Proactive Vs. Reactive Risk Management

Proactive risk management consists of focusing on mitigating the risks of threat events before these might possibly occur and negatively impact the organization. Organizations, whose focus is proactive risk management, plan to protect mission critical assets including applications ahead of potential threats targeting them. Proactive risk mitigation activities for applications include focusing on threat intelligence to learn about threat agents, application threat modeling to learn how the application can be protected by attacks from different threat agents, security testing and fixing of potential vulnerabilities in the application as well as in the source code before these are exploited by potential attackers.
A pre-requisite for proactive risk management is to have an inventory of the mission critical applications with associated risk profiles that allow CISOs to identify the critical digital assets such as data and functions that need to be prioritized and planned for proactive risk mitigation activities.
CISOs whose organizations focus on proactive risk mitigation measures have typically adopted a risk mitigation strategy and act upon information from threat intelligence and monitored security events and alerts to raise the bar on acceptable technical and business risks. CISOs whose focus is proactive risk mitigation usually require the roll out of additional countermeasures ahead of new threats and new compliance requirements.
Reactive risk management consists of responding to risk events as they occur to mitigate negative impacts to the organization. Examples of reactive risk management activities include security incident response, security incident investigations and forensics and fraud management. In the case of application security, reactive risk management activities include vulnerability patch management, fixing application vulnerabilities in response to reported security incidents or when these are identified by third parties, performing application risk assessment due to occasional (not planned) requirements to satisfy specific compliance and audit requirements.
CISOs whose organizations focus on reactive risk management typically spend more focus on responding to unplanned risk management events. Typically organizations whose focus is on reactive risk management have their CISOs spending most of their time on incident response and management and remediating application vulnerabilities either ahead of production releases or patching applications that are already released in production. When the prime focus of the CISO function is on reactive risk management, it is important to recognize that reactive risk mitigation, even if it cannot always be avoided because security incidents happen, is not cost effective since the cost of remediating issues after they have been either reported or exploited by an attacker is several factors of magnitude higher than identifying and fixing the same by adopting preventive risk mitigation measures.
A proactive risk mitigation approach is preferable to a reactive risk mitigation approach when making the business case for application security. A proactive risk mitigation approach might consist on using the opportunity of a required technology upgrade of an application to introduce new functionality or when an old application reaches end of life, and needs to migrate to a newer system/platform. Designing new features to applications represents an opportunity for CISOs to demand upgrade security technology to new standards and implement stronger security measures as well.
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