Author: Daniele Pinto, PMP
How to build your cyber resilience
Figure 1 Source Pexels.com
The recent issues with Facebook and Twitter highlight that building a strong cyber resilience management system is not easy. We have seen that such a system involves both technical and human aspects.
The scope of this article is to provide a brief overview of cyber resilience management in private organizations and public offices. Let's take a step back and start with the basics.
Some years ago, we could have thought about cybersecurity like something related to preventing unwanted access to information within the fence of a company. Hence, preventing non-authorized people from accessing company information systems has been historically a “job” for IT personnel. In today’s world the situation is more complicated. Think about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), or the possibility to cooperate with partners and suppliers. The borders are so extensive that the decision makers should no longer ask the question "if" an accident may happen but "when" will it happen and “how” will the system be able to detect it and quickly recover. Hence, today we talk about cyber resilience as a wide concept that goes beyond IT. Companies and public offices need to establish a management system with a balance of both preventative and persuasive controls along with recovery and repressive controls. Like every management system, it should include IT/IS infrastructure, organizational management, physical infrastructure management, supplier management, partner and customer management.
Cyber resilience management system
There are several standards and best practice collections that can help an organization to project its own cyber resilience system. For example:
- The ISO 27000 set of standards
- NIST (National Institute of Standard Technology), cybersecurity session
- COBIT 5
Most of the cyber security controls are related to IT, therefore, a best practice would be to align the management system with the already established one. The most recognized standard for IT service management is ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). Axelos, the company that manages it, has developed this approach with the new certification path called "Resilia, Cyber resilience best practices". This article is based on that approach.
If you are new to ITIL, these are the five steps to manage the lifecycle of a generic IT service:
- Service strategy: the first step is to define the strategy
- Service design: then the service is designed
- Service transition: change management processes take place, among other activities, there is the hand over to the operations team
- Service operations: here all controls are in place and managed by the operations team
- Continuous improvement: this is where the actual service is reviewed and improve
The strategy definition of a cyber resilience management system is something that the CSO (Chief Security Officer) or the program manager needs to develop with senior management and executives. The first step is to gather the requirements and therefore to set the foundation that explains “why” the organization needs such a control system. Here you need to answer other questions including the creation of the mission and vision for cyber resilience.
The output should be the implementation of company policies, people awareness, and governance that includes, for example, the financial side of implementing the cyber resilience management system.
This is the phase where the strategy becomes tangible because it is when the team designs the new controls. The scope of work includes:
- Business processes
- Physical system (e.g. access control, endpoints like computers and mobile phones)
- IT systems and processes
- An organization with roles and responsibilities
- Company culture towards cyber resilience
A gap analysis should be done to understand what the current situation is and the desired status to achieve. The ISO 27001 standard could help with its checklist made by 114 points. There are many areas in the organization to consider, for example:
- Employment process through the life cycle, from hiring to termination
- Supplier management
- Data management (e.g. data access, data modification, data storage, data transmission)
- Business continuity
Where the IT services need to utilize XaaS type of resources, a useful source of information would be the Cloud Security Alliance.
The deliverables of this phase are the design of the services/controls that will transition into production.
The scope of this phase is to introduce the designed control in the operational environment. Hence, change management plays a significant role in these activities. Attention should be given to avoid business disruption during the transition phase; risk management will help on this. The deliverables are:
- Configuration management, including change management
- Testing, including penetration testing
At this stage, the test protocol should provide feedback about the expected performance.
Once the controls are in place to protect the organization, the operations team takes care of the day-to-day business. An incident and problem management system together with a request fulfillment system should be in place. The organization manages several types of controls, for example:
- Preventative controls (e.g. user access controls)
- Detective controls (e.g. logs)
- Corrective controls (e.g. backups)
- Deterrent controls (e.g. term and conditions in the employment contract)
- Reductive controls (e.g. recovery plan, configuration management system)
- Repressive controls (e.g. IDPS - Intrusion Detection and Prevention System)
- Compensatory controls (e.g. built-in redundancy)
One of the tasks for the technical team is to monitor the access log files and the network traffic. The details for log access should be different between a normal user and a superuser. In fact, the latter could normally cause greater damage to the organization. Another aspect to consider is that the organizations are no longer isolated (e.g. process integration with suppliers, e-commerce portal). Hence, a good practice would be to terminate all external connections to a “demilitarized zone” that hosts public information, and then only allowing access to the core network through a firewall that screens traffic.
A cyber resilience management system requires being aligned with the changes in technology and business environment (e.g. BYOD). A good practice would be to make a quarterly review of the system and to plan audits (internal and/or external). The source for improvement opportunities can be the incident log, users survey, or audit report. Continuous improvement processes can follow the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) lifecycle and aim for a maturity level according to a model such as CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration).
Cyber resilience is a new way of thinking about cybersecurity. It is no longer a question of "if" but "when" an attack will happen. Hence, the system should be designed to balance the preventative controls with detective and recovery controls. The system should be designed with the respect to “how” the organization can quickly recover after the detection of an incident. Cyber resilience is no longer an issue bounded purely by IT within the “walls of an organization” but it affects employees, suppliers, and partners. Therefore, it is important to plan effective communications, create awareness among the stakeholders and manage risks holistically.