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Building an Enterprise Security Program From Scratch

In this post, I’m going to touch on all the aspects of building an enterprise security program. This is a vast topic, and I could have spent pages and pages explaining each element of a successful program. However, the goal of this post is to merely define the necessary steps and provide a roadmap to get you started.

Here is a basic outline for an enterprise security program:

  • Risk Assesment
  • Plan of Action
  • Tactical and Strategic Goals
  • Security Budget
  • Security Policies and Procedures
  • Vulnerability Management
  • Training and Awareness
  • Quarterly Security Reviews
  • Anual Program Review

The idea of building a security program from scratch is a daunting task. You need to have a comprehensive background in IT and security to be successful. Knowledge and expertise of IT is 90% of this job. Most of your time you will be evaluating technologies, advising business teams, deciding what is or is not a risk and finally directing security priorities and implementations.

Risk Assesment

The goal of the risk assessment is to identify where your risks are. First, you need to know where the sensitive data resides that you need to protect. Effective asset management helps with identification where the critical assets are. You need to focus on the sensitive data first. If you perform credit card processing that you need to start with PCI DSS. A PCI DSS gap analysis is usually the first step to understand the compliance status. If you store and process personal data (PD) than CIS Critical Security Controls (CSC), risk assessment or a more detailed NIST using SP 800 series would be recommended together with a GDPR gap analysis.

Plan of Action

The outcome of the above risk analysis will feed into the plan of action. This is mainly focused on hight and mid-level risks. The plan of action would include all the major risks, mitigation strategy, budget requirements, timelines. In many cases, this is also referred to as a gap assessment.

Ref Risk Priority Mitigation Budget Milestones

Tactical and Strategic Goals

A typical security strategy is a combination of both short-term tactical and long-term strategy. You are faced with a continually changing landscape so tactical planning should be limited to 6 months and strategic to max 12-24 months.

The strategic plan looks beyond the tactical focus. Some problems and risks will take a long time to mitigate.

The output of Risk Assessment is used in the plan of action based on the risk levels identified. Then you prioritise the plan of action to create a tactical and strategic security plan. The prioritisation is based on the sensitivity of data you process.

Security Budget

The security budget should closely map to the tactical and strategic security plans. It is something that takes a lot of consideration. You need to negotiate all products you buy. Security products are always overpriced; this is a fact. Look at the open source products first to understand functionality that is already available out there for free. When you select a product, the features should come first and cohesion second. Let’s face it you cannot overlook the support side of the equation. Even most sophisticated and functional open source products will fail if you don’t have the right people to support it.

Security Policy

There are two significant policies that every organisation should have. You should focus on getting these two right before moving on to the rest of security policies for your organisation.

Data Classification

You need to classify all data within the organisation appropriately. Sensitive data may be defined as PCI, PD or health information. You need to know where the sensitive data resides. It makes sense to divide the data into tiers based on sensitivity classification. For example:

  • Tier 0 - data that could be used to prejudice or discriminate against specific individuals. This includes ethnic origin, political membership, health information, sexual orientation, employment details or criminal history. Also payment card data, genetic data, biometric data and authentication data like passwords.
  • Tier 1 - data that on its own can be used to identify specific individuals. E.g. names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, copies of passports or drivers' licences.
  • Tier 2 - any data when aggregated with other tier-2 or tier-1 may allow specific individuals to be identified. E.g. IP addresses, transaction metadata and geolocation data.
  • Tier 3 - data that may, when aggregated with Tier-2 or tier-1 data, but not with other T3 data, allow specific individuals to be identified. E.g. Device ID, Advertising IDs, hashes, cookies and search string data.

The data classification policy should make a clear distinction between data types to help your organisation. It should describe the proper handling of each type.

Data Protection

You want to document a data protection standard. The document explains how the data is protected, and who should have access to it.

The data protection policy is to ensure that data is protected from unauthorised use or disclosure and complies with data classification policy and best practices and standards.

Vulnerability Management

Vulnerability management is an ongoing approach to the collection and analysis of information regarding vulnerabilities, exploits and possible inappropriate data flows. A comprehensive vulnerability management program provides you with knowledge awareness and risk background necessary to understand threats to the organisation’s environment and react accordingly.

A successful vulnerability management program consists of 5 distinctive steps: * Determine the hardware and software assets in your environment * Determine the criticality of these assets * Identify the security vulnerabilities impacting the assets * Determine a quantifiable risk score for each vulnerability * Mitigate the highest risk vulnerabilities from the most valuable assets

Most of the steps in vulnerability management can be automated to some extent with the exception of Penetration Testing. This type of manual testing is the perfect complement to automated vulnerability scanning. Start with a smaller scope and target higher-risk assets. Learn from it and expand the practice.

Security Training and Awareness

Security training is important and should be embedded into several core areas in your organisation:

  • New hire training
  • Quaterly or yearly awarness training that includes common threats, spear phishing, whaling, social engineering
  • Email newsletters, alerts, breaking news that impact staff
  • Security demos, presentation, seminars, security engineering days
  • Security wiki, initiatives and changes everyone should know about

I’m afraid organisational culture and human behavior have not evolved nearly as rapidly as technology. If you look closely at recent data breaches you’ll notice that phishing or another social engineering technique at some point during the attack was used. To fight such scams, employees need to be aware of the threats.

Quaterly Security Reviews

The quaterly scurity reviews are citical to ongoing security operations. The larger the team you have the more frequent you should be perfomrning these.

These are perioding checkups to address vulnerability status, progress with risk mitigation, review the policies and procedure.

Here are some of the things you should review.

  • Vulnerability scan results and remediation
  • Review penetration testing
  • Access controls
  • Policy and Procedures Reiew
  • Progerss toward the tactial plan
  • Review the impact of security changes made during the quarter.
  • Update the executive managemetn and senior leadership

Annual Program Review

This is a great opportunity to step back and see the bigger picture to ensure that the security program is heading in the right direction. Several major tasks must be completed for the annual refresh:

  • Anuual Risk Assesment (CIS CRC 20, PCI, GDPR)
  • Update the plan of action
  • Tactical security plan for the coming year
  • Budget planning


One of the most important things to understand that there are never enough security resources available to cover all the work.

Prioritisation is necessary, and you want to be highly efficient where you apply your energy and resources. You need to be proficient in getting maximum value out of your efforts to improve security in your organisations. Security professionals need to negotiate hard and often to get things done.

The person responsible for security in any given organisation must have a complete vision of where they want to take the security program.