Data Risk Management, Part 1: How to Put Executives in the Driver’s Seat

This is the first in a series of three articles that will describe the business and organizational implications and benefits of taking a data risk management approach to securing the most critical data within an organization. For the full story, be sure to read part 2 and part 3.

The near-continual stream of big breach headlines demonstrates that existing security practices are not keeping pace with the constantly morphing threat landscape. What’s needed is a continuous, systematic approach to managing the most critical data within the organization. By taking a more data-centric approach that applies risk management principles to protecting the organization’s most critical data, it may be possible to improve the odds against cyberattacks and enable better business results.

Security Is a Board-Level Issue

More than ever, members of the C-suite are asking questions and paying much greater attention to their organization’s security posture. Unfortunately, security practitioners are using technical language to convey the status of that posture. The language is too steeped in metrics like block rates, false positives and more to effectively communicate an accurate picture of the critical data and the risks associated with its care. By applying the language of risk and looking at security metrics in the context of the business, C-level executives can gain insights that enable them to make better decisions about how to protect their organizations’ most sensitive data.

What’s needed to bridge the divide is a better understanding of what constitutes business-critical data and a more holistic look at the entire life cycle of that data. Such a view should take into account not only protection of the data at rest, but also data in motion and in use. Who is accessing the data? What are they doing with it? Who is responsible for that data?

A well-designed data risk management program that includes specific steps around data location, identification, classification and protection can push the conversation up a notch. Data risk management tools that provide an executive-level dashboard can help to answer such questions, and allow executives and other key stakeholders to better understand the risks associated with mission-critical data.

Typical Data Risk Management Scenarios

In many large enterprises today, the lack of a centralized understanding of what the organization’s critical data assets are or where they are located can contribute to unnecessary gaps. The following are several common scenarios that introduce data exposure risks.

  • New applications that handle critical data may have been quickly deployed without cross-organization or executive awareness.
  • Critical data is added to the organization through an acquisition, and the custodian of that data no longer works for the company or access becomes available to others who don’t understand the value.
  • One department may put a new platform online without communicating that to the entire organization.
  • Workers handling customer data or HR personnel who are handling employee information may not fully realize the value or sensitivity of that data, and they may take well-meaning but dangerous shortcuts in handling that data.

How Do You Convey a Business-Centric View of Risk?

In the event that there is a breach and critical data is exposed, executives working from a centralized dashboard that graphically conveys a business-centric view of risks to critical data, data ownership and so on can focus on making strategic business decisions based on their understanding of the company’s handling of its sensitive data.

They can then work with line-of-business managers, IT and security personnel to develop more effective policies and controls to reduce risk exposure. At the same time, executives can see where processes and procedures can be fortified to reduce the risk of exposure. They can better understand where to apply additional security resources to protect data and potentially avert a major breach.

The visibility provided by the executive’s data risk dashboard can also help reduce the time it takes to isolate where the unauthorized access occurred and communicate that location to key stakeholders. In turn, that communication can decrease the time it takes to investigate and remediate the threat — potentially avoiding or minimizing incident management costs as well as damages.

The constant stream of headlines and the fact that C-level executives are losing their jobs as a result of those breaches has shaken executives’ confidence in the ability of their organizations to protect critical data. It has also raised doubts about the integrity of that data, given all the different people who have access to it and all the different locations where it exists. By getting a better picture of the controls in place for business-critical data, business leaders can be more confident in the integrity of the data and make more business-savvy decisions.

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Paula Musich

Research Director

Paula brings over 30 years of experience covering the IT security and networking technology markets. She has been an IT security analyst for over nine years, most recently as a research director at NSS Labs, and earlier as principal analyst for enterprise security for Current Analysis. As a security technology analyst Paula has tracked and analyzed competitive developments in the threat management segment of the information security market, ranging from advanced anti-malware to next generation firewalls and intrusion prevention systems to content security, data loss prevention and more. Prior to becoming an analyst, Paula led a 20+ year career as a well-regarded technology journalist. She served as a senior editor and writer at eWeek, PC Week, and Network World, winning the prestigious Gold Award for News Analysis, American Society of Business Publication Editors.