In real estate it’s all about location and the same way to succeed in information security risk assessment, it’s all about precise profiling of a system under review. The system profile sets the boundaries of an assessment and the reviewer includes or excludes assets in the review based on their criticality and sensitivity and the business objective of an assessment. A poorly defined system profile will result in a poor quality risk assessment effort, and puts the system at unnecessary risk. A well defined system profile covers all the unacceptable risks to the system and hence is the precursor to a successful risk assessment.

In order to understand business and operational risks, before setting up the scope of an assessment the system under review needs to be profiled with the business owner or system custodian.  For an effective system profile, it is necessary to understand the objective of an assessment, needs driving the project and any inherent threats and weaknesses to the system. In a system profile the reviewer finds out all the main business functions performed by the system and its contribution to the key business objectives is determined. These business objectives will drive the data classification and system criticality of the system profile.  The business impact rating is determined based on financial, operational, technological and physical threats to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the system

System Interdependencies and Interfaces:

System boundaries identify where one system begins and other one ends. Determining all the interfaces to other systems is an important part of profiling the system. An interface is a connection between two systems, so most systems have multiple interfaces. The reviewer needs to determine what kind of communication and authentication protocols are utilized in the interfaces and how often the passwords are changed on these interfaces. To cover all the related interdependencies of a system, all the relevant application, operating systems, hardware, communication protocol, network topology, dataflow architecture needs to be profiled.  All the applications and operating systems (current release, life cycle, patch cycle) authentication and authorization details need to be evaluated as well. (Who needs authorized access, how often, and are there any exceptions?)

The best way to gather relevant information for an accurate profile is to conduct on-site interviews with the business owner and relevant subject matter experts. In addition, questionnaires, document review and scanning tools can be utilized as well.  Based on the system criticality and data classification and all the other relevant threats to the system, the overall business risk to the system is determined which is based on a (high, medium and low) scale. A carefully done system profile is integral to a sound risk assessment and ensures a common understanding of the system under review. Several business functions can utilize this valuable data and valid security decisions can be made.

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