The Six Stages of Cyber Risk and Compliance Automation

Originally Posted July 15, 2022 on Security Boulevard

The COVID-19 pandemic has jumpstarted many digital business initiatives that enterprises were waiting to take on. In the face of these initiatives, the impact of cybersecurity and the security leader’s role has changed. It is no longer feasible for organizations to be dedicating the number of resources (especially regarding cost) they were able to in the past to cyber risk assessments.

Digital transformation has fundamentally altered the configuration of people, processes, and technology within organizations. As a result, there are more opportunities for automation available for organizations that have a responsibility to implement to ensure they become – and stay – a business growth enabler. For too long, automation has been reserved for the most mature programs. With the rise of integrated risk management (IRM) platforms like CyberStrong, that is changing. Automation is no longer a reward at the end of the maturity journey, but rather an enabler to mature faster and stronger. 

The following will outline the cyber risk and compliance automation journey – a six-stage process that, regardless of program maturity, shows that cyber risk automation is possible for any program.

Stage 1 – Initial

Regardless of the size of the organization, the initial stage of the cyber risk automation journey is where an organization must be compliant with some security standard, whether it be PCI, HIPAA, or CMMC. This is doable through spreadsheets or in-house security assessments. However, as an organization grows, these kinds of solutions are not manageable. A platform-based solution is the necessary next step. In the initial stage, organizations are looking to check the compliance box rather than mitigate their overall risk and strengthen their security posture. Merely meeting compliance is dangerous as it does not fully consider the processes through which risk is mitigated – risk is not identified because the organization is only checking if it is compliant.

Stage 2 – Developing

In the Developing stage, the organization is now identifying risks rather than merely meeting security and compliance standards. The developing stage looks at how regulatory compliance policies are tied to risk. Organizations in the developing stage often do not have their management onboard – management may recognize the need to be compliant but fail to implement proactive measures. Security teams have to establish credibility with their cybersecurity programs so that leadership is on board with funding risk automation. At this stage, organizations are assessing whether their cyber risk solution should be kept internal and siloed or if it should be merged into a single solution.

Stage 3 – Defined

In the Defined stage, leadership within an organization supports formal strategic planning for risk management. Processes are put in place (whether they be formal or informal) for assessing risk, but the processes are still manual. At this point, risk and compliance are not just owned by the risk team, and the strategies are known and understood by leadership. However, the language still needs to be common and consistent for leadership to accurately assess the success of risk strategies to reduce risk. The risk and compliance personnel need to have a common framework of understanding in place so that those who make informed business decisions can rely on them and their accuracy to relay the true posturing of their cybersecurity program. Furthermore, assessors and the stakeholders belonging to the process are usually not dedicated to assessments for the organization, so assessments need to be standardized and simple to follow in order for them to be completed.

Stage 4 – Managed

In the Managed stage, there is regular, consistent executive-level reporting from the risk and compliance team. Executives are not always risk experts, so reports need to easily summarize the posturing and risk-related information collected. Within the organization as a whole, risk-aware and cyber-aware culture is a priority. The organization has more awareness of what it wants to track with regard to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Key Risk Indicators (KRIs) – this could be based on industry, or be specific to their organization. However,  KPIs and KRIs are not always visualized through the lenses of risk and financial impact. Therefore, it can be difficult to understand who the stakeholders are for KPIs and KRIs that are mandated by executive boards or committees. Finally, executives are not always able to take reports from siloed sources and make informed decisions about business processes since results can be obscure or convoluted.

Stage 5 – Optimizing

The Optimizing stage is just what it sounds like – the organization is now optimizing its cybersecurity program. Culturally, the executives and board have no conflict with the risk and compliance process. Essentially, the organization is fully integrated with strategic decision-making. Governance of the data and demand for it is being driven by management. Instead of reports being used as justification for cybersecurity, reports are now being used to help drive decisions across the supply chain. At this stage, the program is mature enough that the board level is given visibility, and compliance is expected. An IRM solution has to be present at this stage to scale assessments quickly without re-assessing all the controls. At this stage, the organization cannot afford to have inaccurate data or convoluted information that does not tie back to the actual impact of risk. To truly drive business decisions, the data that is captured has to be presented to management easily with authentic visibility.

Stage 6 – Dynamic

Finally, in the Dynamic stage, the cybersecurity program has reached its peak. Your automated solution has to be involved not just in automating compliance, but also in driving decisions around controls with automated reporting. Risk data may still be validated (and should be) by human intervention, but your management solution is collecting data about risk nearly everywhere, and that data needs to be involved in order to truly dynamically adjust cybersecurity posturing. The Risk Operations Center will act proactively rather than reactively in this stage since it can predict the potential impact of risk.

Closing Thoughts

To mature your organization faster, an automated IRM solution is almost assuredly needed. Your solution must illustrate your organization’s posturing effectively in order to shift culture and processes to a higher level of maturity in your cybersecurity organization. An IRM strategy can simplify the task of optimizing the effort an organization has put into its assessment process. Finally, as a cybersecurity program reaches full maturity, technology is the only feasible option to scale out and include all data telemetry for risk and compliance.