What is a Security Posture and How Can You Evaluate It?

Last updated by Abi Tyas Tunggal on January 30, 2020

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An organization's security posture (or cybersecurity posture) is the collective security status of all software, hardware, services, networks, information, vendors and service providers. 

Your security posture encompasses information security (InfoSec), data security, network security, penetration testing, security awareness training to prevent social engineering attacks, vendor risk management, vulnerability management, data breach prevention and other security controls.

Alongside your IT security team, these cybersecurity strategies are designed to protect against security threats, prevent different types of malware and cyber crime and stop the theft of intellectual property.

Table of contents

  1. Why is your security posture important?
  2. How to determine your security posture
  3. A better way to measure cyber risk
  4. Vendors, an often overlooked part of your security posture
  5. How UpGuard can help you evaluate and improve first, third and fourth-party security postures

1. Why is your security posture important?

Your organization's security posture is important because it has an inverse relationship with cybersecurity risk. As your security posture improves, cybersecurity risk decreases. 

Cybersecurity risk is the probability of exposure or loss resulting from cyber attacks, data breaches and other cyber threats. A more encompassing definition is the potential loss or harm to an IT infrastructure's or IT asset's confidentiality, integrity or availability

Reducing cybersecurity risk and ensuring data privacy is now more important than ever before driven by general data protection laws like GDPR, LGPD, PIPEDA and CCPA, as well as industry specific regulation like GLBA, FISMA, CPS 234, the NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation and HIPAA.

These regulations often outline what data must be protected (personally identifiable information, protected health information and sensitive data) and suggest security controls, e.g. encryption, access control or the principle of least privilege.

It's important to get in the habit of regularly monitoring, maintaining and improving your cybersecurity posture. Cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to exploit even the most sophisticated IT security measures. 

For example, the WannaCry ransomware worm exploited a zero-day vulnerability in the Windows operating system to spread. While the vulnerability was quickly fixed, poor incident response planning and slow patching cadence allowed the attack to continue to spread.

The traditional method of conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment is a great way to identify security risks across IT infrastructure, IT assets, processes and people at a point in time, but without continuous monitoring, you may have gaps in your security program.

2. How to determine your security posture

Cybersecurity risk assessments allow security professionals to understand what data you have, what infrastructure you have and the value of the assets you are trying to protect.  

Common questions asked during security assessments include:

  • What data do we collect?
  • How and where are we storing this data?
  • How do we protect and document the data?
  • How long do we keep data?
  • Who has access internally and externally to the data?
  • Is the place we are storing the data properly secured?

Due to how time intensive this process is, CISOs will generally define parameters for the assessment by asking the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the assessment?
  • What is the scope of the assessment?
  • Are there any priorities or constraints I should be aware of that could affect the assessment?
  • Who do I need access to get the information I need?
  • What risk methodology is used for risk analysis?

You can read our guide on how to conduct a thorough cybersecurity risk assessment here.

3. A better way to measure cyber risk

Point in time security assessments are expensive, static and subjective while the number of cybercrimes is increasing in raw numbers, sophistication and impact. 

Security ratings provide real-time, non-intrusive measurement of your organization's security posture allowing your security team to continuously monitor for security issues and instantly understand your most at risk assets.

Security ratings are a quantitative measurement of your organization's security posture, akin how a credit rating measures lending quality. As your organization's security rating improves so too does your security posture.  

By using security ratings, you can greatly increase your organization's ability to meet and maintain compliance with regulation while meeting business objectives. 

4. Vendors, an often overlooked part of your security posture

Organizations are increasingly relying on outsourcing to bring in strategic advantages, reduce costs and improve organizational focus. Even if third-party vendors aren't essential to your goals, it's essential to develop a robust third-party risk assessment framework geared toward reducing third-party risk and fourth-party risk

For many industries, this is now a regulatory requirement. The good news is security ratings can reduce the operational burden of vendor risk management and help your team instantly identified high risk vendors and gaps in their security. 

Many security services provide instant reporting on key cybersecurity metrics that can be used to report on vendor risk to your board, executive team and any other important stakeholders. 

Preventing third-party data breaches a great way to prevent corporate espionage, cyber attacks and data breaches. With the average data breach costing $3.92 million, ballooning to $8.19 million in the United States, it pays to prevent data breaches

To understand what controls you may need, start with the 20 CIS Controls and the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. While it's nearly impossible to close all attack vectors, prioritizing the most high impact controls can greatly reduce your cybersecurity risk. 

5. How UpGuard can help you evaluate and improve first, third and fourth-party security postures

Companies like Intercontinental Exchange, Taylor Fry, The New York Stock Exchange, IAG, First State Super, Akamai, Morningstar and NASA use UpGuard to protect their data, prevent data breaches, monitor for vulnerabilities and avoid malware.

We're experts in data breaches and data leaks, our research has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Forbes, Reuters and Techcrunch.

UpGuard Vendor Risk can minimize the amount of time your organization spends managing third-party relationships by automating vendor questionnaires and providing vendor questionnaire templates that map to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and other best practices. We can help you continuously monitoring your vendors' security posture over time while benchmarking them against their industry. 

Each vendor is rated against 50+ criteria such as presence of SSL and DNSSEC, as well as risk of domain hijacking, man-in-the-middle attacks and email spoofing for phishing.

Each day, our platform scores your vendors with a Cyber Security Rating out of 950. We'll alert you if their score drops.

UpGuard BreachSight can help monitor for DMARC, combat typosquatting, prevent data breaches and data leaks, avoiding regulatory fines and protecting your customer's trust through cyber security ratings and continuous exposure detection. 

If you'd like to see how your organization stacks up, get your free Cyber Security Rating

Book a demo of the UpGuard platform today.


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