The EBIOS RM method was updated in 2018, and the ISO 27005 in November 2022. Both updates are major, and redefine the focus on risk management based on the business, cybersecurity and privacy. The objective of this article is to clarify the link and the existing relationship and compatibility between the ISO standard and the French method.
The ISO 27005 standard describes the general outlines of a cyber risk management: context establishment, identification and evaluation of the risks taken, and the risk treatment options to reach acceptable residual risk levels. It introduces a risk assessment process in accordance with the ISO 31000, without giving a method stricto senso. Strongly linked with the ISO 27001/27002 standards and using the vocabulary mainly defined in ISO 27000, the ISO 27005 uses, like many management systems, the logic of iteration and continuous improvement.
EBIOS RM is a security risk assessment method that is now 25 years old. It was defined by the ANSSI, with the support of the EBIOS Club. It describes in details the procedure to be followed to carry out a security risk assessment (general steps and good practices).
The latest update of the method is highlighting agility, and representativeness rather than exhaustiveness: the idea is no longer to identify all the security risks, but only the most important or significant ones. It is also intended to be more flexible based on the organisation’s maturity and the associated objective.
Questions about the link between the ISO 27005 & EBIOS RM are regularly raised, for the following reasons:
EBIOS proposes an approach built around 5 workshops. Each workshop importance will change according to the objective set for the risk assessment and the maturity of the scope concerned. The proposed workshops are as follow:
The approach proposed by ISO 27005 also includes 5 major steps:
The ISO 27005 is also adding two other parallel activities: communication (§10.3) and the monitoring & review activity (§10.5).
ISO 27005 starts with the identification of the requirements of the stakeholders, including standards, contractual requirements ,regulations, possible addition from the SSIP , etc. It is a straight forward link to the EBIOS RM activity of establishing the security baseline.
Non-compliances: In both cases, the main idea is that identified non compliances will provide a clear view of the maturity of the studied perimeter, and feed the following subsequent risk assessment workshops. Indeed, each non-compliances or exceptions will be considered to assess the likelihood of the risk scenario to which the system under study is exposed.
Scales: To answer to how the risk assessment can be done and risk levels evaluated scales & matrices are identified: the severity of the feared events, the likelihood, and the policy of acceptance for the identified risks.
Consequences: For the evaluation of the severity, an important change of word appears: the ISO 27005 does not speak of feared events, but uses the term consequence (previously called impact). The evaluation is done through the criteria of consequences, and their severity, through the identification of the damage done. It simply corresponds to the notion of impacts existing in EBIOS RM.
Likelihood: For the likelihood, the ISO 27005 proposes the use of scales based on probability of occurrence or frequency. EBIOS RM let the user free to define its evaluation mechanism for likelihood, and is more focused on the success realism. The likelihood paramaters from an EBIOS RM risk assessment (if the method guides are followed) will probably require post-processing or adaptation in this case, following the ISO recommendations.
EBIOS RM has, in theory, a more continuous approach to the construction of these elements (they are defined as the study progresses), but in practice this is often a subject to define from the beginning. Criteria should be aligned with the one already existing in the company or organisation, to ease sharing the results obtained afterwards.
The last criterion is for the risk acceptance: according to the previous criteria (severity and likelihood to define a risk level), how does the organisation behave facing risks identified? It is directly linked to the security risk treatment. This assessment of risk appetite is not specific to the cyber sphere. The ISO 27005 and EBIOS RM are this time completely aligned.
Risk assessment, in the ISO 27005, involves three steps: identification, analysis and evaluation.
Risk identification according to ISO 27005 is the process dedicated to recognising and describing risks. It involves determining the sources and what can happen. The objective is to have at the end of this activity a list of risks that can lead to the realisation of consequences, threatening the achievement of the identified security objectives. In EBIOS RM, the risks identification is not monolithic. It is carried out step by step, and each workshop will help to construct and specify it:
ISO 27005 identifies two approaches for risk identification: event and ecosystem-based or supporting assets based. Annex A clearly shows the direct link between these two approaches and workshops 3 (respectively 4) of the EBIOS RM method.
Vulnerabilities: There is, however, a concept spelled out in ISO 27005 that is not directly identified in EBIOS RM: the vulnerability management. In conjunction with the workshop 4 (or the asset-based approach), the integration of vulnerabilities into the risk assessment process allows the organisation to propose a specific treatment of the risk at a detailed level. This proposal can be seen as an extension to the EBIOS RM approach, but is in no way contradictory.
This step is designed to evaluate the identified risks through a set of criteria determined beforehand. This work will enable each risk to be associated to a risk level defined as a combination of consequence severity & likelihood defined during the assessment. It is (again) carried out during the various EBIOS RM workshops:
These values will then be used to classify the risks by comparing them with the risk acceptance criteria defined by the organisation: this equivalent to placing each risks on a risk acceptance matrix, where each cell reflects these criteria.
The ISO 27005 proposes a general treatment of risks split in several steps:
The ISO recommends to identify if a control is identified in the ISO 27002 before creating a new one.
EBIOS RM simplifies the choice of the risk treatment option, giving priority to reduction or acceptance according to risk levels. The notion of a SoA does not appear either, but it is a documentary production that can be made from the results obtained in each workshop. The risk treatment plan definition and the acceptance of residual risks are nearly done in the same way.
The ISO 27005 presents the communication process in the following way: “information on risks, their causes, consequences, likelihood and the means of control implemented to deal with them are communicated […] to the interested parties”. This communication is present in EBIOS RM, but is not identified as a specific activity. Instead, it is an integral part of each step, because it is part of the mindset of the method: risk assessment is by definition a tool for sharing and communication.
The several graphic representations (radar, strategic and operational scenarios, etc.), but also the strong desire (in terms of vocabulary and implementation) to place the business as the central point are the concrete proofs.
Monitoring scenarios: Among the communication and monitoring activities, the translation of risk scenarios into monitoring scenarios and correlation rules to be integrated in the detection tools of an organisation ensures that the most critical risks can be detected. Or at least it can help an organisation to identify a lack of detection capability. This part, which makes the link with ISO 27035 (standard on security incident management) and SOC activities, is not in the EBIOS RM method but comes from a contribution of the Club EBIOS (French security risk assessment expert community) resulting from the feedback of its practitioners.
Trigger: For the review and monitoring process, the ISO 27005 provides details on the implementation of the monitoring of identified risks. The notions of strategic and operational cycles are taken up stricto senso, but the ISO 27005 introduces the trigger notion, a condition that effectively initiates the risk assessment update.
|Scope and Security baseline
|Event based approach & Strategic scenario
|Asset based approach & Operational scenario
|Primary asset & business asset
|Security continuous improvement plan
|Risk treatment plan
The general approach proposed by ISO 27005 allows to identify the necessary steps to perform a risk assessment, without making mandatory a specific process to perform it. The main novelty of ISO 27005 is the dual approach by events and/or by supporting assets, and this dual approach is a core part of EBIOS RM. The concepts used on both sides are then coherent, even if few are only explained/detailed on one side or the other.
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The following document can be used for determining the baseline of the Workshop 1 of EBIOS Risk Manager, when the scope of the study is a processing of personal data:
It constitutes a declaration of applicability relating to the fundamental principles related to the protection of privacy.
The other Workshops of the study makes it possible to satisfy the obligations of the GDPR in terms of security (cf. art. 32) if you assess the impacts on the data subjects in addition to those on the organization.
You can thus use EBIOS Risk Manager to carry out a PIA (cf. art. 35).
This international standard defines the vocabulary that must be respected by any approach specific to information security.
This international standard defines the vocabulary and the principles which must be respected by any risk management approach specific to information security.
Answer from a Club EBIOS member: “Pay attention to scales using several types of impacts”
EBIOS guide reminder: “This action [scale development] consists of creating a scale describing all possible levels of impacts, just like the scales of needs, a scale of impact levels is usually ordinal (the objects are classified in order of magnitude, the numbers indicate ranks and not quantities) and composed of several levels to classify all risks“.Therefore, it is usual to see users of the method build several ordinal scales depending on the nature of the impact (financial, legal, operations, privacy…) to estimate the severity of the feared events. The construction is then done by individually scaling each type of impact, without worrying about the consistency between the levels.
However, only a global result is used in risk maps to assess the severity of each compared to the others. Information on the nature of the impacts is lost.
To avoid misleading conclusions about the importance of risks, care must be taken to check the transverse coherence of the gradation of impacts in the scales. For example, checking that the estimatation of a level 3 impact on operations will be of the same value for the organization as the financial and legal impacts of the same level.
Where possible, the pivotal criterion (for consistency) may be the financial scale. If this is not the case (often the case), the side-by-side impacts should be presented and their importance assessed by those seeking consensus. In this case, the scales can have empty boxes (level having no equivalence for all types of impacts considered). This can be the case when one estimates the loss of human lives for example.
It is sometimes difficult for managers to establish these scales in a generic way. A good solution is then to ask the stakeholders to prioritize the feared events after identifying the impacts, and build the scales based on this estimate.
Answer from another member: “It is useful to have heterogeneous impact scales, it is an important means of communication with the business”
In addition, the ideal is in my opinion:
This makes it easy to carry out a study of both information security and privacy by presenting side-by-side the impacts to the organization and the impacts to the individuals (data subjects).
Answer from a Club EBIOS member: “Two options”
Several proposals are possible to demonstrate that the problems associated with traceability are treated in an EBIOS study without considering traceability as a criterion:
Another answer’s response: “Traceability is not a security criterion”
The security criteria are used to assess the impacts in case of reaching each of them, and in particular to study the security needs. In information security, only availability, integrity and confidentiality are considered as security criteria (see in particular ISO/IEC 2700x).They should not be confused with the topics of security measures or regulatory references. Indeed, the (false) need for traceability comes from the fact that we want to know what happened after an incident (detection measure) and/or various obligations (legal, regulatory, sectoral or security policy-related). It is therefore useless and even counterproductive to study the need for traceability.
In addition, a scale of needs and a scale of impacts related to traceability should be available. It is often by trying to build them that one realizes that it is a “desire of someone” that falls under security measures or coverage of a legal “risk”.
Finally, this would involve studying all the threats that lead to the loss of traceability! Actually, this is related to the good implementation of a security measure, which is not necessary to treat as a risk (or otherwise it should be done for encryption, access control, etc.).
However, as the study of the needs is a communication tool with business, it is possible to integrate traceability into the security criteria so that business becomes more involved in the process by seeing its point of view taken into account…
EBIOS, the French reference method, helps organizations to identify and understand their own digital risks. It allows determining security controls that suit to the threat and setting up the monitoring and continuous improvement framework following a risk analysis shared at the highest level.
On the ANSSI website: EBIOS Risk Manager