January 28th was the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The Rogers Commission detailed the official account of the disaster, laying bare all of the failures that lead to the loss of a shuttle and its crew. Officially known as The Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident - The Tragedy of Mission 51, the report is five volumes long and covers every possible angle starting with how NASA chose its vendor, to the psychological traps that plagued the decision making that lead to that fateful morning. There are many lessons to be learned in those five volumes and now, I am going to share the ones that made a great impact on my approach to risk management. The first is the lesson of overconfidence.
In the late 1970’s, NASA was assessing the likelihood and risk associated with the catastrophic loss of their new, reusable, orbiter. NASA commissioned a study where research showed that based on NASA’s prior launches there was the chance for a catastrophic failure approximately once every 24 launches. NASA, who was planning on using several shuttles with payloads to help pay for the program, decided that the number was too conservative. They then asked the United States Air Force (USAF) to re-perform the study. The USAF concluded that the likelihood was once every 52 launches.
In the end, NASA believed that because of the lessons they learned since the moon missions and the advances in technology, the true likelihood of an event was 1 in 100,000 launches. Think about that; it would be over 4100 years before there would be a catastrophic event. In the end, Challenger flew 10 missions before it’s catastrophic event and Colombia flew 28 missions before its catastrophic event, during reentry, after the loss of heat tiles during take off. During the life of a program that lasted 30 years, they lost two of five shuttles.
My esteemed colleagues Renee Murphy and Nick Hayes joined me in a fully collaborative, marathon evaluation of 19 of the most relevant GRC platform vendors; we diligently pored through vendor briefings, online demos, customer reference surveys and interviews, access to our own demo environment of each vendor’s product, and as per Forrester policy, multiple rounds of fact checking and review. The sheer amount of data we collected is incredible.
Emergency management professionals say, “The plan is useless, but the planning is priceless.” There is a lesson in there for risk managers and it’s about the value of scenario modeling.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) conducted a study to determine the likelihood and impact of a hurricane hitting New Orleans. FEMA assembled the paramedics, fire department, emergency room doctors, parish officials, and other responders in a hotel in New Orleans for "Hurricane Pam". Their goal was to plan for the worst-case scenario. The group was given the following scenario:
A slow moving, category-3 hurricane would directly hit New Orleans.
The storm surge would cause the levees to top, but not break.
The National Weather Service showed how the storm would form, what track it would take and what parishes would be effected.
Ok, so NASA failed an audit. Don’t we all? I think it is important to understand the government’s cloud computing adoption timeline before passing judgment on NASA for failing to meet its cloud computing requirements. And, as someone who has read NASA’s risk management program (and the 600 pages of supporting documentation), I can say that this wasn’t a failure of risk management policy or procedure effectiveness. Clearly, this was a failure of third-party risk management’s monitoring and review of cloud services.
The Cloud Is Nebulous
Back in 2009, NASA pioneered cloud technology with a shipping container-based public cloud technology project named Nebula -- after the stellar cloud formation. (I love nerd humor, don’t you?)
Photo Source: NASA
During 2009, NASA, to determine if current cloud provider service offerings had matured enough to support the Nebula environment, did a study. The study proved that commercial cloud services had, in fact, become cheaper and more reliable than Nebula. NASA, as a result of the study, moved more than 140 applications to the public sector cloud environment.
In October of 2010, Congress had committee hearings on cybersecurity and the risk associated with cloud adoption. But remember, NASA had already moved its noncritical data (like www.nasa.gov or the daily video feeds from the international space station, that are edited together and packaged as content for the NASA website) to the public cloud in 2009. Before anyone ever considered the rules for such an adoption of these services.
Before joining Forrester, I ran my own consulting firm. No matter how ridiculous the problem or how complicated the solution, when a client would ask if I could help, I would say yes. Some people might say I was helpful, but I was in an overconfidence trap. There was always this voice in the back of my mind that would say, “How hard could it be?” Think of the havoc that kind of trap can have on a risk management program. If any part of the risk program is qualitative, and you are an overconfident person, your risk assessments will be skewed. If you are in an overconfidence trap, force yourself to estimate the extremes and imagine the scenarios where those extremes can happen. This will help you understand when you are being overconfident and allow you to find the happy medium.
Have you ever padded the budget of a project “just to be safe”? I hate to tell you this, but you are in the prudence trap. By padding the project budget, you are anticipating an unknown. Many other managers in your company may be using the same “strategy.” But the next time you do a project like this, you will pad the budget again, because the inherent uncertainty is still there. The easiest way to keep your risk management program out of the prudence trap is to never adjust your risk assessments to be “on the safe side,” There is nothing safe about using a psychological trap to predict risk.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Renee Murphy, and I am new Sr. Analyst here at Forrester Research. Prior to joining Forrester, I was both an internal and external auditor. My experience includes network and data center engineering and management, operations process development and implementation and creating auditable technology environments in many different industries with diverse client needs.
I often say that trust is not a control, luck is not a strategy, and if you can’t have fun in Albuquerque, you aren’t a fun person. (That last one isn't really useful unless you are in Albuquerque and having a bad time.) I joined Forrester to use my audit powers for good and not evil, and I plan to assist you with your audit issues, control frameworks, regulatory requirements, risk management, and security, building stronger relationships between you and your auditors.
With my extensive regulatory knowledge and technical process expertise, my goal is to give Forrester clients a unique view of your regulatory and best practice programs to ensure that you take advantage of the efficiencies that strong audit and control frameworks can provide. I will also help you navigate the security and risk ramifications of existing and upcoming regulatory requirements.
I am proud and very excited to be part of the Forrester family and I look forward to working closely with our clients to help them achieve their GRC goals.
Let’s put it this way: social media and security don’t work together very well today. Marketing professionals who see social media as a vital communication channel view security as a nuisance, whereas Security pros view services like Facebook and Twitter as trivial pastimes that expose the business to enormous risk. The problem is, when it comes to social media, these two facets of the organization need to come to terms with each other – and this was clearly on display Tuesday when the Dow Jones briefly plummeted over 100 points due to false Tweets from AP’s hacked Twitter accounts that indicated President Obama had been injured by explosions at the White House.
This recent breach signifies two things: 1) the potentially damaging impact of social media is real and growing, and 2) companies today aren’t doing enough to mitigate the risks.
As social media becomes a legitimate source of news and information, the implications for inaccurate or inappropriate behavior continue to grow. Damaging or disparaging comments on Twitter (whether intended or not), can have a real impact on your business and the way customers view your company and brand. Companies need to do more to protect their organization from social media risk because:
I’m proud to announce that this week Forrester launched our Governance, Risk, and Compliance Playbook, a collection of in-depth reports covering the critical information you need to implement a successful GRC program… one that focuses on supporting business success, not getting in its way.
Take a second to think back to the year 2009. The US was in the thick of the financial crisis; companies were slashing budgets, and the unemployment rate was in double-digits. And do you remember a little thing called the “swine flu”? The World Health Organization (WHO) deemed the H1N1 strain of the swine flu influenza a global pandemic in June 2009. These were just some of the events top of mind for much of the nation and the broader global community three years ago.
2009 was also the year that the annual Forrester And Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ) Survey focused on the role of risk management in business technology (BT) resiliency and crisis communications programs. Needless to say, the survey was fairly timely. Forrester found risk management was becoming a more common practice for business continuity teams, but that there was still more room for further collaboration with their risk management counterparts.
Fast forward three years, and the 2012 Forrester/DRJ survey is again focusing on the role of risk management in BT resiliency and crisis communications (you can take the 2012 survey by clicking here). A lot has changed since 2009 with a number of new events, technologies, and organizational challenges currently plaguing business continuity and risk management professionals.
Chris and I recently published a report describing how to build risk and compliance principles into your company’s corporate culture. As we worked to finalize, edit, and publish the report, a flurry of new corporate scandals emerged, all related to this topic.
Here are just a few of them:
Wal-Mart executives accused of trying to hush up bribery cases in Mexico (article here).
A whistleblower accuses Infosys of engaging in a systematic practice of visa fraud (article here).
A former Goldman Sachs employee writes an op-ed for the New York Times blasting the company’s ethics (article here).
JP Morgan suffers a $2 billion trading loss due to “poorly monitored” trades (article here).