Management

Public sector's push toward risk management paying off

risk management

The federal government is ahead of the private sector in integrating risk management into cybersecurity decision-making, according to a survey released Oct. 1.

The study, conducted by the Ponemon Institute and Tripwire, a risk-based security provider in Portland, Ore., compared data from more than 1,000 security, operations, risk management, compliance and other IT-related employees in both sectors.

Its results suggest the government, often slammed for being slow to react to IT trends, is handling its cybersecurity better than the private sector, thanks in large part to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Risk Management Framework, adopted widely across the government.

"As more agencies implement (NIST's) Risk Management Framework, we should continue to see public sector organizations realize the value of risk management," said Dwayne Melancon, chief technology officer for Tripwire. "This in turn should drive the use of risk assessments to alter security investment decisions. The public sector is often seen as a laggard in cybersecurity, but these results point to that being a misconception."

Agencies are also surpassing the commercial sector in integrating risk into decision-making, Melancon added. "The difference to me is commercial organizations are still trying to figure out which framework to use. On the federal side, because of pressure from NIST, there's been a wider adoption of a framework, and they are factoring risk into decisions a lot more actively. The commercial side is still in search mode, looking."

The survey also suggests communication issues between lower-level IT employees and executives regarding risk management in both sectors, though private-sector communications were more effective than the public sector's.

Forty-six percent of federal IT employees reported that security metrics are communicated only to senior executives when an incident occurs, compared with 41 percent of private-sector IT employees.

In addition, 70 percent of public-sector respondents said communications occur at too low a level; this differed from the private sector's 62 percent. 

The communication barrier is likely a result of several factors, Melancon said.

"People feel like if something isn't really an issue yet, if they raise the flag on it, they might be assigned to fix it, and if they're already busy, that could be a reason not to raise it," Melancon said. "The other dynamic is, if they elevate the issue, they feel like they won't understand it anyway."

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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