Iowa State University

Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment for Information Resources

General Information & Process Description


The IT Security and Policies area within Information Technology Services is responsible for establishing policies to ensure that Iowa State University has a secure information technology environment. This document defines a process for departments to perform a business impact analysis and risk assessment for their information resources. Once an assessment has been done, the resulting documents should be maintained and regularly reviewed by the department. By using the business impact analysis and risk assessment tool defined in this document, departments have the capability to identify and respond to risks for their systems and information resources.

Departments are encouraged to contact the Information Technology Security and Policies area at 4-2588 if they have specific questions or if they would like to arrange a meeting to discuss the process on an individual basis.

Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment

Guaranteed absolute security in today’s information technology environments is not realistic. However, it is important to have a process of identifying resources and associated risks, determining their magnitude, and identifying what safeguards are needed. That process is what we are referring to as business impact analysis and risk assessment. It is the department’s responsibility to decide an action to take for the risks identified. That is, live with the risks and take a chance, or implement some or all of the recommended safeguards. Factors that have to be taken into consideration when looking at safeguards or changes include costs associated with such action, potential consequence of not taking action, impact on users, effort required, as well as the scope of the action.

Management Commitment

The success of a business impact analysis and risk assessment depends on management involvement and their commitment – especially the support for conducting the analysis/assessment and reporting the results. Even though management may not be directly involved during the process, their endorsement is very important. Some specific charges for management are:

· Select the business impact analysis and risk assessment team from departmental personnel

· Formally delegate authority and responsibility for the task

· Review and support the team’s findings

· Make final decision on any specific recommendations or plans

Departmental Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment Team

Management must take the first step by selecting a team leader that will be responsible for the process being completed on time, in the recommended format, and reported to management. The team leader will also be responsible for assuring that risks are reviewed and addressed, updates are made to the initial report, and that a process is in place within the department to periodically perform the business impact analysis and risk assessment.

A team must be selected to conduct and maintain the report as described above. Although the size of the team will vary based on each department, it is recommended a minimum of three individuals be appointed to the team. The individuals represented on the team should be knowledgeable of their department’s operation, overall mission, and information technology environment. They should also possess an understanding of university operations and the dependence their department has on central systems and operations (and vice versa).

Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment Process

The Business Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment process includes the following five parts followed by a section to document recommendations and plans. Through the process, specific business function, process, research, or extension environment that might involve information resources defined for the department will be identified, described, and categorized relative to the business impact should loss of information resources occur. Identification of risks to information resources categorized by likelihood of occurrence serves to document areas of potential concern. An association of identified risks with specific high impact information resources highlights areas of most risk. Assigning a level of action to each associated risk ensures that departments progress towards mitigating high impact risks.

Part 1 - General Comments

The General Comments section should be used to identify any special situations. This may refer to the process that was used for the business impact analysis and risk assessment, or it could highlight any unique departmental characteristics. For example, the department may utilize some special hardware/software, there may be some special locations involved, or there may even be a dependence on someone else’s information resource to document. The department should use this section as they see fit to further explain their business impact analysis and risk assessment.

Part 2 – Identify Information Resources

The “Information Resources” definition in the context of this process includes any hardware, software, systems, services, people, databases, and related resources that are important to the department. These resources should be identified in a manner such that overlap is minimized. In some cases it may be appropriate to combine resources (for example, all workstations for faculty, printers, etc.) while other situations may suggest specific resources (for example, special use server, a specific piece of hardware such as a printer or scanner, or a specific software package or application). It might also be appropriate to have some clear point of accountability (that is, an individual who is responsible for specific hardware, a software package, or an office process).

Part 3 – Categorize Information Resources by Impact

The team needs to determine the criteria to categorize the list of information resources as high, medium, or low related to impact on their day-to-day operations. Candidate criteria include characteristics like criticality, costs of a failure, publicity, legal and ethical issues, etc. It will be important that the team agree upon and establish a common understanding of the criteria and its meaning.

The team will need to consider the criteria in aggregate and use judgment and experience to classify the resources. The number of resources in any impact group is somewhat arbitrary, but becomes unwieldy as it becomes larger. A good target number for the initial "High Impact" resources is a dozen or fewer. Twenty is probably more than desirable. Classify the remaining resources as either medium or low impact as described below:

· High Impact (H) – The department 1) cannot operate without this information resource for even a short period of time, 2) may experience a high recovery cost, 3) may realize harm or impedance in achieving one’s mission or in maintaining one’s reputation, or 4) may experience human death or serious injury.

· Medium Impact (M) – The department 1) could work around the loss of this information resource for days or perhaps a week, but eventually restoration of the resource must occur, 2) may experience some cost of recovery, 3) may realize harm or impedance to achieving one’s mission or maintaining one’s reputation, or 4) may experience human injury.

· Low Impact (L) – The department 1) could operate without this information resource for an extended (though perhaps finite) period of time during which particular units or individuals may be inconvenienced and/or need to identify alternatives or 2) may notice an affect on achieving one’s mission or maintaining one’s reputation.

Part 4 – Identify and Categorize Risks by Likelihood
A list of common risks is included in Appendix A. The team may select applicable risks from this common list and may identify additional risks that are specific for their department. “Risks” as used here include problems and threats. Risks must be tangible and specific with respect to one or more resources. When finalizing the list, eliminate duplicates, combine risks as appropriate, and include only those risks that team members agree are valid.

Categorize the identified risks by likelihood of occurrence. The definitions for likelihood are as follows:

· High Likelihood (H)The risk (threat) source is highly motivated and sufficiently capable, and controls to prevent the vulnerability are ineffective.

· Medium Likelihood (M) – The risk (threat) source is motivated and capable, but controls are in place that may impede successful exercise of the vulnerability.

· Low Likelihood (L) – The risk (threat) source lacks motivation or capability, or controls are in place to prevent or significantly impede successful exercise of the vulnerability.

Risks at the top of the list should be those risks that have a high likelihood of occurrence and the potential to have the largest impact on information resource availability.

Part 5 – Information Resources, Associated Risks, and Corrective Actions

List the high impact information resources identified in Part 3 and document the risks associated with each information resource using the risks identified in Part 4. Supply comments where needed to clarify a specific situation. Denote the risk likelihood. In the final column, indicate the risk action decision by the team to mitigate each specified risk. Definitions for risk actions are as follows:

· High Action (H) – Take corrective action as soon as possible.

· Medium Action (M)Implement corrective actions within a reasonable timeframe.

· Low Action (L)Take no corrective action. Accept the level of risk.

Recommendations for Mitigating Risk

All high and medium risk actions associated with high impact information resources need a documented recommendation or plan for mitigating each risk. If no high impact information resources exist, the team should review identified high and medium risks and develop recommendations to mitigate those risks. A template for documenting mitigation recommendations is included in Appendix B.

For the risks where corrective action will occur, use the template to describe a proposed solution, justify the solution, provide any cost/benefit analysis, and propose an implementation date. NOTE: It may be appropriate for the team to make more than one recommendation in which case each should be described using the template.

The process for developing appropriate recommendations is as follows:

· Identify each recommendation that might be implemented (this includes technical and manual solutions, as well as policies and procedures) and appropriately documented. It may be obvious at this early point only one recommendation is applicable. Document that fact and include documentation regarding the dismissal of other recommendations.

· Provide a justification for each proposed recommendation -- this may be the same for each or it could be different, in which case it will be useful in any evaluation. The obvious justification is that the recommendation will handle the problem, but a specific solution may not handle all risks.

· Develop a cost/benefit analysis for each proposed recommendation (in some cases this may involve other departments or units). This should include (but not be limited to) capital and direct costs, staff costs, training and support, and any ongoing operating costs.

· Specify any known implementation plans or specific dates for the recommendations. This could be an important consideration depending on the severity of the risk and the timeframe involved for implementation.

Even though the team leader may delegate responsibility for looking at specific risks and possible solutions, that individual will be the one to make a recommendation or final decision to departmental management. The team leader will also need to decide what should and should not be included in the initial report, and what might be added later in the quarterly reports.

Departmental Management and Final Decisions

There will be situations where proposed recommendations are straightforward and easily implemented. However, for other recommendations the decision on what to do and when to do it will be much more difficult. The team should involve departmental management as much as possible, so they are both informed and part of the decision-making process when necessary. This is particularly true if proposed recommendations are not part of the annual budget and full implementation requires additional funding.

If there is more than one solution, departmental management will need to look for an economic balance between the impact of each risk and the cost of each solution. Although this should be part of the effort by the business impact analysis and risk assessment team, it is advisable to keep management involved for final decisions.

Depending on the possible solutions and their associated costs, the best solution may not be the one implemented. There certainly needs to be an economic balance between the impact of a risk and the cost of a specific solution. The team works closely with departmental management on a final decision in cases such as this. If the means are not available within a department to address risks on critical information resources, departmental management will be instrumental in finding ways to take corrective action.

Once high impact, high likelihood risk reaches an acceptable level, the team should look at recommending corrective actions to mitigate the risks associated with the medium impact followed by the low impact information resources. Sometimes these recommendations are easier to implement.

Risk Analysis Reporting

Each departmental business impact analysis and risk assessment team is expected to complete a report that can be easily shared with those parties involved in the process, and that can be sent to the Office of the Chief Information Officer who will maintain a central repository of reports.

The report should contain the following major sections. Departments are encouraged to add material as they feel fit to make the report more complete.

· Title page -- Contains department name and team members

· General Information -- Indicates department head, team leader, and dates

· General Comments -- General comments concerning the department or process

· Information Resources -- Departmental list of information technology resources

· Information Resources Categorized by Impact – Categorized by high, medium, low impact (the high impact information resources are prioritized)

· Risks Categorized by Likelihood -- Risks presented in order of likelihood of occurrence to department with brief definition

· Information Resources, Associated Risks, and Corrective Actions -- A list of the high impact information resources with associated risks and corrective action to mitigate risk

· Recommendations for Mitigating Risks -- Identifies any known options available to mitigate risks with sufficient information for management consideration

Reporting Structure

Send materials electronically to the Office of the Chief Information Officer after the department has completed the business impact analysis and risk assessment report and after each meeting resulting in updates to the documentation. The Office of the Chief Information Officer maintains the central file for each department. This process provides the ability to determine who is completing the business impact analysis and risk assessment and provides auditing personnel (both the State Auditors and Iowa State University) with a central location for reference.

Review and Report

The departmental business impact analysis and risk assessment team should meet as needed to review risk mitigation implementation and to discuss specific strategies. Review meetings schedules are determined by process changes or changes in information technology resources. The team should submit a “year-end” report to management to record progress. Review meetings should address new issues and risks. The team should report university-wide risks that require a coordinated effort to mitigate.

Appendix A Examples of Common Information Technology Resource Risks



System Administration Practices

System administration practices certainly vary, but common practices might be: security audits, backup procedures, management procedures, system configurations, and training.

Client System Access Control

Access security on client machines (including unauthorized access), scanning for viruses, procedures for unattended machines, and assessing the probability of hackers are all included in this area. The dependency on specific vendors and that implication should also be considered.

Operational Policies

Includes the enforcement of security policies that can impact each department, having the necessary system administration in place to ensure a secure environment (this includes controls for system/program modifications, and any fiscal constraints (primarily budget) that might hinder the specific environment.

Key Person Dependency

Relying on one person to maintain networks and computer facilities, or understand and support information systems can severely compromise the day-to-day operations if problems occur. Having the necessary support structure with backup personnel is important.


Passwords are like lock combinations – easily guessed passwords allow for unauthorized use of an information resource. Shared passwords and passwords posted in work areas cause major concern.


The act of forging a machine’s identify,using techniques to attempt illegal access to a system, stealing passwords, securing personal or financial information, or introducing a virus attack is a concern.

Data Disclosure

How sensitive data is stored is an issue. The ease that someone might have in accessing or altering is critical because it can be damaging to a person or the institution.

Data Portability

Data residing on laptop computers, PDAs, USB flash drives, removable/portable drives, CDs, DVDs, and other portable forms of storage is an issue. The ease that someone might have access to information that could be damaging to a person or the institution is critical.

Data Security

Applications must be aware that any network data may be intercepted, altered, or forged and there needs to be appropriate authentication steps.

Data Backup and Recovery

Backing up critical data is important, so data restoration is possible when information resource inappropriate modification or destruction occurs.

Physical Security (Internal)

Sufficient measures need to be in place to ensure security within a department (or operating unit). Ensuring it is difficult for someone to get access to sensitive data, communications facilities, critical hardware/software, and other facilities is essential.

Physical Security (External)

In many cases there may be operating facilities that are located in locations other than the main area (for example, labs, support desks, and so on). Physical security for these assets is also an important part of the overall program and reflects a risk to operations.

Public Access

Public access to information technology resources may provide avenues of vulnerability.

Electrical Service Interruption

Without electrical service, many information technology resources are unavailable. Disruptions can occur without warning.

Large Scale Disaster

Natural disasters such as pandemics, flooding, lightning, or a tornado could cause serious problems in operations. There should also be concerns about fire, power outages, and other disruptions that can limit (or halt) operations.


Construction problems can disrupt or destroy information technology resources, and there needs to be sufficient backup and planning to carry on business.

Insufficient Funds

Obsolete information technology resources often provide avenues of vulnerability. Adequate funding is necessary to the mitigation of high impact vulnerabilities.

Inadequate User Education

User education ensures proper and appropriate utilization of information technology resources.

Lack of Policies and Procedures

Allowing utilization of information technology resources without policies and procedures to insure against inappropriate use of access and information usage leads to concerning situations.

Appendix B

Recommendation for Mitigating Risk

Name of Resource: Impact:

Risk and/or Problem:

Proposed Solution(s):

Justification for solution:

Implementation plan with dates:

Date this report prepared: Responsible individual: