Standardized screening for data security risk

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Best practices for data security are still evolving – as there are no industry-standard data security metrics and a confusing array of regulatory compliance and industry standards – PCI DSS 1.2, Sarbanes-Oxley, FISMA, ISO2700x – just to name a few.

Organizations (government included) currently use a combination of tactics – penetration testing, vulnerability analysis (usually at the network and sometimes at the application software layer), “fire and forget” compliance exercises and technology countermeasures such as IPS/IDS, network DLP, agent DLP, database firewalls, encryption on demand, Web application firewalls.

The one countermeasure I have never seen is standardized screening.  Borrowing an approach from health-care, consider the following:

Standardized screening for suicide risk in primary care can detect adolescents with suicidal ideation, allowing referral to a behavioral healthcare center before a fatal or serious suicide attempt is made, according to the results of a study reported online April 12 and published in the May print issue of Pediatrics.

“Several associations and federal agencies have called for depression screening in pediatric primary care,” writes Matthew B. Wintersteen, PhD, from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Screening for suicide risk is a natural adjunct to this call….To our knowledge, this is the first study to prospectively examine the impact of standardized screening for suicide risk on detection and referral rates in pediatric primary care.”

The goals of the study were to evaluate whether brief standardized screening for suicide risk in pediatric primary care practices could improve detection of youth with suicidal ideation, maintain improved rates of detection and referral, and be duplicated in other practices.

It seems to me that duplicating brief standardized screening to data security practice is eminently possible.   A possible approach would involve using a standard threat model based on a comprehensive set of security controls – (ISO 27001 would work fine for this purpose).  The process would start with a pre-screening preparation exercise that an organization could do in the office in 1-2 hours.   After the preparation exercise, a group of 3-5 people from a business unit would meet with a data security specialist for the standardized screening that would walk through the threat model and gauge probability of occurrence of vulnerabilities and  percent damage to assets by threats.  Based on my experience, this sort of walk-through would take 2-3 hours using the structured threat model.  The result of the threat analysis would be a level of value at risk to the organization for data security and indeed a 1/2 day qualifies as brief enough.

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