Five Steps to Effective Security Benchmarking

Updated: 2022.09.22
Reading Time: 4 minutes

With an ever-increasing volume of cyber attacks hitting businesses, and new threat actors entering the fray constantly, robust modern cybersecurity demands regular improvement. The companies best placed to contend with cybersecurity risks are those that both strive to improve and track their progress over time. 

Security benchmarking is a critical process that measures how well your security investments and processes stack up both against internal and external standards and performance objectives. Here is a five-step guide to effective security benchmarking at your business. 

1. Use Industry Reports to Compare

An overlooked benefit of cybersecurity’s wider business importance garnering more recognition is a marked increase in the availability of high-quality industry reports. The idea of external benchmarking is to understand how you are doing objectively compared to external sources. These sources could be technical compliance standards protecting data privacy or they could be organizations of a similar size operating in your industry.

Given that being compliant is the bare minimum expected by law, the usefulness of compliance in benchmarking is limited to making sure that your cybersecurity practices are strong enough to avoid fines or penalties. Gauging security performance by comparing with competitors and industry peers provides a more reality-led approach to benchmarking. 

Effective security benchmarking should start with reviewing as many relevant industry reports as possible and using the metrics presented in these reports to benchmark your organization’s performance. There are a plethora of such reports released over the course of each year, with findings including the average number of breaches per industry, average response times per industry, and more. 

Use these reports to get an idea of baseline benchmarks and plan to improve if you’re lagging behind the standard in your industry. Industry surveys can also help to guide ongoing improvement strategies by providing indicators of the most useful investments and processes implemented by peers to improve their security postures.    

2. Always Track Incident Response Metrics

It’s a well-worn statement that time is of the essence in cybersecurity, but the general statistics demonstrate that incident response metrics are still way behind where they should be. According to VentureBeat, across all industries, it takes an average of 212 days to identify a data breach and an additional 75 days to contain the breach. 

These numbers show that most businesses prioritize more of their security posture on keeping out malicious actors rather than strengthening their ability to detect and respond to threats. An idea garnering traction is that organizations should consider switching to an assume compromise mindset in which incident response forms a much more important part of a healthy cybersecurity posture. 

The main question you want to answer is whether dealing with cybersecurity incidents takes hours, days, or weeks at your business. Organizations can absolutely identify and contain a breach in under 287 days. This is the kind of benchmark that management and executives really care about because the time taken to respond to a breach is subject to public scrutiny; performing impressively here can significantly reduce the immense reputational harm that accompanies data breaches. 

3. Communicate the Business Value of Security

The last step touched on this point by focusing benchmarking metrics on the kinds of questions that non-technical business managers and executives would like to know the answer to. It’s wise to adopt a broad mindset to benchmarking that includes the business value of security instead of only the specific technical details that non-technical business leaders may not understand. 

In proving the value of cybersecurity investments or processes, people without a security background want to learn about tangible business impacts, such as whether you’re outperforming peers, how much money or time has been saved by particular tools or automation efforts, and so on. 

4. Assess Cyber Maturity

Benchmarking your cyber maturity is an essential step on the path to effective security benchmarking. The idea of cyber maturity is that there are different levels of readiness to prevent, detect, contain, and respond to incidents. In any maturity model, there are different levels at which a company’s cybersecurity program is more or less mature. 

Cyber maturity captures the essence of benchmarking in helping to achieve ongoing improvement in security capabilities. And, to bring things back to the business language that executives and other leaders care about, there is a clear relationship between higher cyber maturity and better profit margins.

The hallmarks of more advanced cyber maturity include:

  • the ability to integrate cyber resilience into business-wide processes and culture
  • integrated incident response that includes running response simulations that test for readiness
  • regularly updating cybersecurity priorities
  • deeply integrate security into their development and wider technology environments, such as shifting security to the left

Organizations at lower maturity levels either don’t consider security at all or merely put in place the fundamentals needed for compliance. 

Benchmarking maturity prevents your business from stagnating and falling into the trap that a certain level of fixed processes can always address risks. Maturity reflects the fact that cyber risks and threats are always changing, which puts businesses on an ongoing journey rather than a destination to reach. 

5. Benchmark Your Digital Footprint Monitoring

An important factor influencing the modern threat landscape is the constant evolution of organizations’ digital footprints. This footprint refers to the cyber risks that accrue from having assets exposed externally to the Internet. As businesses continue to adopt cloud technologies, including cloud storage and code repositories, the footprint becomes more complicated to track and monitor. Application sprawl and users connecting from multiple devices further complicate matters. 

Effective security benchmarking must set standards to compare against for visibility into your external perimeter. Gaps in visibility can result in severe vulnerabilities and weaknesses that leave enterprise assets exposed. 

Improvements can come from implementing automated solutions that scan for and help create an inventory of external assets. Striving for more comprehensive coverage in digital footprint monitoring enables proactive rather than reactive security. 

How Flare Helps

Flare provides a digital footprint monitoring and external threat protection platform that helps your business visualize and manage external cyber risks. The platform uses AI-driven technology to constantly scan the Internet for exposures, including stolen credentials on the dark web that put your accounts at risk of compromise or cloud storage buckets left open to anyone. You also get a single pane of glass into your digital footprint rather than being hampered by the often chaotic mess created by using multiple tools.
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