How to define a security incident

The really big question hiding in amongst all of this is do we actually need to define what a security incident is in order to secure the enterprise?

I asked Amichai Shulman, CTO Imperva, who said a definite "Yes" and argued that the enterprise cannot "just place equipment and hope for the best."

The same question aimed at Paul Boam, operations director of data, ICT and security consultancy, Auriga (who was invited to develop Parliament's first Information Security Policy by the Director of Parliamentary ICT) garnered a different answer. "No," he says. "The definition of a security incident is irrespective of the corporate risk management stance you choose to take and the underlying enterprise architecture that supports your organisation's business process."

If anyone could provide the definitive answer then surely it would be Brad Cox who has held a number of roles within the UK Ministry of Defence including operational lead in the Defence Computer Incident Response Team. His answer wasn't what I expected though. "The simple answer to the question is no," Cox says "and yes."

Thankfully he did explain this ambiguity further. "A bastion defence focused entirely on preventing or rapidly curtailing cyber attacks, with no view on learning and improving, is likely to be of limited and decreasing value over time," Cox claims. "To secure an enterprise' implies that a secure' enterprise is a static and enduring state to which organisations should aspire. Sadly, that doesn't reflect the reality of security in cyberspace - nor any other space for that matter."

So, to sum up then, has it been possible to come up with a clear and broadly agreed definition of 'security incident' as it applies to the enterprise space after all this digging and debating? I think it has, and that's a good job as Sun Tzu famously said "If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."

Or to put it another way, you can't defend what you can't see "or understand" as Jonathan Martin reminded me. In order to understand we need to define and Kurt Hagerman came up with the most rounded blanket definition methinks: "A security incident is any kind of action that results in a change to a known good state."

Davey Winder

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist specialising in cybersecurity and privacy matters and has been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue was published in 1994. He's also a Senior Contributor at Forbes, and co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project that won the ‘Most Educational Content’ category at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards.

Davey has also picked up many other awards over the years, including the Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title in 2020. As well as being the only three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) Davey was also named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro Magazine called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 he was honoured with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism which, thankfully, didn’t end his ongoing contributions - or his life for that matter.

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