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90% of the Assessments I Review Leave Out Asset-Owner Interviews – Leaving You (The Seller) With a Weak Deliverable and Little Justification to Remediate
In this article I’ll point you to the people you should be talking. In addition, I’m going to give you the exact questions and sequence to use if you plan on up-selling them on remediation steps and ongoing annuity services.
The Number One question I get when the topic of assessments comes up is, “What tools do you recommend?” It’s a great question…however, I know what’s really being asked, and its the wrong question.
The Wrong Question to Be Asking On the Front End
“What scanner or analysis tool do your recommend?” That’s the question behind the “Tool” question. But its the wrong question.
The tool question stems from a misconception that assessments are technical iInitiatives that should be lead and delivered by technical people.
In most cases, the assessment is sold (or offered pro bono) by the seller, and then tossed over the fence to a technical team. The team may be well skilled in security concepts, network architecture, and more. But in most cases they lack business savvy.
Yet, the assessment, according to it’s first name – Risk, is by definition a measure of business risk. And it’s the asset owners (those who have true business liability) that need that measurement.
Note: Get the details on Asset Owners, gaining access and delivering value, in my book, The House & the Cloud – Almost FREE using this link.
The Question Framework
So what’s the right question? Well, it’s really an approach more than a question. The goal of the assessment (addressed in more detail here) is to move troubled customers to a remediation plan. It’s like a cancer patient recently diagnosed. The Oncologist who fails to move most of his patients to treatment should be seen as a failure.
Is he just not communicating? Do they just not understand they are dying? Something’s wrong if the prognosis would be positive with treatment, yet the doctor is not able to move his patients to action.
In my book, The House & the Cloud (Chapter 13), I provide three key questions as a guideline.
- What are you trying to protect
- What are you relevant threats
- How likely are you to be able to detect and respond to an incident of pending disaster before damage is done or data lost?
These three questions provide the basis for a longer, freeform discussion with Asset Owners.
Remember, Asset Owners are those with business liability. That means these special people are responsible for business functions critical to the profitability of the business, and live primarily on the profit-center side. Think, C-Level, VPs, Directors, and key people in key divisions of the company.
…Doctors, lawyers, CPAs, Sales Managers, R&D Management, Investment Banker, Stock Broker…people who make (or significantly contribute to) profits. When an asset owner’s data is compromised, deleted, or corrupted, that person is in trouble.
Customers will file lawsuits, stock prices go down, brand and reputation are tarnished, and heads roll. You won’t see the director of IT, or their one-person IT support guy in the paper tomorrow – but chances are, an Asset Owner will be front page. A few weeks later, you’ll read they have moved on to something new, by mutual agreement…code for, FIRED!
Questions Designed to Get Answers That Matter
Using the Framework, you can then divide your interviews among three groups. (I provide more detail in The House & The Cloud, Pg. 195ff).
THREE GROUPS TO CONSIDER:
The assessment process starts with executives (whenever possible). My friends on the Disaster Recovery side of the business pointed me in this direction years ago…business risk starts with understanding business leader’s care-abouts.
Start your analysis with questions (using the 3-part framework above) to determine what matters and how much…Your first question is, “What are you trying to protect?” It might look something like this:
- What applications / data are most important to this business – profit, stability, growth, customer satisfaction, etc.?
- After identifying them: How long can this system be down? (hit the important ones)…drill down…the first answer is usually wrong – No Downtime! You and I know, zero downtime is nearly impossible and exponentially expensive! Find out where the balance of cost and availability sit. – Think, Maximum Tolerable Downtime.
- How about data loss? “Can you afford to lose any data – if so, how much?” This is a Restore Point Objective question, but stick with business language. Explain how data is lost (Ransomware, disk crash, corruption, etc.)
- What are you most concerned about protecting against? There are three pillars of security to consider. Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. It might be one of these, or all three might be important. Make sure you know how the executive sees it.
Next, Move to question 2: What are your most relevant threats?” Again, you’re talking to an executive, so keep it at a business leader level. One bad question (technical in nature) could land you a demotion back to IT!
- Who is allowed to see this data? Who can’t see it?
- Who would want this data?
- What happens if this data gets out (in the hands of other governments, competitors, the public, etc.?) – Speaking of impact here.
- What concerns you most? Examples might be, data theft, downtime (from what?), loss of access (for instance, ransomware), etc. What about soft costs such as loss of customer trust?
Finally, a simple question, “How would you know if your data were under attack, or on the verge of any disaster we’ve mentioned above? Would you know in time to stop it from happening?”
Expect executives to say, “I hope so, but don’t really know.”
A similar line of questioning would be used with this group, with the addition of questions that reveal the lifecycle of their data.
More than one interview is desirable here. You’ll want to talk to key department managers as well as those who create and use data to conduct business.
In a small business, this may involve 2 or 3. In a larger firm, make sure you build in adequate funding to visit 5 to 10, or more, depending on the size and complexity of the organization.
Discover their data flow.
Workflow means, understanding who is creating data, using data, and how it travels, is stored, archived, and finally deleted. You’ll want to know who interacts with data inside and outside (customers / suppliers), and what kinds of access different groups should have.
Discover business climate.
In addition to workflow, you’ll want to know about any upcoming M&A activities, pending layoffs, volatile terminations, R&D announcements, etc. These all affect a company’s security posture.
WITHOUT this level of insight into the organization, moving forward to evaluate risk is nearly IMPOSSIBLE. True risk has everything to do with how workers create and treat data.
At this point I would recommend using a quiz – formal questions with scoring, to see how well-informed these users are when it comes to securing their most precious assets.
Completing the Process
The rest of this assessment deserves it’s own article…In short, your next step is to evaluate the data coming from your interviews, with security practices in mind.
Hold and internal meeting to ask your team – “What would need to be true in this company to keep their data secure at the levels identified by asset owners?”
With a list like this in hand, it is then easy to go into the IT areas and investigate. You now know exactly what you are looking for…
You can find out more on the consultative discovery process in my book, From Vendor to Adviser….
© David Stelzl, 2017