What is OPSEC?
OPSEC (operations security) is a security and risk management process and strategy that classifies information, then determines what is required to protect sensitive information and prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.
The OPSEC Process
OPSEC is a five-step iterative process that helps an organisation identify information that needs to be protected, determine the ways that could be used to compromise that information, and implement effective countermeasures to defend it.
When properly implemented, OPSEC is usually carried out in a sequential order. However, in emergency or dynamic situations, certain stages may need to be performed out of order.
Risk management and OPSEC
To discover flaws, OPSEC encourages business’s to look at operations and projects from the outside-in, that is, from the perspective of competitors or opponents. If an organisation can easily retrieve its own data while masquerading as an outsider, outside opponents are likely to be able to do so as well. Regular risk assessments are essential for spotting weaknesses.
Risk management is the ability to recognise vulnerabilities and dangers before they become serious problems. OPSEC requires business’s to do in-depth evaluations of their operations in order to identify vulnerable data. Business’s can discover weaknesses they might have missed by looking at operations through the eyes of a bad actor, and they can establish the appropriate OPSEC measures to secure sensitive data.
What are the 5 steps in OPSEC?
The processes that make up operations security come down to these five steps:
1. Identify critical information. The first step is to determine what data would be particularly harmful to the organization if an adversary obtained it. This includes intellectual property, employees’ or customers’ personally identifiable information, financial statements, credit card data and product research.
The first step of the OPSEC process is a Critical Information List (CIL), which is a record of critical information. This list is to be approved at leadership level of an organization. Usually, this information represents the core secrets of an organization, and can vary from one organization to the next.
2. Analyse The Threat
Following the identification of vital information, the following stage is to identify the individuals or groups who pose a threat to that information. Ask yourself: “Who are our adversaries”? These can range from criminal hackers to business competitors. Keep in mind that different enemies might be targeting different data. There may be more than one adversary, and different groups may be after different bits of information. Capabilities, information utilisation, determination, and resources must all be assessed at this stage.
The adversaries, their intent, the knowledge they may already have, their capability and intent to obtain key information, and their prospective courses of action are all documented in a well completed threat assessment.
3. Analyse Vulnerabilities. In the vulnerability analysis stage, the organization examines potential weaknesses among the safeguards in place to protect critical information and identifies which ones leave it vulnerable. This step includes finding any potential lapses in physical and electronic processes designed to protect against the predetermined threats or areas where a lack of security awareness training leaves information open to attack.
This is a step that should be central to any organization’s security posture: performing a complete security audit to reveal weak points in your infrastructure.
4. Assessment of Risk. This step determines your threat levels by determining how any vulnerabilities revealed in step 3 expose critical data identified in step 1 to threat actors identified in step 2. You need to figure out how much damage someone exploiting an external vulnerability could cause, along with how probable such an attack would be.
In summary, this section is to determine the threat level associated with each of the identified vulnerabilities, ranking the risks according to factors such as the chances a specific attack will occur and how damaging such an attack would be to operations.
5. Apply Countermeasures. With all this information in hand, the next step is to create the plan for locking down your vulnerabilities and keeping your data secure.
A plan is put in place to mitigate the risk factors starting with high-risk vulnerabilities. All countermeasures are evaluated. The most critical part of this stage is to devise a strategy for reducing or eliminating the threat, as well as removing the threat’s access to the resource.
Countermeasures are chosen based on business priorities and resources available. Based on the risk and likelihood of exploitation.
Countermeasures must also be checked on a regular basis to ensure that they remain effective and relevant. Threats evolve, as do the tactics they employ or the weaknesses that they expose. It’s crucial to examine the countermeasures to make sure they’re still protecting critical data.
Operations Security best practices
Following these best practises can help organisations build and implement an end-to-end operations security programme:
- Change management techniques. When network changes are implemented, companies must implement change management practises for employees to follow.
- Access to the device should be limited. Organizations should only enable devices that need access to their networks to do so, and network device authentication should be used.
- Use the least privileged access method. Businesses must provide employees with the bare minimum of network, data, and resource access they require to do their jobs well. The notion of least privilege assures that systems, applications, processes, and users have only the access they require to perform their tasks.
- Implement dual control. Companies must ensure the teams and individuals responsible for maintaining the corporate network are separate from the teams and individuals responsible for setting security policies. This approach guards against conflicts of interest and other issues.
Implement automation. People are typically the weakest links when it comes to enterprise security. Humans make errors — inadvertently or on purpose — causing data to end up in the wrong hands, overlooking or forgetting important details, and bypassing critical processes. Automation can eliminate these errors.
Maintain a disaster recovery plan. A key part of any information security defence is to plan for disaster and implement a strong incident response plan. Even the most fully functional OPSEC program must be accompanied by disaster plans identifying risks and detailing how a company will respond to cyberattacks and limit potential damages.
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