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Volume 27, Issue 4

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October 30, 2007

Risk Analysis Techniques

Written by  Geoffrey H. Wold and Robert F. Shriver
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The risk analysis process provides the foundation for the entire recovery planning effort

There may be some terminology and definition differences related to risk analysis, risk assessment and business impact analysis. Although several definitions are possible and can overlap, for purposes of this article, please consider the following definitions:

  • A risk analysis involves identifying the most probable threats to an organization and analyzing the related vulnerabilities of the organization to these threats.
  • A risk assessment involves evaluating existing physical and environmental security and controls, and assessing their adequacy relative to the potential threats of the organization.
  • A business impact analysis involves identifying the critical business functions within the organization and determining the impact of not performing the business function beyond the maximum acceptable outage. Types of criteria that can be used to evaluate the impact include: customer service, internal operations, legal/statutory and financial.

Most businesses depend heavily on technology and automated systems, and their disruption for even a few days could cause severe financial loss and threaten survival. The continued operations of an organization depend on management’s awareness of potential disasters, their ability to develop a plan to minimize disruptions of mission critical functions, and the capability to recover operations expediently and successfully. The risk analysis process provides the foundation for the entire recovery planning effort.

A primary objective of business recovery planning is to protect the organization in the event that all or part of its operations and/or computer services are rendered unusable. Each functional area of the organization should be analyzed to determine the potential risk and impact related to various disaster threats

RISK ANALYSIS PROCESS

Regardless of the prevention techniques employed, possible threats that could arise inside or outside the organization need to be assessed. Although the exact nature of potential disasters or their resulting consequences are difficult to determine, it is beneficial to perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all threats that can realistically occur to the organization. Regardless of the type of threat, the goals of business recovery planning are to ensure the safety of customers, employees and other personnel during and following a disaster.

The relative probability of a disaster occurring should be determined. Items to consider in determining the probability of a specific disaster should include, but not be limited to: geographic location, topography of the area, proximity to major sources of power, bodies of water and airports, degree of accessibility to facilities within the organization, history of local utility companies in providing uninterrupted services, history of the area’s susceptibility to natural threats, proximity to major highways which transport hazardous waste and combustible products.

Potential exposures may be classified as natural, technical, or human threats. Examples include:

  • Natural Threats: internal flooding, external flooding, internal fire, external fire, seismic activity, high winds, snow and ice storms, volcanic eruption, tornado, hurricane, epidemic, tidal wave, typhoon.
  • Technical Threats: power failure/fluctuation, heating, ventilation or air conditioning failure, malfunction or failure of CPU, failure of system software, failure of application software, telecommunications failure, gas leaks, communications failure, nuclear fallout.
  • Human Threats: robbery, bomb threats, embezzlement, extortion, burglary, vandalism, terrorism, civil disorder, chemical spill, sabotage, explosion, war, biological contamination, radiation contamination, hazardous waste, vehicle crash, airport proximity, work stoppage (Internal/External), computer crime.

All locations and facilities should be included in the risk analysis. Rather than attempting to determine exact probabilities of each disaster, a general relational rating system of high, medium and low can be used initially to identify the probability of the threat occurring.

The risk analysis also should determine the impact of each type of potential threat on various functions or departments within the organization. A Risk Analysis Form, found on page 50, can facilitate the process. The functions or departments will vary by type of organization.

The planning process should identify and measure the likelihood of all potential risks and the impact on the organization if that threat occurred. To do this, each department should be analyzed separately. Although the main computer system may be the single greatest risk, it is not the only important concern. Even in the most automated organizations, some departments may not be computerized or automated at all. In fully automated departments, important records remain outside the system, such as legal files, PC data, software stored on diskettes, or supporting documentation for data entry.

The impact can be rated as: 0= No impact or interruption in operations, 1= Noticeable impact, interruption in operations for up to 8 hours, 2= Damage to equipment and/or facilities, interruption in operations for 8 - 48 hours, 3= Major damage to the equipment and/or facilities, interruption in operations for more than 48 hours. All main office and/or computer center functions must be relocated.

Certain assumptions may be necessary to uniformly apply ratings to each potential threat. Following are typical assumptions that can be used during the risk assessment process:
1. Although impact ratings could range between 1 and 3 for any facility given a specific set of circumstances, ratings applied should reflect anticipated, likely or expected impact on each area.
2. Each potential threat should be assumed to be “localized” to the facility being rated.
3. Although one potential threat could lead to another potential threat (e.g., a hurricane could spawn tornados), no domino effect should be assumed.
4. If the result of the threat would not warrant movement to an alternate site(s), the impact should be rated no higher than a “2.”
5. The risk assessment should be performed by facility.
To measure the potential risks, a weighted point rating system can be used. Each level of probability can be assigned points as follows:

Probability Points
High 10
Medium 5
Low 1

To obtain a weighted risk rating, probability points should be multiplied by the highest impact rating for each facility. For example, if the probability of hurricanes is high (10 points) and the impact rating to a facility is “3” (indicating that a move to alternate facilities would be required), then the weighted risk factor is 30 (10 x 3). Based on this rating method, threats that pose the greatest risk (e.g., 15 points and above) can be identified.

Considerations in analyzing risk include:
1. Investigating the frequency of particular types of disasters (often versus seldom).

2. Determining the degree of predictability of the disaster.

3. Analyzing the speed of onset of the disaster (sudden versus gradual).

4. Determining the amount of forewarning associated with the disaster.

5. Estimating the duration of the disaster.

6. Considering the impact of a disaster based on two scenarios;
a. Vital records are destroyed
b. Vital records are not destroyed.

7. Identifying the consequences of a disaster, such as;
a. Personnel availability
b. Personal injuries
c. Loss of operating capability
d. Loss of assets
e. Facility damage.

8. Determining the existing and required redundancy levels throughout the organization to accommodate critical systems and functions, including;
a. Hardware
b. Information
c. Communication
d. Personnel
e. Services.

9. Estimating potential dollar loss;
a. Increased operating costs
b. Loss of business opportunities
c. Loss of financial management capa- bility
d. Loss of assets
e. Negative media coverage
f. Loss of stockholder confidence
g. Loss of goodwill
h. Loss of income
i. Loss of competitive edge
j. Legal actions.

10. Estimating potential losses for each business function based on the financial and service impact, and the length of time the organization can operate without this business function. The impact of a disaster related to a business function depends on the type of outage that occurs and the time that elapses before normal operations can be resumed.

11. Determining the cost of contingency planning.

DISASTER PREVENTION

Because a goal of business recovery planning is to ensure the safety of personnel and assets during and following a disaster, a critical aspect of the risk analysis process is to identify the preparedness and preventive measures in place at any point in time. Once the potential areas of high exposure to the organization are identified, additional preventative measures can be considered for implementation.

Disaster prevention and preparedness begins at the top of an organization. The attitude of senior management toward security and prevention should permeate the entire organization. Therefore, management’s support of disaster planning can focus attention on good security and prevention techniques and better prepare the organization for the unwelcome and unwanted.

Disaster prevention techniques include two categories: procedural prevention and physical prevention.

Procedural prevention relates to activities performed on a day-to-day, month-to-month, or annual basis, relating to security and recovery. Procedural prevention begins with assigning responsibility for overall security of the organization to an individual with adequate competence and authority to meet the challenges. The objective of procedural prevention is to define activities necessary to prevent various types of disasters and ensure that these activities are performed regularly.

Physical prevention and preparedness for disaster begins when a site is constructed. It includes special requirements for building construction, as well as fire protection for various equipment components. Special considerations include: computer area, fire detection and extinguishing systems, record(s) protection, air conditioning, heating and ventilation, electrical supply and UPS systems, emergency procedures, vault storage area(s), archival systems

SECURITY AND CONTROL CONSIDERATIONS

Security and controls refer to all the measures adopted within an organization to safeguard assets, ensure the accuracy and reliability of records, and encourage operational efficiency and adherence to prescribed procedures. The system of internal controls also includes the measures adopted to safeguard the computer system.

The nature of internal controls is such that certain control procedures are necessary for a proper execution of other control procedures. This interdependence of control procedures may be significant because certain control objectives that appear to have been achieved may, in fact, not have been achieved because of weaknesses in other control procedures upon which they depend.

Concern over this interdependence of control procedures may be greater with a computerized system than with a manual system because computer operations often have a greater concentration of functions, and certain manual control procedures may depend on automated control procedures, even though that dependence is not readily apparent. Adequate computer internal controls are a vital aspect of an automated system.

Security is an increasing concern because computer systems are increasingly complex. Particular security concerns result from the proliferation of PCs, local area networking, and on-line systems that allow more access to the mainframe and departmental computers. Modern technology provides computer thieves with powerful new electronic safecracking tools.

Computer internal controls are especially important because computer processing can circumvent traditional security and control techniques. There are two types of computer control techniques: (1) general controls that affect all computer systems, and (2) application controls that are unique to specific applications.

Important areas of concern related to general computer internal controls include: organization controls, systems development and maintenance controls, documentation controls, access controls, data and procedural controls, physical security, password security systems, communications security.

Application controls are security techniques that are unique to a specific computer application system. Application controls are classified as: input controls, processing controls, output controls.

INSURANCE CONSIDERATIONS

Adequate insurance coverage is a key consideration when developing a business recovery plan and performing a risk analysis. Having a disaster plan and testing it regularly may not, in itself, lower insurance rates in all circumstances.

However, a good plan can reduce risks and address many concerns of the underwriter, in addition to affecting the cost or availability of the insurance.

Most insurance agencies specializing in business interruption coverage can provide the organization with an estimate of anticipated business interruption costs. Many organizations that have experienced a disaster indicate that their costs were significantly higher than expected in sustaining temporary operations during recovery.

Most business interruption coverages include lost revenues following a disaster. Extra expense coverage includes all additional expenses until normal operations can be resumed. However, coverages differ in the definition of resumption of services. As a part of the risk analysis, these coverages should be discussed in detail with the insurer to determine their adequacy.

To provide adequate proof of loss to an insurance company, the organization may need to contract with a public adjuster who may charge between three and ten percent of recovered assets for the adjustment fee. Asset records become extremely important as the adjustment process takes place.

Types of insurance coverages to be considered may include: computer hardware replacement, extra expense coverage, business interruption coverage, valuable paper and records coverage, errors and omissions coverage, fidelity coverage, media transportation coverage.

With estimates of the costs of these coverages, management can make reasonable decisions on the type and amount of insurance to carry.

These estimates also allow management to determine to what extent the organization should self-insure against certain losses.

RECORDS

Records can be classified in one of the three following categories: vital records, important records, and useful records.

Vital records are irreplaceable. Important records can be obtained or reproduced at considerable expense and only after considerable delay. Useful records would cause inconvenience if lost, but can be replaced without considerable expense.

Vital and important records should be duplicated and stored in an area protected from fire or its effects.

Records kept in the computer room should be minimized and should be stored in closed metal files or cabinets. Records stored outside the computer room should be in fire-resistant file cabinets with fire resistance of at least two hours.

Protection of records also depends on the particular threat that is present. An important consideration is the speed of onset and the amount of time available to act. This could range from gathering papers hastily and exiting quickly to an orderly securing of documents in a vault. Identifying records and information is most critical for ensuring the continuity of operations.

A systematic approach to records management is also an important part of the risk analysis process and business recovery planning. Additional benefits include: reduced storage costs, expedited service, federal and state statutory compliance.

Records should not be retained only as proof of financial transactions, but also to verify compliance with legal and statutory requirements. In addition, businesses must satisfy retention requirements as an organization and employer. These records are used for independent examination and verification of sound business practices.

Federal and state requirements for records retention must be analyzed. Each organization should have its legal counsel approve its own retention schedule. As well as retaining records, the organization should be aware of the specific record salvage procedures to follow for different types of media after a disaster.

CONCLUSION

The risk analysis process is an important aspect of business recovery planning. The probability of a disaster occurring in an organization is highly uncertain. Organizations should also develop written, comprehensive business recovery plans that address all the critical operations and functions of the business.

The plan should include documented and tested procedures, which, if followed, will ensure the ongoing availability of critical resources and continuity of operations.

A business recovery plan, however, is similar to liability insurance. It provides a certain level of comfort in knowing that if a major catastrophe occurs, it will not result in financial disaster for the organization.

Insurance, by itself, does not provide the means to ensure continuity of the organization’s operations, and may not compensate for the incalculable loss of business during the interruption or the business that never returns .


Geoffrey H. Wold and Robert F. Shriver are the National Directors of Information Technology Consulting at McGladrey & Pullen, in Minneapolis, Minn.

This article adapted from V7#3.

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