How to prioritize IT security projects

If you’re an IT security professional, you’re almost certainly familiar with that sinking feeling you experience when presented with an overwhelming number of security issues to remediate. It’s enough to make you throw your hands up and wonder where to even begin.

prioritize IT security projects

This is the crux of the problem that develops in the absence of effective security prioritization. If you aren’t prioritizing cybersecurity risks effectively, you’re not only creating a lot of extra work for your team and yourself – you’re also needlessly exposing your organization to IT security attacks.

For better, faster and more robust protection, smart prioritization is an absolute must. Unfortunately, prevailing conditions in the IT space have long worked against this goal.

Why prioritization metrics are lacking

For many years, IT security attacks have been enabled by a haphazard approach toward prioritization. Here’s what we mean: IT security is highly complex and perpetually changing; given the extraordinary number of variables and the dynamic nature of the landscape, it’s difficult for security personnel to make optimal decisions – or to even understand the best processes for making those decisions.

Compounding this problem is the fact that prioritization metrics have historically been under-emphasized. Organizational security leaders are bombarded with marketing messages touting the virtues of one product over another, yet they receive much less assistance with the task of prioritization. Additionally, prioritization metrics are not uniform across the industry, so IT staff will often hear contradictory information.

Making this problem even more acute are the conventional challenges that accompany any IT security team. Resources are limited, decisions must be made about where to apply those resources, and team members are typically overworked and moving in a dozen directions.

How should IT teams prioritize risk?

The simplest way to implement an effective prioritization strategy is to develop a basic framework that can be followed and adjusted as needed. The following is one such example:

  • Risk identification.
  • You can’t prioritize effectively if you don’t understand what makes you vulnerable. Control risks, systemic risks, integration risks – all of these categories (and more) must be accounted for.

  • Risk assessment.
  • Once you’ve identified all potential risks, it’s time to assess the likelihood and probable impact of these risks. Risks that fall into the high likelihood, high probable impact bucket should obviously move to the front of the remediation list. It’s possible to define these risks in both qualitative and quantitative terms, and organizations often choose to create a ranking matrix based on a numerical scoring model.

  • Risk management.
  • With risks identified and assessed, the next step is developing processes to address existing vulnerabilities and protect against future risks. This may include more frequent training and improved IT hygiene, vulnerability scans, penetration testing etc.

Harnessing the power of automation for prioritization

The state of IT security has never been more precarious. Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), often state-sponsored, can embed themselves in a security environment, move laterally, and steal an organization’s critical assets without being detected for months. Cloud migration – and the challenges of handling on prem/cloud risks in an integrated manner – has created new attack paths while greatly increasing the demands placed on modern organizational security teams.

These developments exacerbate the already tough mandate for IT security pros: they must be right every time, and the attackers need only be successful once. This doesn’t mean that hackers can operate with an entirely free hand; they, too, must pick and prioritize their spots. If your security is robust enough relative to other targets, attackers may judge it to be more trouble than it is worth, especially when there are so many other lightly guarded networks, devices, etc.

Automation is the critical weapon in this game of attack and defend, as it allows attackers to maximize their resources and probe for the most vulnerable targets at scale. For defenders, automation plays an equally essential role. IT security penetration testing does an excellent job of uncovering weak spots, yet it’s also highly manual and episodic. When you aren’t actively red teaming IT security, your environments are exposed. An automated solution – such as a modern Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) platform – can help ensure 24/7, 365 security.

These automated solutions also come with another added benefit: they make effective prioritization simple in an industry that struggles with the practice. A fully automated BAS solution can identify all attack vectors can exploit and protect critical assets, whether on prem or in the cloud. These solutions work by launching controlled simulations that mimic the likeliest attack path hackers will take, making them an invaluable tool in APT IT security. Breach and attack simulations run continuously, using automation to provide non-stop protection. In essence, it’s like having a highly skilled red team that never takes a moment off.

Equally important, advanced BAS solutions offer prioritized remediation of security gaps. As we’ve seen above, this is a critical feature for today’s security teams, who are facing extraordinary challenges – and need all the help they can get.

The takeaway

Given the enormity of the threat posed by APTs, IT prioritization should be a key organizational mandate. By following the steps outlined above, you can put your security team in the best possible position to win.

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How to prioritize IT security projects