What is operational security? OPSEC explained | fort (2023)

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What is operational security?

Operational Security (OPSEC) is a security and risk management process that prevents sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

Another meaning of OPSEC is a process that identifies seemingly harmless actions that can inadvertently expose critical or confidential data to a cybercriminal. Both a process and a strategy, OPSEC encourages IT and security managers to look at their operations and systems from the perspective of a potential attacker. It includes analytical activities and processes such as behavior monitoring, social media monitoring, and security best practices.

A crucial part of what OPSEC is about is the use of risk management to uncover potential threats and vulnerabilities in the processes of organizations, the way they work, and the software and hardware used by their people. Look atsystems and processesFrom a third-party perspective, it allows OPSEC teams to uncover issues they may have overlooked and can be critical to implementing appropriate countermeasures that protect your most sensitive data.

How did OPSEC come into play?

OPSEC was first created by a US military team called the Purple Dragon during the Vietnam War. The counterintelligence team realized their adversaries could anticipate US strategies and tactics without being able to decrypt their communications or having the intelligence resources to steal their data. They came to the conclusion that the US forces were actually leaking information to the enemy. Purple Dragon coined the first definition of OPSEC, which read: "The ability to keep knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses away from enemy forces".

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This OPSEC process has since been adopted by other government agencies such as the Department of Defense in their efforts to protect national security and trade secrets. It is also used by organizations that want to protect customer data and helps them deal with corporate espionage, information security and risk management.

Why is OPSEC important?

OPSEC is important because it encourages organizations to accurately assess the security risks they face and identify potential vulnerabilities that are typicaldata securityApproach may not. OPSEC security enables IT and security teams to streamline their technical and non-technical processes, reducing and protecting against cyber risksMalware-Based Attacks.

An effective OPSEC program is important to prevent accidental or unintentional disclosure of classified or confidential data. It allows organizations to prevent the publication of details of their activities, skills and future intentions. However, the key to achieving this is to understand what that information is about, where it resides, what level of protection is being applied to it, what the impact would be if it were compromised, and how the organization would respond.

If this information is leaked, attackers can do a lot of damage. For example, they can build and commit broader cyberattacksfraud or identity theftwhen employees reuse their credentials across multiple online services.

The 5 steps to operational security

There are five steps to OPSEC that enable organizations to protect their data processes.

Identify sensitive data

Understanding what data organizations hold and what sensitive data they store on their systems is a critical first step in OPSEC security. This includes identifying information such as customer information, credit card information, employee information, financial statements, intellectual property, and product research. It is critical that organizations focus their resources on protecting this critical data.

Identify potential threats

After sensitive information has been identified, organizations must determine the potential threats to that data. This includes third parties who may want to steal the data, competitors who may gain an advantage by stealing information, andInsider threats or malicious insidersas disgruntled workers or careless employees

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Analyze the vulnerabilities

Organizations must then analyze potential vulnerabilities in their security defenses that could provide an opportunity for threats. This includes evaluating the technological processes and solutions that protect your data and identifying gaps or vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

What is the threat level?

Each identified vulnerability must be assigned a threat level. Vulnerabilities should be ranked based on how likely they are to be attacked by attackers, the damage they cause if exploited, and the amount of time and effort required to mitigate and repair the damage. The more damage that can be inflicted and the greater the likelihood of an attack, the more resources and priorities organizations need to focus on mitigating risk.

Develop a threat mitigation plan

This information provides organizations with everything they need to develop a plan to counter identified threats. The final step in OPSEC is to implement countermeasures to eliminate threats and mitigate cyber risks. This often includes upgrading hardware, creating policies to protect sensitive data, and training employees on security best practices and corporate data policies.

An OPSEC process plan should be easy to understand, simple to implement and follow, and updated as the security threat landscape evolves.

Best Practices for OPSEC

OPSEC uses risk management processes to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities before they are exploited and cause problems for organizations. Organizations can create and implement a comprehensive and robust OPSEC program by following these best practices:

  1. Change Management Processes: Organizations should implement specific change management processes that their employees can follow when changes are made to the network. These changes need to be tracked and recorded so organizations can properly review and monitor changes.
  2. Limit device access: Organizations should limit access to their networks to those devices that absolutely need it. Military agencies and other government organizations employ a "need-to-know" basis in their networks, and this theory should apply to enterprise networks as well. Network device authentication should be used as a general rule when accessing and sharing information.
  3. Implement Least Privilege Access: Employees must be given the minimum level of access to data, networks, and resources they need to do their jobs successfully. This means implementing the principle of least privilege, which ensures that any program, process, or user has only the minimum privileges needed to perform its function. This is critical for organizations to ensure a higher level of security, prevent and mitigate insider threatsattack surfaceto limit the risk of malware and improve your audit and compliance preparation.
  4. Implement double control: Users who are responsible for managing their networks should not be responsible for security. Organizations should ensure that the teams or individuals responsible for maintaining their corporate networks are separate from those who set security policies.
  5. Implement automation: People are often the weakest link in an organization's security processes. Human error can result in errors occurring, data accidentally falling into the wrong hands, important details overlooked or forgotten, and critical processes ignored.
  6. Plan for Disasters: A critical part of any security defense is planning for disasters and implementing a solid incident response plan. Even the most robust OPSEC security needs to be backed by plans that identify potential risks and outline how an organization will respond to cyberattacks and mitigate the potential damage.

How Fortinet can help

Fortinet offers a variety of solutions that help organizations improve their information security, protect their most sensitive data, and keep their users and devices safe at all times.

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the fortNext-generation FortiGate firewalls(NGFWs) protect organizations from internal and external security threats with features such as packet filtering, network monitoring, Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), and Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Network (SSL VPN) support. They also have deeper content inspection capabilities that allow organizations to detect and block advanced cyberattacks and malware.FortiGate Rugged NGFWsDeliver enterprise security for operational technology environments with full network visibility and threat protection.

Fortinet's NGFWs also include Application Control, Intrusion Prevention, and Advanced Network Visibility, which are critical to understanding the threats organizations face. With Fortinet NGFWs, organizations can also protect their security postures against the evolving cyber threat landscape, ensuring they are constantly protected from the latest and most sophisticated attack vectors.

Many of the most damaging security breaches are caused by compromised user accounts and weak passwords, compounded by employees who don't follow best practices and have insufficient access rights. Fortinet enables companies to take control of networks with their ownIdentity and Access Management(IAM) that protects identity and access across a variety of directories, cloud applications like the Azure Cloud, network devices, and servers that make up modern systems. Fortinet's IAM solution verifies users and devices as they enter a network, ensuring only the right people with the right level of permissions can access systems and resources.

Fortinet's IAM solution prevents unauthorized access to networks and resources via theFortiAuthenticatorNameTool that provides centralized authentication such asCertificate Management, guest access management andSingle-Sign-On (SSO).FortiTokenallows organizations to confirm the identity of users by adding themTwo-factor authentication (2FA)to your login via mobile or physical tokens.

the fortInformation security awareness and training servicedeveloped by the Fortinet NSE Training Institute is also critical to providing employees with the knowledge they need to work safely. This is becoming increasingly important as cybercriminals deploy more sophisticated attacks and target remote workers to intercept corporate networks. Fortinet training enables employees to understand how and when they are being attacked, the latest cyber threats being exploited by attackers, and the most common signs of a cyber attack.

learn more aboutIT operations (ITOps)eIT Security Policies.

frequently asked questions

What is OPSEC in Cybersecurity?

Operational Security (OPSEC) is a process companies put in place to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. OPSEC identifies actions that appear harmless but may inadvertently result in critical or confidential data being exposed or shared with a potential attacker.

OPSEC encourages IT and security managers to evaluate their operations and systems from the perspective of potential hackers. It includes the use of analytical activities and processes such as behavior monitoring, social media monitoring, and security best practices.

What are the 5 steps of operational security?

The five steps to operational security are:

  1. Identify sensitive data
  2. Identify potential threats
  3. Analyze security threats and vulnerabilities
  4. Assess the threat level and vulnerability risk
  5. Develop a threat mitigation plan

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Why is operational security important?

OPSEC is important because it helps companies protect their most sensitive data and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. It offers a different approach to cybersecurity and data security, encouraging IT and security teams to examine their systems and processes from the perspective of potential attackers. This approach helps prevent leakage or accidental disclosure of sensitive data and improves enterprise security posture.

What is the first law of OPSEC?

OPSEC's first law is: if you don't know the threat, how do you know what to protect? This law is addressed in the first step by OPSEC, which outlines that companies must identify the sensitive data they hold, such as customer information, credit card information, employee information, financial statements, intellectual property, and product research. It is critical that organizations focus their resources on protecting this critical data.

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