Using Risk Assessment Metrics

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Risk assessment quantifies or qualifies risks based on different values or judgments. If you’re planning to take the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of risk assessment best practices such as using metrics to identify risk.

Here’s a sample practice test question:

Q. A security expert is attempting to identify the number of failures a web server has in a year. Which of the following is the expert MOST likely identifying?

A. SLE

B. MTTR

C. ALE

D. MTTF

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

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Documenting the Assessment

The final phase of the risk assessment is the report. This identifies the risks discovered during the assessment and the recommended controls. As a simple example, a risk assessment on a database-enabled web application may discover that it’s susceptible to SQL injection attacks. The risk assessment will then recommend rewriting the web application with input validation techniques or stored procedures to protect the database.

Risk Assessment

Management uses this to decide which controls to implement and which controls to accept. In many cases, a final report documents the managerial decisions. Of course, management can decide not to implement a control, but instead accept a risk.

Think how valuable this report will be for an attacker. They won’t need to dig to identify vulnerabilities or controls. Instead, the report lists all the details. Even when management approves controls to correct the vulnerabilities, it may take some time to implement them. Because of this, the results of a risk assessment are highly protected. Normally, only executive management and security professionals will have access to these reports.

Using Metrics to Identify Risk

When identifying risks associated with hardware, security experts and administrators use several metrics. These include:

  • Mean time between failures (MTBF). The mean time between failures (MTBF) provides a measure of a system’s reliability and is usually represented in hours. More specifically, the MTBF identifies the average (the arithmetic mean) time between failures. Higher MTBF numbers indicate a higher reliability of a product or system. Administrators and security experts attempt to identify the MTBF for critical systems with a goal of predicting potential outages.
  • Mean time to failure (MTTF). The mean time to failure (MTTF) is the length of time you can expect a device to remain in operation before it fails. It is similar to MTBF, but the primary difference is that the MTBF metric indicates you can repair the device after it fails. The MTTF metric indicates that you will not be able to repair a device after it fails.
  • Mean time to recover (MTTR). The mean time to recover (MTTR) identifies the average (the arithmetic mean) time it takes to restore a failed system. In some cases, people interpret MTTR as the mean time to repair, and both mean essentially the same thing. Organizations that have maintenance contracts often specify the MTTR as a part of the contract. The supplier agrees that it will, on average, restore a failed system within the MTTR time. The MTTR does not provide a guarantee that it will restore the system within the MTTR every time. Sometimes it may take a little longer and sometimes it may be a little quicker, with the average defined by the MTTR.

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Q. A security expert is attempting to identify the number of failures a web server has in a year. Which of the following is the expert MOST likely identifying?

A. SLE

B. MTTR

C. ALE

D. MTTF

Answer is C. Annualized loss expectancy (ALE) is part of a quantitative risk assessment and is the most likely answer of those given. It is calculated by multiplying the single loss expectancy times the annualized rate of occurrence (ARO).

Mean time to recover (MTTR) and mean time to failure (MTTF) do not identify the number of failures in a year.

See Chapter 8 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on risk management.

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You may also like to view these blog posts about Risk Assessment:

Quantitative Risk Assessment

Qualitative Risk Assessment

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