Opinion : Mark Ames discusses "Value for Policy"

How do security policy and exemption requirements impact project costs and delivery times?

Your board and audit committee are looking for reduction in risk exposure driven by your information security policy. Is this something you can track and measure?

In a recent workshop for senior IT managers and executives, I asked if anyone knew what it costs to produce and maintain their organisation’s information security policies. One CIO replied that “it’s just a cost of doing business” – a necessary evil like paying taxes and filing regulatory reports. But surely you don’t want to pay any more than you have to in compliance costs do you?

Our workshop looked at two key issues:

  1. How to measure the value you get from information security policies and;
  2. How to reduce costs associated with information security policy management.

The two questions are related, but first you have to track the cost of your assets (yes, information security policies are assets) before you can measure the value you get from them.

There are the obvious costs of policy development and maintenance, but do you have a process for granting and tracking security policy exemptions? Most companies do, and in some it can include six or more full timers. Your exemption process alone could be costing you a quarter of a million dollars annually.

How do security policy and exemption requirements impact project costs and delivery times? Project costs are usually closely tracked, so you should be able to break out the security policy related costs with just a little digging. A recent project I was working on got caught by a policy change in mid-stream that created a lot of confusion, some re-work, and real, unbudgeted costs for encryption technology.

This brings us to some of the less obvious costs – the confusion and tension caused by new or changed policies, especially if impacts aren’t adequately canvassed with stakeholders. How much senior management time is spent deciding how to respond to the new requirements or finding somebody to pay for the compliance costs?

Let’s say you’re spending one million dollars a year in direct and indirect security policy costs. What value are you getting in return? Another workshop attendee said, “It keeps audit and the regulators off our back.” The look on his face made me think this was worth a lot!  If it were really that simple, some low cost, low maintenance shelf-ware would nicely suit our requirements for information security policy and save us heaps.

But your board and audit committee are looking to your information security policy to drive reduction in risk exposure. How can you demonstrate this?

There are a number of ways to assess and measure risk, and most of them can be adapted to give you a rough dollar estimate of risk or risk exposure. Likewise, as you apply the principles of COBIT, ISO 27001, or Basel II to reduce and mitigate risk, you can assess the reductions you achieve. So if you are spending a million a year on information security policy, are you reducing your risk exposure by at least that much?

Before you can begin to answer that question and demonstrate value for policy, you need to be able to measure the costs of your information security policies and reliably track your risk exposures. Sounds easy, but anyone who has tried knows it isn’t. I’d love to hear from readers who have actually made some progress in this area.

Tags riskcompliancecobitISO 27001IT policyRisk exposuremitigate riskBasel IIinformation security policy managementMark Ames

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