Keywords applicable to this article: dissertation, research, topics, information, technology, security,
services, governance, cobit, itil, risk, management, information security, risk it, val it, computer security,
incident management, problem management, change management, business continuity, disaster
By: Sourabh Kishore, Chief Consulting Officer
Topic development for Research Projects in Theses and
Dissertations related to IT Security, IT Services and IT
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The fields of IT Security, IT Governance and IT Services Management are excellent grounds for academic researchers to undertake their dissertation and
thesis research projects. The researches can result in very practical outcomes given that the standards, frameworks and best practices pertaining to these
fields are widely implemented in organisations across the world.
The dissertation/thesis projects in the fields of IT Security, IT Services and IT Governance shall essentially comprise of studies on world class standards,
frameworks and best practices that are widely accepted and implemented in organisations. Students may like to conduct case studies in organisations
where these standards, frameworks and best practices are implemented or else conduct interviews or surveys among thousands of IT security
professionals across the world that are connected via community groups on social networking websites (Like Linkedin, Facebook, Google+, Plaxo, etc.).
The culture of sharing knowledge in the world of IT security is excellent because the security controls, threat management and best practices can be
established effectively by practicing organized knowledge sharing only. The IT security, services and governance consulting companies support academic
researches whole heartedly to prepare the young minds for the future challenges such that the acute shortage of human capital in these fields can be
addressed. With the rapid growth of cloud computing, the IT Security Challenges and Risks in Virtualisation and Cloud Computing (please click here to
gain a deep insight into them) have opened multiple research opportunities for students and professionals. In this article, I present a brief introduction on
the following standards and frameworks in which hundreds of topics pertaining to dissertations and thesis research projects can be developed in the
context of Cloud Computing Risks and IT Security.
(a) NIST (US Department of Commerce) Recommendations (SP 800-37, 800-39, 800-30, 800-53, 800-60, 800-137, & 800-144), : As per NIST
recommendations, all the critical IT systems should be categorized at the first place such that the risks to these systems can to be identified, assessed and
recorded. Thereafter, appropriate mitigation actions can be taken to reduce them to acceptable levels by either reducing the vulnerabilities (applying
controls), by avoiding the risks (disallowing activities that can cause risks) or by transferring the risks to third parties (like outsourcing the controls to
specialist security agencies). This entire process has been termed as IT Risk Management by NIST which is now regarded as the baseline for the industry.
It requires management commitment and assignment of security roles to strategic business process owners in the organization. NIST recommends that the
key roles that should contribute to IRM should be Senior Management, Chief Information Officer, System/Information owners, Business Managers,
Functional Managers, IT Security Officers, Security Awareness Trainers, and Internal Auditors. The risk assessment recommended by NIST is a nine step
structured analytics procedure that should be carried out by the key roles such that the outcome can be collated to form an organization wide risk registry.
(b) ISO 27005 Standard: The ISO 27005:2008 is the formal replacement of ISO 13335-3 & ISO 13335-4:2000 which essentially recommends a 100% metrics
based evaluation of all the steps of risk assessment described in ISO 13335-3 using quantitative techniques. This standard considers Risk Management,
Configuration Management and Change Management as part of an integrated framework to deliver IT security in an organization. The risk management
framework recommended by this standard can be viewed as a model comprising of "concentric spheres" with the information assets placed at the core of
the model, vulnerabilities prevailing at the sphere above the core, controls applied over the vulnerability sphere and threats prevailing at the periphery of
the model. This model was originally part of ISO 13335-3 that represents an environment of threats changing continuously thus changing the risk
baselines (residual acceptable risk level) of the organizations. Hence, periodic assessment of the effectiveness of controls is required such that the
vulnerabilities are not exploited by the emerging external or internal threats to affect the information assets. Please also see the DETAILED PROCESS OF
INFORMATION RISK ASSESSMENT.
(c) ISO 27002 Standard: The ISO 27002:2008 standard was formerly known as ISO 17799:2005 code of practice for information security that was used as
the supplement document of ISO 27001:2005 standard which is the largest framework of standards describing Information Security implementation in an
organization. The ISO 27002:2008 standard recommends the practices documented in ISO 13335-3 which essentially is a wider framework of Information
Security because it covers the impacts in terms of confidentiality, integrity, availability, accountability, authenticity and reliability. Unlike "system
characterization" recommended as the starting point by NIST, this standard recommends "asset characterization" as the starting point which includes
tangibles as well as intangibles. The asset characterization is carried out by assuming that anything that is critical for the business to produce the
products & services and retain customers as well as market share is treated as critical asset for the organization. It may be the systems (IT Systems, power
systems, admin systems, etc.), people, documents, records, databases, applications, intellectual properties, etc. thus forming a much wider coverage of
subjects on which the risks analysis needs to be carried out. The threat & vulnerability analysis is carried out employing steps that are similar to NIST
recommendations but the impact analysis is carried out based on multiple business impacts categorized by the business stake holders - like financial loss,
business loss, customer loss, market share loss, key people loss, premises loss, intellectual property breaches, regulatory breaches, productivity loss,
inventory loss, etc. Protection against such losses is the direct interest of business stake holders and hence the topmost priority of the risk management
teams. The final stages of risk analysis, control analysis, and control recommendations are similar to those of NIST recommendations. This framework
also recommends periodic control effectiveness testing which is recommended by NIST in their special publication 800-115.
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(d) The COBIT 5 Framework: The COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology) framework is developed by IT Governance Institute
which is a community of expert developers and reviewers from IT governance field that have contributed to the framework to arrive at the best practices
published in its current form. The IT Governance Institute comprises of board of trustees, IT governance committee, COBIT steering committee, advisory
panel and affiliates & sponsors. The framework is a wonderful effort of putting together all the best practices of IT governance & Risk Management which
organizations can adopt to support their Business Governance & Risk Management frameworks effectively. The COBIT framework helps in effective
alignment of IT systems & processes with business requirements through enterprise-wide visibility into risks such that establishment and maintaining a
common risks view, risk-aware decision-making, timely reaction to risky events, proactive protection against foreseen risky scenarios, continuous
improvements in IT governance strategies, policies, and approaches can be achieved.
(e) The COSO (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission) Framework: COSO is a scientific, data-driven, and
metrics-driven risk management framework for applying internal controls in an organisation. It employs statistical and mathematical modeling methods
for risk assessment such that an appropriate environment of controls, controlling activities, monitoring, and communications can be established. The
success of COSO depends upon internal data collection through effective monitoring and conducting continuous controls effectiveness assessments such
that periodic reports (like, daily, weekly, and fortnightly reports) can be generated after appropriate statistical and mathematical analysis. The reports
provide visibility into variations in the strength of the controls such that timely measures can be taken whenever the variances breach the pre-defined
limits. Both COSO and COBIT 5.0 encourage maturity modeling of enterprise risk management such that the organisations can raise their standards for
maturing to a higher level with higher benchmarks and quality targets.
(f) CRAMM Framework: CRAMM is the Risk Management Methodology developed the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA)
which is based on qualitative methods of risk analysis. In this mechanism the steps called "asset identification & valuation", "identification & assessment
of threat & vulnerability", "identification of security measures", "identification of risks" and "identification & assessment of risk mitigation" are carried out
using structured questionnaire defined by the CRAMM framework. Each question has either "yes" or "no" answer and the scores are collated by counting
the numbers of "yes" and "no" responses which is done automatically by the CRAMM system. If the target respondents of the CRAMM questionnaire are
selected very carefully (like asset owners, IT administrators, application engineers, database administrators, etc), then CRAMM can result in accurate
identification & mitigation strategies of IT risks.
(g) OCTAVE Framework: OCTAVE is the abbreviation for "Operationally Critical Threat, Asset and Vulnerability Evaluation" which is a model
developed by Carnegie Mellon University. This framework takes into account operational risk, security practices and technology and leverages the
existing knowledge of vulnerabilities within an organization. The assessment is carried out in three phases - "development of asset based threat profiles",
"identification of infrastructure vulnerabilities" and "building security strategies & plans". The first phase requires an organizational view whereas
second phase requires technological view. The OCTAVE assessment criteria is self driven without the need for external experts to guide the organization.
Just like CRAMM it is a self guided process but is carried out by few experts in the company that have extensive knowledge of IT systems in the company
whereas CRAMM is carried out by all asset owners of the company. One good aspect about OCTAVE is that it captures the knowledge of threats to
business and internal weaknesses from the people at all levels and then uses the knowledge to develop the asset based threat profiles. This ensures that
the risk assessment is very close to the people's perspective of threat exposures of the business and not based on some kind of threat database purchased
from external consultants.
(h) FRAP Framework: Facilitated Risk Management Process (FRAP) is the framework which essentially takes into account prioritized threats and asset
vulnerabilities that can potentially cause maximum damage to the business. This again is a qualitative approach and is popularly known as "four hour
risk assessment". FRAP is not accepted by many organizations because the threat perceptions do not allow scaled down list of assets, threats and
vulnerabilities to be addressed. However, this is an effective framework given that the 80-20 rule applies in risk management as well - i.e., 20% threats
cause 80% of the damages.
(i) ITIL version 2 and version 3 Frameworks: ITIL versions 2 and 3 are publications by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) UK. They are end to
end IT service management frameworks that can effectively align the IT services of an organization to business requirements at the operations level. ITIL
version 2 is very popular due to its wide implementation base across the world in many countries. It has two major disciplines - IT Service Support and IT
Service Delivery. The IT Service Support discipline comprises of the Service desk function of an organization and five management functions - Incident
management, Problem management, Change management, Release management and Configuration management. These management functions are also
included in ISO 27001 and ISO 20000 standards as well as in COBIT framework. The IT Service delivery discipline comprises of five management
functions as well - Service Level management, Capacity management, Availability management, IT Financials management and IT Business Continuity
The ITIL version 3 is much wider framework compared to ITIL version 2. It comprises of five disciplines as against two in the version 2: Service Strategy,
Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement. There are many new management functions included in ITIL
version 3 in addition to the ten functions recommended by ITIL version 3. This is a new framework and hence the global roll out is evolving gradually. The
students can find vast opportunities of research in both these areas in the form of Phenomenography or case studies.
(j) Val IT: This is the latest framework developed by IT Governance Institute that can be seamlessly integrated with the COBIT framework. This framework
can be implemented to tangibly demonstrate the value of IT investments to the Business. This framework has not yet been researched by academic
researchers and hence offers an entirely new world of opportunities. Val IT has been integrated with the COBIT for Risk framework under COBIT 5.0.
(k) ISO 27001:2013: This is the umbrella standard of all other standards and frameworks in Information Security Management System (ISMS). No
standard possesses such wide coverage as offered by ISO 27001 in the field of IT Security. The purpose of ISO 27001:2013 (formerly ISO 27001:2005) is to
guide an organization on the level of ISMS implementation feasible as per the business needs. It guides the organization to implement a structured
Information Security Management System with an approach of Risk Assessment & Business Impact Analysis that incorporates world class best practices
in management of the existing systems running in the organization in the form of a structured Framework. The Framework includes the following:
Adequately documented and implemented Security Policy(ies) and Procedures.
Asset Master comprising of ALL critical Information Assets.
Risk Assessment and Business Impact Analysis Worksheets.
Risk Treatments Plans and Reports.
ISMS Management and Operations Group with detailed roles.
ISMS Operating Manual with Statement of Applicability.
ISMS Operating Procedures, activity log-sheets and reports.
ISMS Security Procedures pertaining to every operating area.
Access Control Policies and Procedures for all the Information Processing and Storage Facilities.
Incident, Problem, Change, Release, Configuration, Capacity & Availability Policies and Procedures.
Detailed Implementation of the 133 Normative controls as defined in Annexure A of BS ISO/IEC 27001:2013.
Internal and External Audit Procedures, audit sheets and corrective/preventive actions.
Information Classification, Transit, Storage and Destruction Policies & Procedures.
Disaster Recovery Plan and Procedures.
Business Continuity Plan and Procedures.
(l) ISO 27017:2015: The ISO 27001 standard is extended to Cloud Computing in this standard. A significant number of businesses are now maintaining
their IT systems on cloud computing services offered by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, IBM, and many others. The services are primarily offered
in three categories: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). We have made several
recommendations on research ideas in the field of virtualisation and cloud computing in our article on Dissertation, Thesis Research Topics on Modern IT
Systems and Governance. From the perspective of information security, cloud computing offers significantly wider challenges as compared to self-hosted
and self-managed IT systems. Our page on Dissertation, Thesis Topics on Cloud Computing Security presents numerous such challenges opening
massive research opportunities for students. The ISO 27017:2015 presents multiple additional security controls needed when the IT systems are hosted on
cloud computing. Some of the key controls are the following:
Access control of cloud service customer's data in shared virtual environment
Operational procedures and responsibilities for cloud-hosted information assets
Logging and Monitoring of cloud-hosted information assets
Virtual Network security management
Cryptography on cloud computing
Security in System acquisition, development, and maintenance on cloud computing
Information Security incident management on cloud computing
Change management on cloud computing
Legal, Regulatory, and Statutory compliance related to information assets hosted on cloud computing
Information Security aspects of Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Management on cloud computing
(m) ISO 27018:2014: Perhaps, this is the first ever international standard covering privacy controls comprehensively. In many ways, it is similar to the
European Commission's General Data Protection Act (EU GDPR), which is a significantly large regulatory framework. The common principles between
EU GDPR and ISO 27018:2014 related to data privacy are of consent, fairness, transparency, unambiguity, limitation of purpose, data minimisation,
accuracy, storage limitation, confidentiality, and integrity were considered. In some cases, EU GDPR allows that storing and processing privacy data
without explicit consent is possible provided it represents a legitimate interest of the controller without overriding the rights or freedoms of the data
subjects. For example, an application may be perceived to be qualifying in that category if its sole purpose is to protect the premises and employees of an
organisation from malicious intruders. However, this does not override the need for implementing effective data protection controls to prevent
proliferation and misuse of the individual data collected. ISO 27018:2014 helps in not only making this decision but also helps in implementing a
framework of controls closely aligned with ISO 27001 and ISO 27017 ensuring protection of privacy data held by an organisation in their information
systems. The controls of ISO 27018:2014 are defined in following categories:
Verify if permanent secured records of the consent has been maintained for each record in the databases or flat data files.
legitimacy and specification for usage of the privacy records. Verify if permanent and secured records of the consent has been maintained for each record
in the databases or flat data files.
Verify if permanent and secured records of the data fields required for the purpose has been maintained for each class of the record in the databases or flat
legitimate purpose. Verify if permanent and secured records of the data fields required for the purpose has been maintained for each class of the record in
the databases or flat data files.
privacy records as per the defined legitimate purpose. Verify if permanent and secured records of the usage, retention, and disclosure required for the
purpose has been maintained for each class of the record in the databases or flat data files.
in the databases and data files.
transparency, and notice of data stored in the databases and data files.
data stored in the databases and data files.
databases and data files. The applicable controls are the following: A.10.1 Confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements; A.10.2 Restriction of the creation
of hardcopy material; A.10.3 Control and logging of data restoration; A.10.4 Protecting data on storage media leaving the premises; A.10.5 Use of
unencrypted portable storage media and devices; A.10.6 Encryption of PII transmitted over public data-transmission networks; A.10.7 Secure disposal of
hardcopy material; A.10.8 Unique use of user IDs; A.10.9 Records of authorized users; A.10.10 User ID management; A.10.11 Contract measures; A.10.12
Sub-contracted Personally Identifiable Information processing; A.10.13 Access to data on pre-used data storage space.
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