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ESF: Triage: Fixing the Leaky Buckets

By Mike Rothman

As we discussed in the last ESF post on prioritizing the most significant risks, the next step is to build, communicate, and execute on a triage plan to fix those leaky buckets. The plan consists of the following sections: Risk Confirmation, Remediation Plan, Quick Wins, and Communication

Risk Confirmation

Coming out of the prioritize step, before we start committing resources and/or pulling the fire alarm, let’s take a deep breath and make sure our ranked list really represents the biggest risks. How do we do that? Basically by using the same process we used to come up with the list. Start with the most important data, and work backwards based on the issues we’ve already found.

The best way I know to get everyone on the same page is to have a streamlined meeting between the key influencers of security priorities. That involves folks not just within the IT team, but also probably some tech-savvy business users – since it’s their data at risk. Yes, we are going to go back to them later, once we have the plan. But it doesn’t hurt to give them a heads up early in the process about what the highest priority risks are, and get their buy-in early and often throughout the process.

Remediation Plan

Now comes the fun part: we have to figure out what’s involved in addressing each of the leaky buckets. That means figuring out whether you need to deploy a new product, or optimize a process, or both. Keep in mind that for each of the discrete issues, you want to define the fix, the cost, the effort (in hours), and the timeframe commitment to get it done. No, none of this is brain surgery, and you probably have a number of fixes on your project plan already. But hopefully this process provides the needed incentive to get some of these projects moving.

Once the first draft of the plan is completed, start lining up the project requirements with the reality of budget and availability of resources. That way when it comes time to present the plan to management (including milestones and commitments), you have already had the visit with Mr. Reality so you can stick to what is feasible.

Quick Wins

As you are doing the analysis to build the remediation plan, it’ll be obvious that some fixes are cheap and easy. We recommend you take the risk (no pun intended) and take care of those issues first. Regardless of where they end up on the risk priority list. Why? We want to build momentum behind the endpoint security program (or any program, for that matter) and that involves showing progress as quickly as possible. You don’t need to ask permission for everything.

Communications

The hallmark of any pragmatic security program (read more about the Pragmatic philosophy here) is frequent communications and senior level buy-in. So once we have the plan in place, and an idea of resources and timeframes, it’s time to get everyone back in the room to get thumbs up for the triage plan.

You need to package up the triage plan in a way that makes sense to the business folks. That means thinking about business impact first, reality second, and technology probably not at all. These folks want to know what needs to be done, when it can get done, and what it will cost.

We recommend you structure the triage pitch roughly like this:

  • Risk Priorities – Revisit the priorities everyone has presumably already agreed to.
  • Quick Wins – Go through the stuff that’s already done. That will usually put the bigwigs in a good mood, since things are already in motion.
  • Milestones – These folks don’t want to hear the specifics of each project. They want the bottom line. When will each of the risk priorities be remediated?
  • Dependencies – Now that you’ve told them what need to do, next tell them what constraints you are operating under. Are there budget issues? Are there resource issues? Whatever it is, make sure you are very candid about what can derail efforts and impact milestones.
  • Sign-off – Then you get them to sign in blood as to what will get done and when.

Dealing with Shiny Objects

To be clear, getting to this point in the process tends to be a straightforward process. Senior management knows stuff needs to get done and your initial should plans present a good way to get those things done. But the challenge is only beginning, because as you start executing on your triage plan, any number of other priorities will present that absolutely, positively, need to be dealt with.

In order to have any chance to get through the triage list, you’ll need to be disciplined about managing expectations relative to the impact of each shiny object on your committed milestones. We also recommend a monthly meeting with the influencers to revisit the timeline and recast the milestones – given the inevitable slippages due to other priorities.

OK, enough of this program management stuff. Next in this series, we’ll tackle some of the technical fundamentals, like software updates, secure configuration, and malware detection.

Other posts in the Endpoint Security Fundamentals Series

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