Businesses are building more applications than ever and processing unprecedented amounts of data. While this can lead to amazing outcomes for customers, it also increases their exposure to cybersecurity threats. More data and more code in more places increase your threat surface, creating opportunities for malicious actors online.
How can we break this correlation between data and the risk of attacks?
What is a Security Assessment?
A security assessment reveals an organization’s existing IT vulnerabilities and suggests recommendations to improve its overall security posture. In simpler terms, it is an assessment that reveals the immediate threats to your IT security, shows how to fix them to ensures that they don’t occur again.
While security audits are specific evaluations against established guidelines conducted by external agencies, security assessments are proactive in nature. It is a self-examination rather than an external inspection. The scope and goals of a security assessment are defined by organizations themselves.
The Security Assessment Process
Here’s what a comprehensive security assessment looks like:
Step 1 – Due Diligence
The first step is the discovery phase. You document information about the people, processes, and technologies that affect the organization’s overall security framework. This mainly involves gathering information on:
- Tools such as DevOps pipelines, CI/CD, and static analysis solutions
- The hosting and deployment infrastructure
- Source code of existing applications
- SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) of the organization
Additionally, this stage teaches you who owns which part of the process. This is especially useful because a security assessment can’t take place in isolation.
Step 2 – Threat Modelling
Threat modeling is the process of understanding your cybersecurity vulnerabilities by identifying system entry points and reducing the likelihood of breaches. Various threat models help you identify threats by adopting unique perspectives. For example:
- PASTA (Process for Attack Simulation and Threat Analysis) – Perspective of the attacker
- VAST – (Visual, Agile, and Simple Threat) – Perspective of the organization
- STRIDE – (Spoofing, Tampering, Repudiation, Information Disclosure, Denial of Service (DoS), and Elevation of privilege) – Perspective of the engineer
Approaching the system from different perspectives helps understand the level of threats and the feasibility of proposed solutions.
Step 3 – Application and Infrastructure Deep Dives
During the initial development phase of applications, engineers occasionally make errors that can cause security issues down the line. A source code review helps find and fix such errors. This is especially useful for detecting encryption errors.
Similarly, it becomes equally important to evaluate the infrastructure, CI/CD, and system architecture to find gaps and vulnerabilities. Many cloud computing platforms such as AWS have shared best practices for their solutions. The assessment ensures that the team is adhering to those standards.
The security assessment during this phase reveals not only security gaps but also opportunities to cut costs. Organizations often pay for redundant instances whose costs can sometimes pile up to thousands of dollars a month.
Step 4 – Recommendations and Action Plan
In the last stage of the security assessment process, you receive recommendations and insights from all the previous steps. Ideally, this is in the form of an action plan that you can quickly put into your roadmap. Unlike a raw dump of recommendations, an action plan prioritizes the deliverables based on their feasibility and impact.
The recommendations of a security assessment are of two types:
What do you need to do right now to fix critical security issues and reduce unnecessary costs? These are straightforward fixes to specific issues. For example, shutting down EC2 instances to save costs or improving source code to ensure that it doesn’t have hard-coded passwords, or eliminating outdated software to improve efficiency. Tactical recommendations will give immediate benefits to your business.
It’s great to fix gaps and put out the flames, but how can you ensure that similar mistakes don’t occur again? Strategic recommendations aim to make security an essential part of your culture.
For example, DevSecOps is the culture of integrating data security at every stage of the software development lifecycle. Due to innovations in public clouds and microservices, product releases have become much more frequent than before. Rather than treating security as the sole responsibility of a separate team, DevSecOps culture involves development teams in identifying and resolving issues. Strategic recommendations pave the way for driving such cultural changes in an organization.
Who should get a security assessment?
Although security assessment is helpful for any proactive company, it is especially critical for organizations that are in a high-risk phase:
Organizations post M&A
Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously tricky for all departments, and IT isn’t an exception. According to a survey by IBM, one out of three executives mentioned that they had experienced data breaches attributed to M&A activity.
Other than the complexity, a big reason why organizations post-M&A have a high-security risk is that most M&As prioritize value creation. Security often takes a backseat and isn’t included in the early stages of the process.
33% of executives experienced data breaches due to M&A activity.
For startups, growth is sacred. Most of their important metrics and KPIs revolve around growth, such as LTV, Churn, and MRR. This frantic race to grab market share sometimes shifts their focus away from security and leads to the accumulation of technical debt. When the time comes to raise funding, security assessment helps them get their house in order.
Security assessments are even more critical for startups because, unlike huge enterprises, they can’t afford to pay exorbitant fines. Uber famously paid $148 million to settle its data breaches. Moreover, during the early stages of growth, when startups are building their reputations, security breaches can affect the trust of their customers.
Enterprises facing new data regulation
In the last five years, many countries have enacted new legislation to protect their residents’ data. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which concerns the data protection of EU citizens, is perhaps the most well-known. The penalties for not abiding by such regulations can be severe. For example, GDPR has fines up to 10 million euros, or, in the case of an undertaking, up to 2% of its entire global turnover of the preceding fiscal year.
Security assessment helps you understand your overall security posture, including how the data is being processed. This is the first step in ensuring your organization complies with any guidelines around data protection and privacy.
As an official partner of leading technology companies like AWS, Atlassian, and GitHub, Modus Create has helped startups and Fortune 500 companies upgrade their security posture. If you’d like to learn about how an assessment can help your business, talk to Modus.
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