When someone says Jack Jones wrote the book on how to think about information risk, they mean it literally. He created the Factor Analysis of Information Risk (FAIR), which gave security professionals a method of defining and analyzing risk in a way that was more consistent and understandable.
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Jones started out in technology in the early '80s before migrating over to the security side of IT. He's spent four years working for a government intelligence agency and has more than eight years of experience as a CISO, five of those at a Fortune 100 financial services company.
[Read more about FAIR in IT risk assessment frameworks: Real-world experience]
FAIR came about because of an awkward moment Jones had when he was working at Nationwide Insurance. "I was having a meeting as the new CISO and a senior executive asked me, 'How much risk do we have?'" says Jones, who is now CISO and senior vice president of IT risk for Huntington Bank. "The best answer I had was, 'Lots,' and I knew that wouldn't satisfy him because it didn't satisfy me."
So Jones left the meeting and started looking for a way to answer that question. "I thought someone must have figured it out," he says. "But none of the risk assessment methods I looked at held water." Those systems didn't offer a solid understanding of what risk is and what factors drive it. Because those didn't exist, there was no common, accepted vocabulary for measuring and analyzing risk. This led to a marginalization of security because executives couldn't get consistent, comparable information about risk, even from within their own organizations.
In order to create the system he was looking for, Jones had to re-examine a lot of very well accepted ideas about security and risk. "I decided to set aside what I had learned over the years, and this gave me the freedom to challenge a lot of preconceived ideas," he says. "I hate to prove myself wrong, but I found I was doing that a lot."
One thing he found was that a lot of people used the word "risk," but what they meant was "vulnerability." A function would be deemed high-risk because it was very vulnerable if an attack should happen. Jones wanted a system that would also take into account the likelihood of a given event and what its impact would be if it happened. If you have to break through three layers of protection to exploit a weakness and even then it doesn't actually affect much, it shouldn't be considered high-risk, even if it's relatively easy to do.
FAIR was also designed to be easily understandable--"No highfalutin math," he says. This way, the results of the analysis can be shared with people who aren't security experts and compared with analysis from other organizations, if need be.
"There's a prevailing belief that quantitative risk analysis must be horribly complicated and time-consuming," he says. "It doesn't have to be. The feedback I get is that FAIR can be pretty intuitive to use."