feel "ownership" of the evaluations' results and had not followed through by implementing the findings. We decided that sites needed to be more involved in security evaluations, enabling them to learn about their security processes and participate in developing improvement recommendations. We started to develop a self-directed evaluation approach that

  • focused on risks to information assets
  • focused on practice-based mitigation using recognized, good security practices
  • included personnel from business lines as well as from the information technology department
  • involved a site's personnel in all aspects of the evaluation.

In June 1999, we published a report describing the OCTAVE framework Alberts 99, a specification for an information security risk evaluation. This was refined into the OCTAVE Method Alberts 01a, which was developed for large-scale organizations. In addition, we are developing a second method targeted at small organizations. During these efforts, we determined that the OCTAVE framework did not sufficiently capture the general approach, or requirements, for self-directed information security risk evaluations that we wanted. We refined the framework into the OCTAVE criteria Alberts 01b, a set of principles, attributes, and outputs that define the OCTAVE approach.

Contents of This Book

This book focuses on the following key subjects:

  • defining an approach for self-directed information security risk evaluations (OCTAVE criteria)
  • illustrating how the evaluation approach can be implemented in an organization using the OCTAVE Method
  • showing how the OCTAVE Method can be tailored to different types of organizations
  • describing how this approach provides a foundation for managing information security risks
  • To address the key subjects, we have divided the contents of the book into the following three parts:

    • Part 1, the Introduction, summarizes the OCTAVE approach and presents the principles, attributes, and outputs of self-directed information security risk evaluations.
    • Part 2, The OCTAVE Method, illustrates one way in which the OCTAVE approach can be implemented in an organization. This part of the book begins with an "executive summary" of the OCTAVE Method and then presents the details of the method.
    • Finally, Part 3, Variations on the OCTAVE Approach, describes ideas for tailoring the OCTAVE Method for different types of organizations. This part of the book also presents basic concepts related to managing information security risks after the evaluation.

    The appendices contain additional, detailed material. The following appendices are provided in this book:

    • A. Sample Final Report from an OCTAVE example scenario
    • B. OCTAVE Method Worksheets and Instructions
    • C. Catalog of Practices (a structured collection of commonly used good security practices)

    Who Should Read This Book?

    This book is written for a varied audience. Some familiarity with security issues may be helpful, but not essential; we define all concepts and terms as they appear. The book should satisfy people who are new to security as well as experts in security and risk management.

    Information security risk evaluations are appropriate for anyone who uses networked computers to conduct business and, thus, may have critical information assets at risk. This book is for people who need to perform information security risk evaluations and who are interested in using a self-directed method that addresses both organizational and information technology issues. Managers, staff members, and information technology personnel concerned about and responsible for protecting critical information assets will find this book useful. In addition, consultants who provide information security services to other organizations may be interested in seeing how the OCTAVE approach or the OCTAVE Method might be incorporated into their existing products and services. Consumers of information security risk evaluation products and services can use the principles, attributes, and outputs of the OCTAVE approach to understand what constitutes a comprehensive approach for evaluating information security risks. Consumers can also use the principles, attributes, and outputs as a benchmark for selecting products and services that are provided by vendors and consultants.

    The OCTAVE Method requires an interdisciplinary analysis team to perform the evaluation and act as a focal point for security improvement efforts. The primary audience for this book, then, is anyone who might be on the analysis team or work with them. The book includes "how to" information for conducting an evaluation as well as concepts related to managing risks after the evaluation. For an analysis team, the entire book is applicable.

    For those who want to understand OCTAVE approach, read Part 1. For those who just want an overview of the OCTAVE Method and a general idea of how it might be used, read Chapters 1 and 3. For those who already perform information security risk evaluations and are looking for additional ideas for improvement, read Chapters 1 and 3, and then decide which areas to explore further. Those ready to start learning how to conduct self-directed information security evaluations in their organizations, should read Part 2. Finally, for people who are interested in tailoring the OCTAVE Method or learning about what to do after an evaluation, read Part 3.



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