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Importance of Operational Security?

What is Operational Security? (OpSec)

Operational security is often regarded as the convergence point of operational risks and cybersecurity. It is the middle ground between proactive and reactive security. This approach to cybersecurity addresses the conflicting business and security needs that organizations usually face. Business executives will want to manage cybersecurity from the top down so that it aligns with other business processes. However, they lack the technical knowledge to connect cybersecurity and business processes. For instance, they could know the basics of firewalls and antivirus programs, but they cannot tell how these tools connect with their business processes and employees. To the executives, it is just a matter of having cybersecurity tools.

However, the reality is much different. Cybersecurity is not about having two or three security tools, it is about safeguarding the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. Business executives will understandably lack the knowledge of all the security tools or measures required to safeguard the CIA triad of information. They will just know the few tools they are familiar with and assume that cybersecurity spending only revolves around those tools.

Cybersecurity is complex and highly technical since it must involve the entirety of the organization. It involves the people, processes, devices, and services within the given organization; all business operations are part of cybersecurity.

The operational security approach stitches together the organization’s processes with cybersecurity. This, therefore, deters operational risks that might threaten the business. There are many operational cybersecurity risks that organizations are exposed to daily.

For instance, there are conventional IT risks, such as unauthorized access to data, denial-of service attacks, and social engineering. In addition, legal risks emanate from the regulations surrounding IT operations, such as the collection, storage, and sharing of data.

Thirdly, there are third-party risks that come from vendors and suppliers. These are just a few of the many operational risks that face an organization and must be handled to prevent the risk of data loss, lawsuits, and reputation. The operational security strategy covers all these risks using a clever implementation plan, which we’ll discuss next

Implementing Operational Security 

Operational security is divided into three lines of defense: risk management, cybersecurity management, and audits

The first line of defense is risk management 

Here, the different risks that affect a business’ operations are handled. In this line, the key focus is risk analysis and management. The different risks across the scope of the business have to be identified. The key risk indicators for each of these risks have to be established. The probability of the occurrence of each of these risks then has to be determined. This has to be followed by the assessment of the severity of the occurrence of each risk. Using this information, the operational risks can be ranked or tabulated in a matrix to determine the priority of solving them.

The second line of defense is cybersecurity management

This includes all the processes involved in securing the organization from the operational risks identified by the first line. The second line of defense starts with security policies. These help mitigate the introduction of risks into the business.
This is followed by the definition of key risk indicators. These definitions help to alert the IT team when a risk event has occurred. The definition of key risk indicators is followed by cybersecurity standards. The standards outline the execution of different cybersecurity strategies to mitigate or prevent the defined risks from happening. The second line of defense ends with cybersecurity- management tools, which are used to view the cybersecurity stature of the organization.

The last line of defense in operation security is auditing

There are two types of auditing: internal and external. This line of defense ensures that all the other lines of defense have been correctly implemented. It also helps identify areas of weakness in the security strategy.

Organizations have varying needs, risk exposures, and access to resources. Cybersecurity, however, is a cross-cutting concern and any organization can be a target or a victim. While they can function independently, the strategies work best when intertwined. They are complementary in nature and can offer organizations protection from multiple fronts.

The proactive security approach ensures that very few attacks manage to hit the organization. It is focused on predicting and neutralizing threats, and hardening attack surfaces so that it is difficult for an attacker to penetrate the organizational network or systems.

The reactive security approach is the contrast of proactive security. The reactive security approach works by responding to threats only when they happen. Therefore, a lot more time and resources are spent on core business objectives instead of cybersecurity. The reactive security approach ensures that, whenever an attack happens, the organization is able to recover and can identify the causal factors and seal them to prevent future attacks. In addition, reactive security involves possible tracking and recovery of stolen assets from the organization.

The operational security approach works with people and processes. It identifies the risks that can be met during business operations and then creates security solutions to prevent any adverse effects of these risks. In addition, it ensures that the organization is regularly audited to detect any weaknesses in the security strategy.

The three security strategies, when combined, act as pillars to form a formidable defense from attacks. They also offer multiple layers of security, with proactive security preventing most attacks from occurring, operational security guarding business operations against the attacks, and reactive security ensuring that the business is resilient enough to survive the attack and form future defenses against similar attacks. Of importance during the consideration of the security strategies are the business, needs, exposure to cybersecurity threats, and available resources. Each of the strategies can fit different organizations to varying degrees depending on these three factors.

You can learn more about OpSec and Cybersecurity in my book “Cybersecurity : The Beginners Guide”


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3 key of operational security