When chief marketing officers want to know if an expensive new campaign inspired people to buy their company’s product, they look at the key performance indicators (KPIs) defined for the campaign. When chief information security officers want to know if the current mix of threat prevention and detection technologies are effective, they should see what their security operations program’s KPIs are telling them.
KPIs typically are used to measure the success or failure of a business goal, function, or objective. They also provide actionable information that is helpful for decision-making. While KPIs are most commonly used in business categories such as sales, financial, project management, and marketing, they can be useful in security operations as well.
The measurement and analysis of well-considered KPIs can have a positive impact on both the tactical and strategic functions of a security operations program. KPIs help ensure that the program remains effective and that any process or technology gaps are addressed appropriately.
What a security program should measure to develop meaningful KPIs varies from one organization to another. Start by identifying which security operations goals or functions are most critical to the program. Each KPI should have meaning to the organization, add value to the security program, and be “SMART”: Simple, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-based.
Every successful security operations program has common components. Therefore, KPIs should be targeted at assessing at least some of the following:
Analyst skills: Utilizing KPIs to measure analysts’ current skill sets and comparing them to the organization’s present needs can identify gaps in training and personnel. Addressing gaps can improve the overall readiness of the security operations team.
Key risks: Organizations face myriad risks and have a limited budget to address them. Using KPIs to help identify which risks pose the greatest potential impact allows the security team to feed actionable information back into the overall risk assessment process, thus maximizing the effectiveness of limited time and financial resources.
Detection success: KPIs that measure the performance of prevention and detection technologies can identify gaps where additional or different technology may benefit the organization, as well as ways to tune existing technologies to increase efficiency.
Mitigation success: Once a security incident has been identified, organizations often use technology in the mitigation process. KPIs measuring the performance of mitigation technologies can identify gaps where the organization could benefit from additional and/or better-tuned technology.
Process success: Utilizing KPIs to measure the performance of a security program’s processes and procedures can help ensure they remain optimized and as effective as possible against a range of security incidents.
Workload: Analysts who are overworked are more likely to take shortcuts or miss key indicators of security incidents. KPIs that measure analyst workload can identify staffing inefficiencies that could result in risk to the organization.
The security operations team can brainstorm which KPIs to track; there will be no shortage of suggestions. The key is choosing KPIs that will have a real, practical impact on the organization’s security program. Here are a few examples that can inspire ideas to help an organization identify its own important KPIs.
All facets of business are measured with KPIs these days. Even security operations can benefit from deriving actionable information from KPIs and applying it to improve incident response programs.
John Moran is a security operations and incident response expert. He has served as a senior incident response analyst for NTT Security, computer forensic analyst for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit and computer forensics task force officer for the US Department of … View Full Bio