Economics of Security Part II: Qualifying the Economic Return From Cybersecurity Solutions

In part one of this series, my colleague, Bryce Boland, CTO, APAC touched on aligning a security program with the value-areas of a business. To be successful in this endeavor, you must calculate the return on investment (ROI) that a robust security program will offer. In part two, I will offer recommendations to achieving this.

The economics of security is an interesting challenge. I polled some contacts and discovered that, as much as we focus on reducing the capex on software and hardware, the majority of costs are actually opex. Therefore if we want to drive efficiencies in security, we should look at the usability (i.e. the time and costs required to achieve the desired outcome) of the tools as much as what they actually do.

Cybersecurity is a multi-dimensional problem, so whilst we consider efficiencies we must look at them in the context of outcomes and value. Our value question in cybersecurity has two factors: (1) are we able to leverage the most efficient path to obtain the solution and (2) being able prioritize on events/incidents that have the greatest business impact.

Simple event/incident response process

The rudimentary processes behind cyber have been around for years and are well documented in various standards. There’s a catalyst event that drives us to understand the problem, so we can qualify and prioritize if and when we need to respond – i.e. solve the problem.

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Are we increasing or decreasing efficiencies?

In recent years many have suggested the logic that “big data” can help us make smart decisions. Yet there is danger that this can create a spiral effect that has the potential to cripple us. By adding more content, we increase the cycles required to understand, qualify and respond. There is also a key question around the quality of that data. Take for example all the events we aggregate into a SIEM tool today, how many of those are truly worth taking action on?

How do we measure success and value?

If we are to evaluate the economic value cyber security solutions bring we need to look less at what they do and instead more how they do it. We need to understand the quality of the information they provide, both in terms of business impact and conversion to action, as well as the operational cycles required to achieve this; which are the cost & time multipliers.

As our technology world complexity continues, the operational aspect as a multiplier can only increase. Today I hear more companies asking for partnerships to solve problems rather than products; they see the time and skills challenge in solving the problem as prohibitive. If we are to succeed today, we need outcome focused solutions; that is they are efficient in providing actionable responses that are business oriented in their focus and/or services that reduce the operation costs associated with time to action. So how do we evaluate this in our buying criteria?

There have been many ROI tools that try to qualify the potential value that come from security investments. However if we are to align to business goals, we must drill into the process behind event correlation/validation – the heart of security – for business impact assessment and response actions.

Qualifying economic value from event/incident management

The framework below aims to give you a reference point to start to map out the economics of your security program.

Given solving this problem is entirely dependent on each individual organization; we must be able to qualify what makes our businesses profitable and how technology enables this. The model does not include metrics in each part of the incident lifecycle but does highlight some of the common key success metrics.

To make economic judgments, you need to assess the following:

  1. What is the ratio between events received and action taken?
  2. What is the efficacy level in the events & incidents you identify (i.e. the real cyber attack event to false positive ratio)?
  3. How many cycles do you iterate through to get from an event(s) to an action; is it timely and cost efficient? (Can you rank the processes/tools you leverage today in terms of man-hours and skills required to get to to action?)
  4. Do you align, prioritize and qualify events against against business goals and impact (How many cycles does this take)?
  5. Make the assessment using the framework & success criteria below to evaluate the key time and cost multipliers in your event/incident security process, so you can validate the economic value that comes from the processes and tools you leverage today, to see which are effective and which are not?

[caption id="attachment_5884" align="aligncenter" width="611"]Measures of effectiveness of event/incident management Measures of effectiveness of event/incident management[/caption]

In conducting the evaluation process above (and visually outlined above), there is a defined process for tying operational expenditures with investments for securing the processes that generate business value. By analyzing the actions taken to conduct security operations and the, ideally, efficiencies in doing so, security leaders will be able to provide a full picture of their impact on the business. Ultimately, this changes the security conversations from just security to business practices overall.