What Is Operational Security (OPSEC) and How Can You Manage Security Risks?

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Gain peace of mind with operational security!

Bad actors routinely attack businesses with malware and other attacks. That’s why you must understand your digital footprint, and learn what tools and processes can protect it. Operational security (OPSEC) is the risk management process and strategy associated with securing information. All businesses must design and implement some form of OPSEC to protect themselves from the constant barrage of cyberattacks.

In this article, we’ll delve into what OPSEC can do to secure your information. First, let’s take a look at what OPSEC is!    

What Is OPSEC?

Simply put, OPSEC is how you secure your information in a company. OPSEC uses certain governance strategies to continually manage risk. Even if you’re not aware of it, your business uses OPSEC in one way or another every day. It can be as simple as using a firewall between you and the internet to help secure information ensuring the correct disposal of hardcopy.

To implement OPSEC, you need to figure out where you store your information and in what form. We put information in 2 categories: tacit and explicit. Tacit, meaning hidden, refers to what a person knows. Conversely, explicit refers to something written down or accessible to others. Both are major liabilities to a company’s productivity. 

Next, let’s discuss why OPSEC is important. 

Why Is OPSEC Important?

OPSEC offers a range of solutions to make security much easier. Let’s see how it’s important among humans and systems. 

1. Humans

Businesses gain and lose personnel over time. But you don’t want your competitors to get inside knowledge of your business! As a result, you need to segregate teams to specific tasks. And this is good OPSEC. For example, some companies use different floors to separate teams. In many cases, if you walk into a think-tank, you won’t find one person who knows what or why they’re working on a project. This is often the only way to protect information and reduce the risk of it transferring effectively to a competitor or bad actor. 

Businesses can moderately control the flow of information through contracts and policy requirements. In fact, research has shown that no one can keep a secret indefinitely. Sooner or later, someone will talk when they shouldn’t. To this end, businesses often try to screen candidates. They specifically pick candidates who will keep secrets for longer. Additionally, you must know that information security includes making information less easily accessible. That’s basically the only surefire way to protect your data.

2. Systems

Now you know that people can be a liability to OPSEC, but what can you do to reduce the risk of potentially harmful information leaks? Firstly, you need to figure out who needs what information. Then, separate users, teams, and divisions to stop unnecessary information access. A person working in customer relations won’t need access to skunkworks databases. 

Your employees will use information in different ways and at different frequencies. Identify sensitive data or intellectual property in need for protection. This is to ensure the business can still operate.  

It can often be useful to use firewall utilities to monitor siloed information access. To help further, ensure you divide logical volumes over multiple pieces of hardware. This will make it more difficult to access by bad actors. 

Ensure all connections are encrypted–either on premises, for remote working, or between your business and a client or vendor. Avoid internet of things (IoT) devices, due to their weak firmware security. If you have no choice, use wireless routers. These can provide automatic encryption to end devices that connect automatically. For instance, someone using a VPN could use a mobile. But, if they turn off their mobile and turn it back on, the device may find an update. Then, the update will also happen on an unencrypted network connection.   

Thus, you should establish varying trust zones for different business requirements. This stop access to bad actors. Additionally, color-code each trust zone. This will remind you what trust to grant. In some zones, you may need a zero trust policy like demilitarized zones (DMZs)

The 5 Steps in OPSEC

Below are the 5 risk reduction and mitigation steps you need to consider during OPSEC implementation: 

  1. Identify sensitive and critical information
  2. Identify possible threats including attack surfaces and probability of an attack occurring
  3. Analyze vulnerabilities through regular penetration testing
  4. Define and assign a threat level
  5. Plan and implement threat mitigation or threat reduction measures

Now that you know the 5 steps you’ll need to follow during establishing and maintaining OPSEC, let’s take a look at a few best practices that can help you.

Operations Security Best Practices

Below are a few OPSEC best practices that can be followed to help ensure you reduce the number or seriousness of risks.

  1. Implement change management processes. This will ensure changes aren’t ad-hoc. Last-minute changes may break a security measure you put in-place in an earlier OPSEC strategy. 
  2. Ensure no user can make any changes to a system or process. 
  3. Ensure change management has a defined process. Don’t let reviewers or management circumvent this process. To do this, consider using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. 
  4. Restrict device access to users that don’t need access. Segregate information, users, and processes accordingly. 
  5. Implement privileges that assume zero trust by default. In DMZs, zero trust helps ensure no implicit trust can be used to access restricted information. 
  6. Implement automation and a unified approach to secure information since humans are a weak link in OPSEC. To do this, you may decide to use an ERP system that allows you to mimic workflows and business practices digitally. 
  7. Implement a disaster recovery plan (DRP). This helps you to cope with different scenarios in risk assessment and defining strategies. These DRPs often involve ensuring business critical data is regularly backed up and stored in different formats and in different locations. DRPs may include the use of failover servers that ensure if one goes down another takes its place ensuring no downtime during a problem. 

Final Thoughts

OPSEC is part of every business whether we realize it or not. You especially need to consider human errors and system flaws in terms of the size of the risk and the frequency of the risk

Once you know what risks you’re dealing with, you can plan ways to secure your business information. Silo information to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Use defined information governance. The best way to do this is to implement an ERP system and add all business information to it. You should also implement a change management system to ensure ad-hoc changes by end-users don’t create OPSEC flaws that can be later exploited.

You must also remember OPSEC doesn’t stop inside the business either. Question your supply chain to avoid attacks aiming to lower your security vendor software. That said, don’t be fooled into thinking any measure is 100% effective. The better your security, the more time it takes for bad actors to get your information. 

Got more questions? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below. 

FAQ

What is OPSEC?

Operational security (OPSEC) is the risk management process and strategy associated with securing information. All businesses must have some form of OPSEC implemented to help protect it from the constant barrage of cyberattacks. Once you have a coherent risk reduction or mitigation strategy, use penetration testing to help validate it.

What are the 5 steps used to define OPSEC in a business?

Operational security (OPSEC) implementation requires you to follow 5 steps.  First, you should identify sensitive and critical information. You should then identify possible threats including attack surfaces and probability of an attack occurring. The third step is to analyze vulnerabilities through regular penetration testing. Define and assign a threat level after that. Finally, plan and implement threat mitigation or treat reduction measures.

What are the main causes for OPSEC to fail?

OPSEC often fails due to human error or poor planning. Humans trusted with sensitive information and knowledge can distribute this to others over the course of their life. Research has shown that secrets are often not kept with risk of information transfer increasing overtime. 

How does using a change management system help OPSEC?

When establishing working governance, you need formalized processes that can’t be bypassed by users. Change management is a must for any business to reduce ad-hoc changes to business processes that can cause security flaws to occur. Try using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to control changes robustly.

Does OPSEC extend outside of my business?

Yes, most businesses have to deal with a wider and more integrated supply chain to streamline the business. Cloud based solutions also enable users to access resources from computers not provided by the business. Use Firewall as a service (FWaaS) to improve your OPSEC. 

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Firewalls as a Service (FWaaS)

Learn how FWaaS can help your business if you use a cloud solution.

TechGenix: Article on Compliance vs Information Security

Discover the difference between compliance and information security.

TechGenix: Guide to Risk Management Strategies

Understand how you can build a fool-proof risk management strategic plan.

TechGenix: Article on Open-Source Penetration Testing Tools

Get open-source penetration testing tools.

TechGenix: Article on Wireless Penetration Testing

Learn how to conduct wireless penetration testing.

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