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The Business Justification For Data Security: Data Valuation

By Rich

Man, nothing feels better than finishing off a few major projects. Yesterday we finalized the first draft of the Business Justification paper this series is based on, and I also squeezed out my presentation for IT Security World (in March) where I’m talking about major enterprise software security. Ah, the thrills and spills of SAP R/3 vs. Netweaver security!

In our first post we provided an overview of the model. Today we’re going to dig into the first step- data valuation. For the record, we’re skipping huge chunks of the paper in these posts to focus on the meat of the model- and our invitation for reviewers is still open (official release date should be within 2 weeks).

We know our data has value, but we can”t assign a definitive or fixed monetary value to it. We want to use the value to justify spending on security, but trying to tie it to purely quantitative models for investment justification is impossible. We can use educated guesses but they”re still guesses, and if we pretend they are solid metrics we”re likely to make bad risk decisions. Rather than focusing on difficult (or impossible) to measure quantitative value, let”s start our business justification framework with qualitative assessments. Keep in mind that just because we aren”t quantifying the value of the data doesn’t mean we won”t use other quantifiable metrics later in the model. Just because you cannot completely quantify the value of data, that doesn’t mean you should throw all metrics out the window.

To keep things practical, let”s select a data type and assign an arbitrary value to it. To keep things simple you might use a range of numbers from 1 to 3, or “Low”, “Medium”, and “High” to represent the value of the data. For our system we will use a range of 1-5 to give us more granularity, with 1 being a low value and 5 being a high value.

Another two metrics help account for business context in our valuation: frequency of use and audiences. The more often the data is used, the higher its value (generally). The audience may be a handful of people at the company, or may be partners & customers as well as internal staff. More use by more people often indicates higher value, as well as higher exposure to risk. These factors are important not only for understanding the value of information, but also the threats and risks associated with it – and so our justification for expenditures. These two items will not be used as primary indicators of value, but will modify an “intrinsic” value we will discuss more thoroughly below. As before, we will assign each metric a number from 1 to 5 , and we suggest you at least loosely define the scope of those ranges. Finally, we will examine three audiences that use the data: employees, customers, and partners; and derive a 1-5 score.

The value of some data changes based on time or context, and for those cases we suggest you define and rate it differently for the different contexts. For example, product information before product release is more sensitive than the same information after release.

As an example, consider student records at a university. The value of these records is considered high, and so we would assign a value of five. While the value of this data is considered “High” as it affects students financially, the frequency of use may be moderate because these records are accessed and updated mostly during a predictable window – at the beginning and end of each semester. The number of audiences for this data is two, as the records are used by various university staff (financial services and the registrar”s office), and the student (customer). Our tabular representation looks like this:

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Data

Value

Frequency

Audience

Student Record

5

2

2

In our next post (later today) we’ll give you more examples of how this works.

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[...] is the third part of our Business Justification for Data Security series (Part 1, Part 2), and if you have been following the series thus far, you know that Rich and I have [...]

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