Take No Chances
Print Issue: April 2018
Security processes are working properly if nothing happens, as the adage goes—much to the chagrin of the security manager looking for buy-in from the C-suite. But if something does go wrong at an organization, the error lies in either the company's risk profile or its implementation of mitigation procedures.
Using risk management principles to create a risk profile and implement procedures to mitigate those risks should leave no gray areas for an incident to occur, says Doug Powell, CPP, PSP, security project manager at BC Hydro. Security Management sat down with Powell, the 2017 recipient of the Roy N. Bordes Council Memb er of Excellence Award, to discuss how to create a mitigation program that only gets stronger after a security incident.
Weigh the Risks…
A basic tenet of risk management principles is understanding what risks an organization faces by conducting a thorough risk assessment. "For me, nothing should happen in the security program in terms of making key decisions around protection principles until you've been through your risk management exercise, which will do two things for you: tell you where you have gaps or weaknesses, and what the priority is for addressing those," Powell says.
Look for the risks that are high-probability, low-impact—such as copper theft—and low-probability, high-impact—such as a terror attack—and build a protection plan that primarily addresses those, Powell says.
"You use that prioritization to get funding," he explains. "I tell people there's a broad spectrum of risks you have to consider, but there are two that you focus on that I call the board-level risks—the ones the board would be interested in because they could bring down the company."
…And Use Them to Build a Strategy
Establishing those risk categories will not only help get buy-in from the C-suite but frame the company's security strategy.
"You should never say something like, 'well, the copper losses are so small that we're not going to deal with this at all,' in the same way you're not going to say that you'll never likely be attacked by terrorists so let's not worry about it," Powell says. "With that in place, you should have an effective mitigation strategy on the table."
Flesh Out the Baseline…
While getting buy-in may rely on emphasizing the impact a risk can have on business operations, the security team needs to have a well-rounded understanding of the risk itself. Powell illustrates the distinction by using an example of how protesters might affect critical infrastructure.
"It's one thing to say that there's risk of work being disrupted or of a pipeline being taken out of service by protesters, but it's quite another thing to say that in the context of who these protesters are," according to Powell.
"You have one level of protesters who are just people concerned about the environment, but all they really do is write letters to the government and show up and carry picket signs to let you know they are concerned. The more extreme groups are the ones that would come with explosives or physically confront your workers or who would blockade machinery," Powell explains.
While these two groups of people both fall under the protester category, the risks they present—and how to respond to them—are vastly different.
"You have to understand the characteristics of your adversaries before you can adequately plot the seriousness of the risk," Powell explains. "Would it be serious if our pipeline got blown up? You bet it would. But who has the capability to do that? Are they on our radar? And what's the probability that we would ever interact with them? There's a bit more than just saying it's a bad thing if it happens."
…And Keep It Updated
Don't let an incident be the impetus for conducting a new risk assessment. Creating a governance model will facilitate regular reviews of the risk assessment and how it is conducted.
"If you do it well at the head end, you should be mitigating to those standards," Powell says. "Risk doesn't happen once a year, it's an ongoing process where you establish the baseline, mitigate to the baseline, and start watching your environment to see if anything bad is coming at you that you should be taking seriously because the world is dynamic."
Consistent monitoring of threats allows the mitigation strategy to be adjusted before weaknesses are discovered and exploited.
"The monitoring aspect is critical, and after an incident you might say that the reason your mitigation plan failed is you simply didn't monitor your environment enough to realize there were new risk indicators you should have picked up," Powell says. "The risk management process is dynamic, it never stops, it's continually evolving, and whether something happens to cause you to reevaluate or whether you reevaluate because that's your normal practice, that has to happen."
Establish a Process…
Through risk management, a security incident occurs when the risk assessment was not accurate, or the mitigation processes were not properly carried out. After an incident, security managers should never feel blindsided—they must identify the shortcomings in their processes.
"When something critical happens, the first thing you will do is go back to your risk profile and ask yourself some key questions," Powell advises. "Did we get it right? Did we miss something? How did this incident occur if in fact we had our risk profile correct? Or did our mitigation planning not match well with the risk profile we had developed? If we had this assessed as low-risk but it happened anyway, maybe we got something wrong. If it was high-risk and it happened anyway, what was the cause?"
If the security program matches the risk profile and an incident still occurred, it's time for the organization to change the baseline.
"Did we understand our adversary?" Powell asks. "Was it someone we anticipated or someone we didn't anticipate? If it was someone we anticipated, how did they get in to do this thing without our being able to stop it or understand that they were even going to do it? Do we have the right security in place, did we do the right analysis on the adversarial groups in the first place? What did we miss? Are there new players in town? Is there something going on in another country that we weren't aware of or ignored because we didn't think it impacted us over here in our part of the world?"
And, if it turns out that the risk profile was inaccurate despite proper governance and maintenance, don't just update it—understand why it was wrong. "Look at whether your intelligence programs or social media monitoring are robust enough," Powell suggests.
"If you had 10 or 100 metal theft incidents in a month, you want to go back and ask why this is continuing to happen," Powell notes. "We've already assessed it as a risk and tried to mitigate it. For me, the two things are intrinsically connected. If you're performing risk management well, then your mitigation programs should mirror that assessment. If it doesn't, there's a problem, and that's what this review process does, it gets you into the problem."
…And Use It Consistently
Whether it's copper theft or a terrorist attack, the incident management process should be carried out in the same way.
"That should always be a typical incident management process for any kind of event," Powell says. "What varies is input, but the methodology has got to be identical. If it's metal theft, it's a pretty simple thing—we have some thieves, they broke into a substation, removed ground wires, and as a result this happened. What can we do to mitigate that happening at other substations in the future?
If it's a terrorist attack, of course a lot more people will be involved, and you'll be asking some very challenging questions. The process becomes a lot more complex because the potential for damage or consequence value is much higher, but the methodology has to be the same all the time."
"Overall, whether you're looking at a security breach that happened because you exposed your cables and the bad guys were able to cut them or whether it was a new, more dangerous group coming at you that you weren't aware of, or because you neglected to identify the risk appropriately—all of this has to go into that evaluative process after something happens," Powell says. "Then you have to reestablish your baseline, so you're going back into that risk analysis and move to mitigate it according to what that new baseline is. If something bad happens that's what you do—go back to the baseline and discover what went wrong, and once you know, you seek to mitigate it to the new baseline."