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Feb 7, 2019

NBlog Feb 7 - risks and opportunities defined


In the ISO27k context, 'risks and opportunities' has at least four meanings or interpretations:
  1. Information risks and information opportunities are the possibilities of information being exploited in a negative and positive sense, respectively. The negative sense is the normal/default meaning of risk in our field, in other words the possibility of harmful consequences arising from incidents involving information, data, IT and other ‘systems’, devices, IT and social networks, intellectual property, knowledge etc. This blog piece is an example of positively exploiting information: I am deliberately sharing information in order to inform, stimulate and educate people, for the benefit of the wider ISO27k user community (at least, that's my aim!). 
  2. Business risks and business opportunities arise from the use of information, data, IT and other ‘systems’, devices, IT and social networks, intellectual property, knowledge etc. to harm or further the organization’s business objectives, respectively. The kind of manipulative social engineering known as ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’ is an example of the beneficial use of information for business purposes. The need for the organization to address its information-related compliance obligations is an example that could be a risk (e.g. being caught out and penalized for noncompliance) or an opportunity (e.g. not being caught and dodging the penalties) depending on circumstances.
  3. The ISMS itself is subject to risks and opportunities. Risks here include sub-optimal approaches and failure to gain sufficient support from management, leading to lack of resources and insufficient implementation, severely curtailing the capability and effectiveness of the ISMS, meaning that information risks are greater and information opportunities are lower than would otherwise have been achieved. Opportunities include fostering a corporate security culture through the ISMS leading to strong and growing support for information risk management, information security, information exploitation and more.
  4. There are further risks and opportunities in a more general sense. The possibility of gaining an ISO/IEC 27001 compliance certificate that will enhance organization’s reputation and lead to more business, along with the increased competence and capabilities arising from having a compliant ISMS, is an example of an opportunity that spans the 3 perspectives above. ‘Opportunities for improvement’ involve possible changes to the ISMS, the information security policies and procedures, other controls, security metrics etc. in order to make the ISMS work better, where ‘work better’ is highly context-dependent. This is the concept of continuous improvement, gradual evolution, maturity, proactive governance and systematic management of any management system. Risks here involve anything that might prevent or slow down the ongoing adaptation and maturity processes, for example if the ISMS metrics are so poor (e.g. irrelevant, unconvincing, badly conceived and designed, or the measurement results are so utterly disappointing) that management loses confidence in the ISMS and decides on a different approach, or simply gives up on the whole thing as a bad job. Again, the opportunities go beyond the ISMS to include the business, its information, its objectives and constraints etc.
Unfortunately in my opinion, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC27 utterly confused interpretation (1) with (3) in 27001 clause 6. As I understand it, the ISO boilerplate text for all management systems standards concerns sense (3), specifically. Clause 6 should therefore have focused on the planning required by an organization to ensure that its ISMS meets its needs both initially and in perpetuity, gradually integrating the ISMS as a routine, integral and beneficial part of the organization’s overall governance and management arrangements. Instead, ‘27001 clause 6 babbles on about information security objectives rather than the governance, management and planning needed to define and satisfy the organization’s objectives for its ISMS. The committee lost the plot - at least, that’s what I think, as a member of SC27: others probably disagree! 

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