Risk Management Concepts

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If you’re planning to take the SY0-501 version of the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of risk management concepts, including risk assessment methods.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Ziffcorp is developing a new technology that they expect to become a huge success when it’s released. The CIO is concerned about someone stealing their company secrets related to this technology. Which of the following will help the CIO identify potential dangers related to the loss of this technology?

A. Threat assessment

B. Vulnerability assessment

C. Privacy threshold assessment

D. Privacy impact assessment

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation are available at the end of this post.

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Risk Management

Risk is the likelihood that a threat will exploit a vulnerability. A vulnerability is a weakness, and a threat is a potential danger. The result is a negative impact on the organization. Impact refers to the magnitude of harm that can be caused if a threat exercises a vulnerability.

For example, a system without up-to-date antivirus software is vulnerable to malware. Malware written by malicious attackers is the threat. The likelihood that the malware will reach a vulnerable system represents the risk. Depending on what the malware does, the impact may be an unbootable computer, loss of data, or a remote-controlled computer that has joined a botnet. However, the likelihood of a risk occurring isn’t 100 percent. An isolated system without Internet access, network connectivity, or USB ports has a very low likelihood of malware infection.

The likelihood significantly increases for an Internet-connected system, and it increases even more if a user visits risky web sites and downloads and installs unverified files.

Risk Management Concepts

It’s important to realize that you can’t eliminate risk. Sure, you can avoid information technology (IT) risks completely by unplugging your computer and burying it. However, that wouldn’t be very useful. Instead, users and organizations practice risk management to reduce the risks.

You probably practice risk management every day. Driving or walking down roads and streets can be a very dangerous activity. Car-sized bullets are speeding back and forth, representing significant risks to anyone else on the road. However, you mitigate these risks with caution and vigilance. The same occurs with computers and networks. An organization mitigates risks using different types of security controls.

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Threats and Threat Assessments

A threat is a potential danger. Within the context of risk management, a threat is any circumstance or event that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data or a system. Threats come in different forms, including the following:

Malicious human threats. Chapter 6, “Comparing Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Common Attacks,” discusses various types of threat actors. They include relatively inexperienced script kiddies, dedicated criminals working within an organized crime group, and sophisticated advanced persistent threats (APTs) sponsored by a government. These are all malicious human threats. Malicious human threats regularly launch different types of attacks, including network attacks, system attacks, and the release of malware.

Accidental human threats. Users can accidentally delete or corrupt data, or accidentally access data that they shouldn’t be able to access. Even administrators can unintentionally cause system outages. The common cause is by a well-meaning administrator making a configuration change to fix one problem but inadvertently causing another one.

Environmental threats. This includes long-term power failure, which could lead to chemical spills, pollution, or other possible threats to the environment. It also includes natural threats such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, landsides, electrical storms, and other similar events.

A threat assessment helps an organization identify and categorize threats. It attempts to predict the threats against an organization’s assets, along with the likelihood the threat will occur. Threat assessments also attempt to identify the potential impact from these threats. Once the organization identifies and prioritizes threats, it identifies security controls to protect against the most serious threats.

Organizations have limited resources, so it’s not possible to protect against all threats. However, threat assessments improve the security posture of any system or application by ensuring that the resources aren’t squandered on low-priority threats. Some common types of threat assessments are:

Environmental. An environmental threat assessment evaluates the likelihood of an environmental threat occurring. For example, I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and while we’re concerned about the natural threat of hurricanes during the hurricane season, we aren’t very concerned about earthquakes. My sister is a business continuity expert and she lives near San Francisco and works in Silicon Valley. She helps companies prepare for risks associated with earthquakes there, but she spends very little time or energy considering the risk of a hurricane hitting San Francisco.

Manmade. A manmade threat assessment evaluates all threats from humans. These include both malicious human threats and accidental human threats. A malicious human threat refers to any potential attack from a person or group of people. An accidental human threat refers to any potential loss caused by a person or group accidentally.

Internal. An internal threat assessment evaluates threats from within an organization. This includes threats from malicious employees and threats from accidents. It also includes threats related to hardware failure.

External. An external threat assessment evaluates threats from outside an organization. This includes any threats from external attackers. It also includes any natural threats, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

Remember this

A threat is a potential danger and a threat assessment evaluates potential threats. Environmental threats include natural threats such as weather events. Manmade threats are any potential dangers from people and can be either malicious or accidental. Internal threats typically refer to employees within an organization, while external threats can come from any source outside the organization.


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Q. Ziffcorp is developing a new technology that they expect to become a huge success when it’s released. The CIO is concerned about someone stealing their company secrets related to this technology. Which of the following will help the CIO identify potential dangers related to the loss of this technology?

A. Threat assessment

B. Vulnerability assessment

C. Privacy threshold assessment

D. Privacy impact assessment

Answer is A. A threat assessment evaluates potential dangers that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and/or availability of data or a system. It evaluates threats and attempts to identify the potential impact from threats.

A vulnerability assessment evaluates vulnerabilities (or weaknesses), not potential dangers.

A privacy threshold assessment helps an organization identify Personally Identifiable Information (PII) within a system and a privacy impact assessment attempts to identify potential risks related to PII. However, this scenario doesn’t mention PII.

See Chapter 8 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide for more information on risk management.

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