What is Operational Security? The Five-Step OPSEC Process

Operational security is a process that managers can use to protect sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Learn the five-step OPSEC process.

Definition of Operational Security

What is operational security? Operational security is a process that managers can use to protect sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. This includes viewing operations as if you were an adversary.

One of the most popular types of security is OPSEC. It’s used by both military and private companies to keep data safe.

OPSEC Process 

The OPSEC process is most effective when it's fully integrated into all planning and operational processes. It involves five steps:

  1. Identifying critical information,
  2. Analyzing threats to that information,
  3. Examining vulnerabilities to those threats, 
  4. Assessing the risk of the vulnerability being exploited by a threat agent with each step increase in difficulty.
  5. Get counter measurements in place

Critical Program Information is information that companies are required to protect from enemies, competitors, or anyone trying to gain an advantage. Companies need this information in order for them to be successful.

The process to identify critical information begins with an examination of the totality of activities involved in performing this project. We want to find exploitable evidence, but unclassified and sensitive activity is vulnerable when it's known what potential opponents are capable of doing.

Certain indicators may be pieced together or interpreted to discern critical information. Indicators often stem from the routine administrative, physical, or technical actions taken to prepare for and execute the project.

The Five Steps of Operational Security

The five steps of operational security are the following:

  • Think about what data you need to protect the most, including your product research, intellectual property, financial statements and customer information.
  • Put together a list of what you think are the possible threats to your company. You should be wary both about third parties trying to steal information from your company, but also watch out for insiders who may have malicious intent.
  • Assess your current safeguards and see what vulnerabilities exist.
  • Rank your vulnerabilities in order of which you should prioritize mitigating to reduce the risk.
  • The last step of operational security is to create and implement a plan. This could include updating hardware, creating new policies on sensitive data or training employees with sound practices.

Best Practices for Operational Security

These are some of the best practices for implementing an effective operational security program.

  • When you change your network, all changes should be logged and monitored so they can be audited.
  • In the military and other government entities, a “need-to-know” basis is often used as rule of thumb. This means that only people who need to have access have it.
  • Give your employees the minimum access they need to do their jobs. Give them privileges based on what’s necessary for them to work.
  • Implement a dual control system. Make sure that those who work on your networks, such as the IT team and the security department, are not in charge of each other’s jobs.
  • Reduce the need for human intervention by automating tasks. Humans are the weakest link in any company because they make mistakes, overlook details, and bypass processes.
  • Even if you have a great security system, it’s always important to plan for the worst-case scenario.

Risk management is a process where managers can identify threats and vulnerabilities before they become problems. Operational security forces managers to dive deeply into their operations and figure out where sensitive information might be breached. Looking at the company from a malicious third party’s perspective allows them to see weaknesses that may have been missed, so countermeasures can be put in place.

Protect Your Organization from Cybersecurity Threats

SecurityStudio helps information security leaders at organizations ensure they’re protected against cybersecurity threats, stay insurable, and legally defensible with our risk assessment and risk management software. Schedule a demo to learn how we can help.

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