FAIR stands for Factor Analysis of Information Risk. Simply stated, it is a model that describes what risk is, how it works and how to quantify it.
FAIR is an analytical risk model, whereas most information security risk methodologies in use today are Capability Maturity Models (CMM) or checklists. Analytic models attempt to describe how a problem-space works by identifying the key elements that make up the environment and the relationships between those elements — e.g., Newton’s laws of the physical world described how things like gravity work. If the models are relatively accurate (no models are perfect), then analyses performed using the models should consistently align with our experience and observations. With those elements identified, measurements can be made that enable risk quantification and performance of what-if analyses, neither of which can be performed with checklist or CMM analyses.
The other methodologies answer different questions:
FAIR provides the means to answer questions like:
Note that all three methodology types can be useful for most organizations, and should be complementary.
FAIR is conceptually very straightforward. That said, many of the risk scenarios we face in our profession are not. As a result, analyzing a complex scenario with even a simple modeling structure like FAIR can feel difficult, especially at first.
The good news is that besides being conceptually simple, FAIR is highly flexible. This allows the user to operate in “quick-and-dirty” mode or “down in the weeds”, whichever is appropriate given time, resources, and the significance of the problem being analyzed. In fact, the vast majority of FAIR analyses fall into the quick-and-dirty category because that’s all that is required in most instances.
As with any new skill though, there is a learning curve in how to properly scope risk scenarios. Most of that curve is spent learning how to decompose scenarios so that they can be analyzed. Once a scenario is well-defined, the analysis itself is generally quite simple.
FAIR is an open standard by The Open Group. The Open Group is a standards body that has chosen FAIR as the standard information risk management model after a most rigorous review and comparison with other methodologies. The Open Group is a global consortium that enables the achievement of business objectives through IT standards with more than 450 member organizations that include companies such as HP, IBM, Oracle, Accenture, Cap Gemini and MITRE
FAIR is widely used by organizations in a variety of sectors, including:
Organization size has ranged from SMB to Fortune 1.
Bottom line — understanding and measuring risk can be useful for organizations of any size in any industry.
FAIR has been vetted at various points in its development with people who are experts in risk and quantitative analysis.
In order for any framework to be useful, management has to support its use. If management where you work is only interested in compliance with regulations and/or “best practice” and is not interested in understanding how much risk exists, how much risk is associated with non-compliance issues, or which risk management measures are likely to be the most cost-effective, then an analytic framework like FAIR may not be a good fit.
FAIR can be extremely useful for performing qualitative analysis that generates simple outputs. In fact the introductory white paper describes one way it can be used in that fashion. Also, it’s simple to convert a quantitative value into a qualitative rating. For example, an organization can define parameters that match specific quantitative ranges to qualitative values — e.g., “Annualized exposure of between $100,000 and $1,000,000 risk will be considered “High Risk” (or Red on a color scale).” The advantage is that the analysis and the numbers underlying the qualitative values can be referenced to explain how the rating was arrived at.
There are many analysis methods that use ordinal scales (e.g., 1 – 5, 1 – 10) to rate risk conditions. These frameworks are commonly mistaken to be quantitative because numbers are involved, however in each case the numeric scale could be replaced with colors or words (e.g., “High”, “Medium”, etc.) and be identical. In addition, common mathematical functions like addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. can’t legitimately be performed on ordinal scales (e.g., you can’t multiply red times yellow).
FAIR analyses use quantitative values like frequencies, ratios, and monetary loss, which enables the use of true quantitative analysis.
Logically, the effects of damaged reputation have to materialize in some form of loss or else we wouldn’t care. These effects are tangible. For a commercial enterprise these effects materialize as reduced market share, decreased stock price (if publicly traded), and potentially the cost of capital. In the public sector, an organization's goal might be stated in terms of mission delivered and service offered and not necessarily in terms of financial goals. In these cases too, reputation damage can be assessed in financial terms through the use of subject matter estimates, expressed in ranges.
In our experience, organization executives have always been able to confidently estimate the effects of reputation damage. They understand their customers, competition, and other key business factors that would come into play from a reputation perspective. The key is to get these loss estimates from business or agency executives, as it is extremely uncommon for information security or risk analysts to estimate these effects accurately.
Anywhere you have a need to know how much risk exists (or could exist if…). Examples include:
Yes. RiskLens, the technical advisor to the FAIR Institute, has developed a cyber risk quantification and management platform purpose-built on FAIR. The RiskLens platform integrates:
...into a unified suite built specifically for business-oriented information security and operational risk officers.
The short answer is “No”, it’s not true.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of commonly held misconceptions about risk, particularly in the information security profession. More information about some of the most commonly expressed concerns can be found in the FAIR Book (Measuring and Managing Information Risk: a FAIR approach)
The Open Group standards are intended to provide an introduction to the concepts and methods within FAIR, but does not fully cover the body of knowledge around FAIR. You can read about the most recent developments around FAIR in the award-winning FAIR Book.
The full model includes:
Despite how complex some of that sounds, platforms such as RiskLens simplify the process for the risk analyst and help to enable practical everyday use.
Yes. You can apply the training hours against CPE requirements for various certifications.
The FAIR Institute was created with a mission to provide resources to learn more about FAIR and to create opportunities to develop and exchange best practices among FAIR practitioners.
You can become a member of the FAIR Institute here. Membership is free, courtesy of the FAIR Institute sponsors.