Steps to Creating a New Metrics Program

James TaralaAssurance, Governance, Metrics

Metrics definitely seem to be a buzz word in information security circles these days. It seems that I can hardly give a presentation or meet with clients without the topic coming up at some point in our discussion. But to be fair, I think these discussions are healthy and I’m glad to see so many people beginning to ask the question, “how can I measure my efforts in securing my organization’s data?”

My fear though, is that there are a number of organizations who see other organizations implementing metrics and they believe that they can skip the core foundational program steps and jump right to interesting dashboards and metrics. It’s like watching someone who never exercises observing a marathon runner and saying, “I think I’d like to run a sub-four hour marathon too this year.” Without establishing a base and putting in the effort to practice, achieving great results can be difficult to impossible.

So this begs the question, in terms of information security, how would you build a base, and what steps could you take to lay the foundation for a solid, mature information security program. After working with our clients for the past 10-15 years, this would be our advice:

  1. Obtain a security management charter from senior management
  2. Create an organization wide IS Steering Committee
  3. Document your organization’s overall security goals
  4. Create & approve appropriate security policies, procedures, & standards
  5. Educate your organization on those documents

Then what? If we finish those steps, then can we start a metrics program? Absolutely! Once you have a proper foundation and you know what your organization is trying to achieve, then I think it’s a perfect time to kick off a program to develop metrics in your organization. But take it one step at a time. Don’t try to bite off too much too quickly. Take it slow, achieve results, and then progressively add to the sensors and data you collect.

  1. Here are the steps we would take to start your initial metrics program:
  2. Identify what information security sensors you have already successfully deployed
  3. Determine what meaningful metrics can be gleaned from these sensors
  4. Deploy a tool that can centrally aggregate, normalize, and report on the data collected by the sensors
  5. Create basic reports based on the metrics from strep #2
  6. Work with business owners to remediate risk

Our best advice though is this: achieve value from a small number of metrics first, and then grow your program. If you can’t achieve value from a small number of measurements, you certainly won’t achieve value with a greater volume. Eat that elephant one bite at a time.