Risk Management is Dead: Long Live Risk Management

Richard Stiennon recently posted an article on Network World discussing why risk management fails in IT. Mr. Stiennon posits that risk management is a carry-over from the bigger world of business, and does not work in the infosecurity world. Stiennon identifies 4 key points to try and defend his position: 1. It is expensive and almost impossible to identify all IT assets 2. It is impossible to assign value to IT assets 3. Risk management methods invariably fail to predict the actual disasters 4. Risk management devolves to protect everything.  He finishes his article by stating that we need to move to “threat management” as opposed to risk management.

Lets address each of Stiennon’s points. Stiennon’s argument that it is impossible to identify all IT assets is in fact wrong. The fact is that there are tools in existence today that can automate the identification of all assets within organizations, such as Insightix from our partner McAfee. It is also not impossible to assign value to IT assets. The FAIR framework has provided a comprehensive guide to assigning value to IT assets within the framework of Risk Management for years. At just a basic level, most organizations can at least identify what the most valuable assets are (where the finance information is, where the intellectual property resides, etc.) and devise a ranking or value system around that. It is also not true that risk management fails to predict the actual disasters. Many companies provide software solutions that automates the analysis of your network, and identifies exactly what assets are truly at risk, including our own Risk Analyzer. Finally, most security practitioners would say that their job is in fact to protect everything within their network environment. I have yet to meet a security professional who talks about the assets they are just writing off and not worrying about protecting.

Furthermore, Stiennon’s position assumes that there is some fundamental or significant difference between “threat management” and “risk management”.  Websters defines threat as “an indication of something impending, an expression of intention to inflict evil, injury or damage”, and defines risk as “the possibility of loss or injury; someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard.” I would argue that these are terms that are more similar than opposite in nature. Unfortunately Stiennon doesn’t elaborate on what “threat management” is beyond a link to an article on UTM appliances.

Risk Management is indeed a challenging practice to implement within an IT organization. In large enterprise and service provider environments, it is truly a huge undertaking. However, it is not so difficult that it can’t be done, or be effective, and therefore I have to respectfully disagree with Stiennon’s position. Here at FireMon, we have had a series of posts around how to effectively operationalize and automate risk management within your everyday IT security operations leveraging the real-time Security Manager and Risk Analyzer solution. Securosis has an amazing whitepaper discussing vulnerability management platforms aimed at effective risk management within IT, and SIRA offers insights and guidance how to achieve this daily. Risk Management is an effective, necessary and crucial part of any organizations IT Security operation, and the reports of it’s untimely death are greatly exaggerated.