Security Posture (Security Posture Management)

What is a Security Posture?

Security posture definition refers to the ability an organization has to protect its information technology (IT) and data assets, detect and respond to cyber threats, and recover from a cyber incident.

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A strong security posture is constantly evolving and adapting to the changing threat landscape.

Key aspects of optimizing an organization’s security posture include:

  • Selecting the security frameworks, guidelines, and best practices that will govern how an organization manages their cybersecurity.
  • Identifying what tools and techniques the organization will use to prevent cyberthreats from causing harm.
  • Conducting vulnerability assessments and security audits on a regular basis.
  • Creating and testing plans for how to respond to a security incident, including what steps should be taken to minimize damage and restore normal operations.
  • Adhering to relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards related to data protection and cybersecurity.
  • Continuously monitoring the organization’s network for suspicious activity.
  • Implementing measures to protect physical assets from unauthorized access, misuse, or damage.
  • Mandating security awareness training for all employees, at all levels of the organization.
  • Keeping software and systems up-to-date.
  • Sharing information about the organization’s strengths regarding security posture as well as plans for how to address security gaps.

Why is Security Posture Important?

A strong security posture can significantly reduce the likelihood and negative impact of a data breach or other security incident and enhance a company’s reputation and competitive edge.

A good security posture extends beyond technical measures; it also encompasses how an organization responds to and manages a breach. Effective response and transparency can not only preserve customer trust, it can also mitigate the severity of legal and financial consequences in some situations.

Supply Chain Security Posture

A well-maintained security posture can help protect an organization from potential fines and legal repercussions if a supply chain partner experiences a data breach.

Many industries are subject to regulations that require organizations to manage and protect personal and sensitive data responsibly. Regulations like GDPR and HIPAA impose strict guidelines on how data should be handled and protected.

A strong security posture helps ensure compliance with these regulations, which in turn can mitigate the risk of fines and legal actions in case of a data breach – even if it originates from a third-party vendor.

How Does a Strong Security Posture Protect Companies?

In many jurisdictions, companies that fail to adequately protect sensitive data may face substantial fines, legal actions, and other penalties.

Under regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, individuals whose data is compromised through a company’s negligence may file lawsuits and seek financial compensation for damages. Additionally, governments may take legal action against companies for violating data protection laws.

If an organization has regularly conducted security posture assessments that demonstrate regulatory compliance, they can use those assessments to show they have taken proactive steps to adhere to legal requirements, and hopefully mitigate fines and legal consequences.

Outsourcing Security Posture Management

A mature security posture is not limited to technical defenses like encryption and two-factor authentication (2FA), it also requires robust policies, continuous employee training, regular vulnerability assessments, and an effective incident response plan.

Third-party managed service providers that specialize in security posture management (SPM) can provide organizations with an objective perspective and an additional level of expertise.

Outsourcing also allows the organization’s security team to focus on strategic initiatives, internal security improvements, and aligning cybersecurity efforts with business goals.

It’s important for organizations to carefully select a reputable and reliable third-party provider and establish clear agreements regarding the scope of services, responsibilities, and data handling procedures.

Outsourcing does not absolve the organization of its security responsibilities, but it can be a valuable component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

Types of Security Posture Management

Security Posture Management (SPM) is a comprehensive approach to continuously assessing and improving an organization’s IT infrastructure and security posture. The goal is to move from a basic or reactive security posture to a more advanced, proactive, and ultimately adaptive posture.

This requires an investment in security tools and training and a commitment to staying ahead of emerging threats. Ember is an example of a well-known security posture management vendor.

Because security posture management is so complex, however, many vendors focus their SPM products and services on specific types of risk. This allows them to develop deeper expertise, tailor their solutions to specific challenges, and respond relatively quickly to the latest developments and threats in a specific area of information and communications technology (ICT).

Types of Security Posture Management

Popular market segments for security posture management include:

Data Security Posture Management (DSPM): Focuses on assessing, monitoring, and managing data security across multiple IT environments and software application platforms.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM): Specializes in identifying and remediating risks associated with cloud infrastructure, including public, private, and hybrid cloud environments.

Application Security Posture Management (ASPM): Focuses on optimizing software security best practices for application software. This includes identifying and remediating vulnerabilities in web, mobile, and desktop applications.

Identity Posture Management (ISPM): Involves assessing and managing the policies and technologies used to authenticate and authorize users and devices in an IT environment.

Security Posture Assessment

Security posture assessments are used to identify vulnerabilities, prioritize risks, measure the effectiveness of current security measures, and rate an organization’s ability to handle and respond to known cyber threats.

After the assessment, the organization typically generates or receives a report that details the assessment’s findings and provides recommendations for how the organization can improve its security posture.

There is no single standard for how to conduct a security posture assessment, but the process typically includes the following steps:

  • Risk Assessment: This step formally reviews the likelihood of various security threats and prioritizes risks based on the potential impact they could have on the organization.
  • Security Audit: This step reviews the security controls the organization has put in place to monitor known security threats, respond to unusual network activity, and report incidents.
  • Security Policy Review: This step examines how well the organization’s network security policy and information security policy procedures and controls are enforced and adhered to.
  • Vulnerability Assessment: This step tests the organization’s current security defenses by using red teaming exercises and pen tests to simulate cyberattacks.
  • Review Incident Response Plans: This step tests how quickly and effectively the organization can detect, respond to, and recover from a variety of security incidents.
  • Third-Party and Supply Chain Assessment: This step assesses the risk of using specific third-party vendors and partners.
  • Employee Training and Awareness Programs: This step assesses employee security awareness and the effectiveness of the organization’s cybersecurity training programs such as phishing awareness training.
  • Compliance Check: This step verifies the organization’s compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards related to cybersecurity, risk management, and data management.
  • Security Benchmark Analysis: This step, which compares an organization’s internal security practices with industry best practices and standards. The outcome can be quantitative or qualitative, depending on who conducts the analysis. Qualitative results are often expressed as maturity levels. Quantitative results are often expressed as a security posture rating or score.

What is a Security Posture Rating?

A security rating is a quantitative metric that measures an organization’s security posture over time. This type of metric is often provided by a third-party security rating service that operates somewhat like a credit rating agency.

Security ratings services use a variety of data sources to conduct qualitative and quantitative risk assessments and determine security ratings. Quantitative ratings are often awarded on a scale (like A to F, or 0 to 100). Typically, a higher score indicates a stronger security posture.

Qualitative ratings are usually expressed as cybersecurity capability maturity model levels that describe an organization’s security posture.

Security Posture Levels

Security Posture Level Description
Basic or Low
  • Minimal security measures have been put in place.
  • Limited employee awareness regarding cybersecurity risks.
  • Inadequate or outdated security policies and procedures.
  • Lack of regular security audits and risk assessments.
Moderate
Advanced or High
  • Comprehensive security measures have been put in place to protect the organization’s IT infrastructure and data.
  • High level of cybersecurity awareness among all staff, with training on a regular basis.
  • Strong proactive approach to threat detection and response.
  • Security policies and procedures are well-defined and enforced consistently.
  • Security audits are conducted frequently for both in-house security and cloud security.

10 Steps to Improve Your Security Posture

10 Steps to Improve Your Security Posture

Ideally, security posture improvement is a continuous process that can be broken down into 10 steps. Each step is designed to enhance your organization’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to cyber threats effectively.

Consider consulting with or hiring external cybersecurity experts for specialized knowledge and insights, particularly for areas outside your internal team’s expertise.

  1. Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment.
  2. Develop and/or update security policies and procedures.
  3. Implement strong technical controls.
  4. Regularly patch and update systems and software.
  5. Prioritize employee training for security awareness.
  6. Develop and enforce a robust incident response plan.
  7. Monitor and review security controls on a continuous basis.
  8. Proactively manage third-party security risks.
  9. Stay compliant with relevant cybersecurity regulations and standards.
  10. Invest in cyber insurance to mitigate the financial impact of known security exploits and zero-day threats.

FAQs

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…