Beyond Compliance: Meaningful Security Risk Assessments for Financial Institutions

Greg Smith

While meeting industry compliance is a must for financial institutions, the process by which compliance is met doesn’t paint a complete picture of an organizations’ risk. In order to truly understand the full scope of vulnerabilities, additional measurements need to be taken into account. To legitimately answer the question “What is our security risk?”, an independent assessment of security posture modeled against current industry threats is needed, such as an Alagen threat-informed cyber risk assessment.

So why do the industry standards fall short of informing your financial institution’s true cyber risk? Let’s begin with the FFIEC’s Cybersecurity Assessment Tool.

Standards give guidance, not holistic measurement of security risk

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) Cybersecurity Assessment Tool is a framework that provides an excellent starting point for evaluating risk. It was developed to help institutions identify their risks, and determine their cybersecurity preparedness. It’s extremely useful in that it provides a repeatable, and measurable process for assessing cybersecurity risks over time.The insight that this framework provides can help stakeholders of financial institutions understand supervisory expectations, increase awareness of cybersecurity risks, and mitigate the risks facing their institutions.

However, without deeper analysis, the guidance from this framework tells only a partial story of a financial firm’s true security posture. Simply following FFIEC guidance and “best practices” is no longer enough for protecting customer data. A knowledgeable cybersecurity firm like Alagen can help assess your financial institution across the five distinct domains of the FFIEC framework, and ensure that the appropriate level of maturity has been achieved within each domain for your program. Simple “yes/no” answers to a survey are too informal to legitimately address the subjective nature of a security program.

The importance of an independent, scenario-based risk assessment

It’s critical for all financial institution stakeholders to fully understand their security risks from an element of dollars and cents, and not just receive a huge list of IT security “things to fix.”  Banks, credit unions, and other financial firms must focus their resources in areas that yield the most benefit, and often, the best way to arrive at a clear understanding of this comes from an unbiased, independent assessment.

Alagen consultants understand and appreciate that recommended security plans need to make fiscal sense. To achieve this, both a detailed and contextually-relevant picture of security posture is needed. Unlike traditional audits, our deep dive review includes an effectiveness score for each yes/no statement, which goes beyond basic security assessments to really help prioritize the different areas of your security program. Then, a scenario-based cyber risk assessment will be performed within your own environment, utilizing attack scenarios which are based on the most prevalent and current industry risks and breaches. In other words, not only is security tested against industry standards, but also, by leveraging threat intelligence, against the real-world threats most likely to be faced.

The probability simulation is performed for each identified threat, taking into account the previously determined ratings of your controls used to defend against them. This innovative assessment model helps your organization understand the actual impact of your risks. Reports and recommendations for any identified gaps are then provided, along with a 3, 6, and 12 month plan so that your organization not only knows what needs to be done, but has a tangible, workable plan that’s already been laid out.

The result: a usable picture of security posture

Threat-Informed Cyber Risk Assessment with Alagen allows your organization to not only quantify your cybersecurity risk in terms of fiscal value, but also prioritize and target your precise areas with the greatest loss potential. We independently validate the quality and effectiveness of your IT controls relative to the most current and applicable threat scenarios, while also giving your institution a repeatable risk assessment process that informs the institution’s enterprise risk management program. From a clearer understanding of security posture, to better-informed decision making regarding risk, there are significant benefits to looking beyond industry standards for security risk assessment.

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