A vital part of any organization’s cybersecurity policy is risk management. The question is: what is the best way to determine the cyber risk level and how to plan the appropriate defense via the security operations center (SOC). Perhaps, one of the most reputable frameworks for managing cyber risks is the Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation (OCTAVE) framework which was developed for the United States Department of Defense about 20 years ago. Now this framework is used by big and small businesses around the world, although it also received its fair share of criticism.
While SOC teams increasingly switch to new methodologies, for example, MITRE ATT&CK coverage at SOC Prime’s Detection as Code platform as well as free online translation engines like Uncoder.IO for the smooth cross-tool operation of security software, it might be still good to hold on to a fundamental risk strategy designed by official sources.
Let’s look at the main concepts and structure of OCTAVE. This brief review will help you make up your mind on whether this risk management framework is appropriate in your circumstances or not.
OCTAVE Cybersecurity Framework 101
OCTAVE was created by cybersecurity specialists at Carnegie Mellon University. Of course, since 2001 it was updated a few times. As a result, version 1.0 was replaced by version 2.0, plus there is a division of OCTAVE-S for smaller enterprises (simplified), and OCTAVE Allegro, a complex framework for large enterprises with multi-level structure.
So what this framework does in simple words? Essentially, it helps to minimize the exposure to known and zero-day threats by conducting vulnerability assessments, structuring the security information in a correct manner, and developing the appropriate scenarios for response actions.
Three main phases can be derived from the general OCTAVE structure:
- Building asset-based threat profiles
- Gaining visibility of infrastructural vulnerabilities
- Developing cybersecurity strategy
OCTAVE is documented in precise detail so, on the one hand, you can’t go wrong at any stage of the implementation, but on the other hand, it might be difficult to comply with all the required stages. Modern cybersecurity workflow is conducted at a speed that has never been seen before due to the constantly expanding threat landscape. That’s why many organizations consider it too tedious and unnecessary to grow at the bureaucratic level considering the amounts of documentation that come with the OCTAVE implementation guide. However, it is possible to suggest that once it’s done, the enterprise significantly decreases the probability of a cyber-attack thanks to a highly developed security strategy that others may fail to leverage in the first place. Let’s review some of the high-level concepts of OCTAVE that can turn out to be beneficial for any enterprise’s cyber defenses.
OCTAVE: Diving Deeper
One of the prominent features of OCTAVE’s risk management approach in cybersecurity is that it is self-directed. Instead of viewing security risks on a general level that encompasses the whole business, OCTAVE denotes the creation of a small team that determines risks that are more inherent to their field of operation, gains sponsorship, and educates other team members about available opportunities represented by OCTAVE. This team works in collaboration with an IT department to address the relevant security needs. Additionally, these needs are tied to certain risk environments and levels of skill of the personnel, that’s why the security methods and policies can be customized thus being quite flexible.
In general, the OCTAVE methodology is divided into eight processes. Processes 1 to 3 are targeted at identifying the knowledge of senior management, operational management, and staff. Then, it goes to creating corresponding threat profiles along with identifying and evaluating key components of those risks. Next on, OCTAVE suggests conducting risk analysis and developing a certain protection strategy.
What’s important about this methodology is that it makes for better communication between top management, security, and IT teams, also providing the necessary connections between risk identification, assessment, and mitigation. When creating a formal risk assessment practice described by OCTAVE, SOC teams can gain greater visibility of the risk landscape. Thus, they can exclude unnecessary actions and act confidently on what’s important instead of relying on opinion-based decisions.
Meanwhile, criticism of the OCTAVE framework includes difficulty in implementation, as well as the fact that it’s impossible to mathematically predict the risk consequences which makes this methodology purely qualitative.
All in all, it can be considered crucial for every organization to be aware of their cyber risks, to be able to properly assess them and to have a predefined plan of mitigation. The question is how to set the effective procedures of risk management. It can be an OCTAVE or any other framework that the organization is comfortable with.