FAIR is an analytical risk model, whereas most information security risk methodologies in use today are Capability Maturity Models (CMM) or checklists. Analytic models attempt to describe how a problem-space works by identifying the key elements that make up the environment and the relationships between those elements — e.g., Newton’s laws of the physical world described how things like gravity work. If the models are relatively accurate (no models are perfect), then analyses performed using the models should consistently align with our experience and observations. With those elements identified, measurements can be made that enable risk quantification and performance of what-if analyses, neither of which can be performed with checklist or CMM analyses.
The other methodologies answer different questions:
- Checklist methodologies (e.g., PCI, ISO, BITS, etc.) provide inventories of practices that an organization can use to evaluate and benchmark itself against. This can be useful for identifying gaps in controls and/or for comparison against other organizations. Checklists are not useful for determining how much risk exists or for understanding the effects of changes in the risk landscape (e.g., how much more or less risk will exist if…).
- CMM methodologies (e.g., SSE-CMM) provide a ordinal scale for rating the maturity of processes. This can be useful for evaluating the quality of processes, for setting goals, and for evaluating progress against those goals. CMM is not useful for quantifying risk or measuring the practical effect of changes in maturity.
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FAIR provides the means to answer questions like:
- How much risk does X represent?
- How much risk do we have?
- How much more/less risk will we have if …?
- What are my most cost-effective options for managing risk?
Note that all three methodology types can be useful for most organizations, and should be complementary.
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