Training and Certification: NIST SP 800-39 Manage Information Security Risk

by Bruce Brown | 0 comment

NIST SP 800-39, Manage Information Security Risk

NIST 800-39 is a federal document that talks about risk management of information system and their security. It is cited as one of the sources for the ISC2 Certified Authorization Professional (CAP) certification. For study of the document go to Chapters 2 and 3 of 800-39. Chapter 2 talks about the fundamentals of risk management & chapter 3 breaks down the process of applying risk management across and organization.

The Fundamentals of Risk Management (Chapter 2, 800-39)
800-39 goes into the philosophy (or “the why”) and the how of managing information security at multiple levels (or multitier risk management approach). The three layers (or tiers) of risk management addressed in the 800-39 are:
Tier 1: Organization level
Tier 2: Mission/Business Process level
Tier 3: Information System level

Tier 1: Organization Level risk management
Tier one addresses security from the organizations perspective. The activities include the implementation of the first component of risk management, risk framing. Risk framing provides context of all the risk activities within an organization, which affects the risk activities of tier 1 & 2. The output of risk framing is Risk Management Strategy. In tier 1 the organization establishes and implements governance structure that are in compliance with laws, regulations and policies. Tier 1 activities include establishment of the Risk Executive Function, establishment of the risk management strategy and determination of the risk tolerance.

Tier 2: Mission/Business Process Level risk management

Tier 2 risk management activities include: 1) defining the mission/business processes to support the organization. 2) Prioritize the mission/business process with respect to the long term goals of the organization. 3) Define the type of information needed to successfully execute the mission/business processes, criticality/sensitivity of the information and the information flows both internal and external of the information.

Having a risk-aware process is an important part of tier 2. To be risk-aware senior leaders/executives need to know: 1) types of threat sources and threat events that could have an adverse affect the ability of the organizations 2) the potential adverse impacts on the organizational operations and assets, individuals, the Nation if confidentiality, integrity, availability is compromised 3) the organization’s resilience to such an attack that can be achieved with a given mission/business process

Tier 3: Information System risk management

From the information system perspective, tier 3 addresses the following tasks:
1) Categorization of the information system
2) Allocating the organizational security control
3) Selection, implementation, assessment, authorization, and ongoing

Chapter 3 focuses on the step to have a comprehensive risk management program. The tasks discussed include:
Risk Framing
Risk Assessing
Risk Response
Risk Monitoring

Risk Framing
Risk framing are the assumptions, constraints, risk tolerance and priorities that shape an organization’s managing risk. Risk framing is created based on organizational governance structure, how much money is available, regulations imposed, environment, culture and trust relationships.
In order to “frame” risk (or get an organizational context of the risk) the organization must determine: Risk assumptions, risk constraints, risk tolerance and priorities/trade-offs

Risk Assumptions
Risk assumption has to do determining how to risk will be assessed for an organization. Assumptions are based on identification of threats, vulnerabilities, the impact to the organization if attacks are successful and likelihood of attacks.

Risk Constraints
Risk constraints have to do with accepted limits of risk assessments, risk monitoring & risk response. Those limitation might be financial, cultural, the need to rely on legacy systems, or regulations imposed on the organization.

Risk Tolerance
Risk tolerance is how much risk the organization is willing to take.
Priorities/Tradeoffs
Risk is experienced at different levels, in different forms, and in different time frames. At Tier
1, organizations make trade-offs among and establish priorities for responding to such risks. Organizations tend to have multiple priorities that at times conflict, which generates potential risk. Approaches employed by organizations for managing portfolios of risks reflect organizational culture, risk tolerance, as well as risk-related assumptions and constraints. These approaches are typically embodied in the strategic plans, policies, and roadmaps of organizations which may indicate preferences for different forms of risk response. For example, organizations may be willing to accept short-term risk of slightly degraded operations to achieve long-term reduction in information security risk.
However, this trade-off could be unacceptable for one particularly critical mission/business function (e.g., real-time requirements in many industrial/process control systems). For that high-priority area, a different approach to improving security may be required including the application of compensating security controls.

Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is threat & vulnerability identification and risk determination. Organizaitonal risk framing is a prerequisite to risk assessments, because methods of risk assessment must be established by the contexts of the organizations risk.

Risk Response
Risk response identifies, evaluates, decides on, and implements appropriate courses of action to
accept, avoid, mitigate, share, or transfer risk to organizational operations and assets, individuals,
other organizations, and the Nation, resulting from the operation and use of information systems.

Risk identification is key to risk response. Risk types include:
Risk accept- is the appropriate risk response when the identified risk is within the organizational risk tolerance. Organizations can accept risk deemed to be low, moderate, or high depending on particular situations or conditions.

Risk avoidance– Organizations may conduct certain types of activities or employ certain types of information technologies that result in risk that is unacceptable. In such situations, risk avoidance involves taking specific actions to eliminate the activities or technologies that are the basis for the risk or to revise or reposition these activities or technologies in the organizational mission/business processes to avoid the potential for unacceptable risk.

Risk mitigation-adding management, technical, administrative safeguards to minimize identified risks to the system.
Risk share & transfer- Risk sharing or risk transfer is the appropriate risk response when organizations desire and have the means to shift risk liability and responsibility to other organizations. Risk transfer shifts the entire risk responsibility or liability from one organization to another organization (e.g., using insurance to transfer risk from particular organizations to insurance
companies).

Risk Monitoring – Risk changes with each modification of the system. It’s important to monitor the changes of the risk of a system. Changes to threats can also change risk.

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