We have all heard about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and how critical they can be for your security program, but confusion remains surrounding what KPIs are important to track and how they can be used to measure and improve the organization’s security program. Tracking KPIs is great, but if those KPIs are not relevant and actionable; if you are tracking KPI’s just for the sake of tracking KPIs and they are not being used to inform your security program, your KPIs will become more of a detriment than an enabler for your security program.
At its core, a KPI is a way of measuring the success or failure of a business goal, function or objective, and a means of providing actionable information on which decisions can be based. Quality KPIs serve as a security program enabler and driver for continuous improvement. This is true of both the tactical functions of security operations – looking for attack patterns and trends of malicious activity, as well as the strategic functions of security operations – identifying program gaps and making long-term program decisions.
KPIs should focus on assessing a goal or function and providing actionable information on which decisions can be made. The most effective way to develop meaningful KPIs is to start by identifying which security operations goals or functions are the most critical to the security operations program, then developing KPIs to measure those critical goals or functions. KPIs which will not inform the decision-making process in some way is unnecessary and should be avoided, they will serve only to muddy the waters.
When choosing KPIs to measure, quality should be valued above quantity. Each KPI should have a meaning to the organization and add value to the security program. There are many different methods for evaluating the effectiveness of a KPI; here we will use the acronym SMART. Each KPI should be:
Simple– KPIs should not be overly complicated to measure. It should be clear what the purpose of each KPI is and how it impacts the security program.
Measurable– A KPI must be able to be measured in some way, quantitatively or qualitatively. The method by which each KPI is measured should be clearly defined and consistent.
Actionable– KPIs should be used as a driver for decisions. The purpose of a KPI is to measure performance, and if necessary, take some action based on the results. A KPI which is not actionable serves little to no purpose.
Relevant– Each KPI should be a measurement of the function being assessed. In this case, the security program. KPIs which are simple, measurable and actionable, but are not relevant to the function being assessed will be of little value.
Time-Based– KPIs can and should be used to show changes over time. An effective KPI should be able to be collected and grouped by various time intervals to show variations and patterns.
There will never be a set of “correct” KPIs to measure; the goals and objectives for each organization will always be different, and the organization’s KPIs should reflect the individual priorities. The key to choosing KPIs which will have a real, actionable impact on the organization’s security program is to ensure that the KPIs are SMART, focus on the six most common components of a successful security operations program, and are used to further the security program.
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