A black and white drawing of a rock formation.

Most company leaders acknowledge that running an organization today requires implementing risk management strategies. According to the 2023 PwC Pulse Survey, 57% of key risk officers are looking to increase their annual spend on risk monitoring processes to combat diverse risk scenarios, such as potential data breaches and loss of customer trust.

Despite this heightened awareness of the risk landscape, organizations often find it challenging to integrate extensive risk management practices into their core processes — which is why implementing a risk management framework (RMF) is a smart move.

The idea behind an RMF is to help organizations adopt a comprehensive, systemized approach to identify, assess, and mitigate risks to their business. It not only enables early risk detection and mitigation but has various other benefits as well. In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • Common concepts and use cases of risk management frameworks.
  • Five well-known frameworks alongside the best practices for adopting them.
  • Steps necessary to implement any RMF.

What is a risk management framework (RMF)?

A risk management framework is a templated set of guidelines, references, and best practices an organization uses to effectively identify, evaluate, and eliminate risks across categories, such as security, vendor, and third-party risks. RMFs are designed by federal and international agencies and may include formalized policies, procedures, and models that can be directly integrated into your risk culture.

A risk management framework serves several use cases and end goals, most notably:

  • Protecting an organization from cybersecurity threats.
  • Fostering customer trust with enhanced security practices.
  • Enabling stable business growth through risk-informed decision-making.
  • Optimizing revenue and resource allocation by comparing potential risks and rewards.

Components of a risk management framework

A well-developed RMF consists of the following five components to ensure systematic handling of organizational risks:

  1. Identification: The foundation of any RMF is the process of listing all potential risk events that define your internal and external environment.
  2. Severity measurement: The RMF should guide you in assessing the likelihood and impact of identified risks to define your risk profile and prioritize the most severe events.
  3. Mitigation: RMFs provide guidelines to pinpoint the necessary mitigation strategies, which can include avoiding, accepting, diversifying, or reducing risk.
  4. Reporting and monitoring: A successful RMF requires continuous monitoring to report and evaluate any notable changes in the ever-evolving risk landscape.
  5. Governance: The governance of a risk management framework requires risk managers to establish team roles and responsibilities, authorize necessary access and risk mitigation controls, and establish a network of authority and accountability for general oversight.

{{cta_withimage4="/cta-modules"}}

Why your organization should implement an RMF

A well-implemented risk management framework brings more certainty to your operations by giving you a defined approach to risk identification and mitigation. The key benefits of an RMF include:

  • Proactive threat detection: Helps anticipate notable threats. Spotting them early can reduce the chances of their unnoticed escalation and subsequent disruption to your operations.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Enables real-time visibility of crucial data, such as risk limits and real-time compliance posture, serving as a playbook for making informed decisions.
  • Improved reputation: Customers and investors are more likely to choose organizations that maintain a robust RMF. Your business also gets a blueprint to comply with industry standards and regulations more easily, which further strengthens its reputation.
  • Better organizational resilience: Besides preventing risks, an RMF acts as a buffer during unfavorable events with built-in procedures to withstand and recover from active threats without too much disruption.

Popular risk management frameworks you should know about

Several risk management frameworks have been developed to help organizations calibrate their risk appetite, but it’s worth understanding the nuances that set them apart.

Here are five important frameworks you should know about:

  1. NIST RMF
  2. COBIT
  3. OCTAVE
  4. COSO ERM
  5. TARA

We have presented a brief overview of these frameworks below, as well as the process for implementing each. 

1. NIST RMF

Issued by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, NIST RMF is a set of steps for managing information privacy and security risks within an organization, with an emphasis for U.S. federal agencies. It’s widely recognized as one of the most effective frameworks for securing information systems and can be implemented by any organization regardless of its industry or size.

Implementing the framework consists of these six steps:

  1. Categorize the data your information system processes, stores, and transmits, and perform an impact analysis.
  2. Select a baseline of controls you’ll put in place to protect your information systems and critical infrastructure.
  3. Implement chosen controls with the help of policies and document processes and outcomes.
  4. Assess your controls against preset benchmarks.
  5. Leverage reports to analyze the status of permitted risks and track ineffective controls.
  6. Continuously monitor the controls and adjust them as needed to ensure the effectiveness of information systems.

2. COBIT

COBIT stands for Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology. It’s a framework developed by ISACA to help organizations reconcile control requirements, technical issues, and business risks, providing a common ground in terms of IT management and governance. While any organization can implement COBIT, it’s particularly useful if you’re pursuing ISO 27001 certification.

To implement the latest version of this framework, COBIT 2019, you need to design your RMF around six principles:

  1. Meet stakeholder needs.
  2. Build a holistic IT governance system.
  3. Ensure the governance system is dynamic and responds well to changes.
  4. Separate governance activities from management.
  5. Tailor the framework to enterprise needs.
  6. Prioritize having an integrated, end-to-end governance system that encompasses all IT functions.

To implement these principles, COBIT suggests paying attention to the following seven enablers within your RMF for comprehensiveness:

  1. Principles, policies, and frameworks
  2. IT processes
  3. Organizational structures
  4. IT-supportive culture, ethics, and behavior
  5. Optimized storage and dissemination of information
  6. Services, infrastructure, and applications
  7. People, skills, and competencies

3. OCTAVE

The OCTAVE (Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation) framework was developed in 1999 for the United States Department of Defense but has since become a reliable model for managing information security risks. OCTAVE focuses on identifying an organization's critical assets, their vulnerabilities and other threats, and evaluating the potential business impact if the threats were to occur.

OCTAVE is a highly actionable framework that can take months to implement, depending on the complexity of your risk profile. The process here is quite straightforward, typically entailing three steps:

  1. Map out your IT assets and threats that can affect them.
  2. Identify the most pressing vulnerabilities within your organization’s infrastructure. To evaluate the efficacy of your system, you’ll need to perform various tests and assessments (e.g., penetration testing, systems audits, access reviews, etc.).
  3. Define a security risk management strategy tailored to your business.

4. COSO ERM

The COSO ERM (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission’s Enterprise Risk Management) framework is focused on optimizing an organization’s internal controls and promoting better corporate governance. It was commissioned and published in 2004 and has been revised several times to address developments in risk management.

To implement this framework, you have to visualize a structure called a COSO cube, which gives you a bird’s-eye view of your entire risk management culture. Here are the steps you can follow to design the cube’s three dimensions:

  1. Outline four categories of your risk management objectives — strategic, operations, reporting, and compliance. This forms the topmost face of the cube.
  2. For the front face of the cube, define the eight components necessary for achieving your risk management objectives and internal controls, namely:some text
    1. Internal environment
    2. Objective setting
    3. Event identification
    4. Risk assessment
    5. Risk response
    6. Control activities
    7. Information and communication
    8. Monitoring
  3. Explain your organizational structure (subsidiary, business unit, division, and entity level) using the lateral face to pinpoint the areas where the risk management and internal controls are active.

5. TARA

MITRE’s TARA (Threat Assessment and Remediation Analysis) framework is used to identify, assess, and mitigate cybersecurity threats. It was developed in 2010 and has various use cases, such as program protection and vulnerability assessment planning, as well as system architecture analysis.

TARA relies on catalogs of attack vectors (AVs) and countermeasures (CMs), where AVs are quantified and ranked by risk level, while CMs are ranked by cost-effectiveness. The framework essentially combines threat-based and quantitative risk assessment methodologies, providing a comprehensive ecosystem to understand your cybersecurity risk landscape.

To implement TARA assessments, you should go through the following three steps:

  1. Define the assessment scope, including the evaluation targets and range of threats you’ll assess.
  2. Conduct the cyber threat susceptibility analysis (CTSA) and create the threat matrix.
  3. Perform the cyber risk remediation analysis (CRRA) to develop mitigation recommendations. 

{{cta_simple1}}

How to implement a risk management framework

The specific steps for implementing a risk management framework can vary greatly depending on the exact framework you opt for. Still, there are six standard steps you can follow regardless of your chosen option:

  1. Set clear objectives: Consider your risk landscape, organizational needs, and overarching security and privacy objectives to decide which framework you should implement.
  2. Conduct comprehensive risk assessment: Risk assessments are at the heart of every framework. Ideally, an organization should employ adequate tools to conduct them effectively and identify risk areas to assess.
  3. Develop risk mitigation strategies: Create risk mitigation strategies and incident response processes to fortify your organization’s resilience. From there, define specific actions and procedures for your response team.
  4. Document risk management workflows: Process documentation is crucial for monitoring the effectiveness of your framework — make sure to have everything on record and specify ways to centrally track your workflows.
  5. Conduct regular audits: Periodic audits of your RMF help you adapt and enhance your security and privacy processes to get ahead of newly identified threats.

It’s evident that building and maintaining an RMF requires a significant investment of time and resources. However, one of the main reasons organizations hesitate to implement one is the potential fragmentation of the framework’s underlying processes. For instance, risk leaders often cannot dedicate the time and focus necessary to handle complex and labor-intensive steps — like compiling documentation, tracking requirements through spreadsheets, and preparing for audits — over extended periods.

The good news is that there are several ways to implement RMFs more efficiently, such as:

  • Designating a dedicated risk management team to constantly monitor your RMF.
  • Leveraging risk management software to centralize RMF workflows.

Automate RMF implementation with Vanta

Vanta offers a comprehensive Risk Management solution for businesses of all sizes. It lets you streamline your RMF implementation through niche capabilities, such as suggested mitigation controls and linked control tracking, that fast-track and centralize manual and complex risk management processes.

Vanta is pre-configured to support controls mapped to over 20 top standards and frameworks, including ISO 27001, NIST CSF, and NIST AI RMF. You can also build custom frameworks and utilize 50+ pre-built risk scenarios and assessment workflows within Vanta’s risk library, which makes the process easier for non-expert users as well.

If you’re looking to mature your enterprise risk management program, leverage the platform’s complementary AI and automation functionalities to implement frameworks on a larger scale. For instance, you can:

  • Centralize documentation to reduce the inefficient exchange of screenshots and emails.
  • Automate risk scoring to prioritize vulnerabilities accordingly.
  • Enable continuous monitoring through pre-built automated control tests.
  • Assign risk owners for better accountability tracking.
  • Complete security questionnaires faster with Vanta AI.
  • Create color-coded risk matrices and assessment reports with minimal administrative work.

Vanta also enables your task management with native features and 300+ integrations, fostering cohesive collaboration and bringing your teams on the same page.

To learn more about Vanta’s Risk Management solution, visit the product page or get a custom Vanta demo for a more tailored overview of the platform’s features.

{{cta_testimonial8="/cta-modules"}}

Risk

An essential guide to establishing a risk management framework (RMF)

A black and white drawing of a rock formation.

Most company leaders acknowledge that running an organization today requires implementing risk management strategies. According to the 2023 PwC Pulse Survey, 57% of key risk officers are looking to increase their annual spend on risk monitoring processes to combat diverse risk scenarios, such as potential data breaches and loss of customer trust.

Despite this heightened awareness of the risk landscape, organizations often find it challenging to integrate extensive risk management practices into their core processes — which is why implementing a risk management framework (RMF) is a smart move.

The idea behind an RMF is to help organizations adopt a comprehensive, systemized approach to identify, assess, and mitigate risks to their business. It not only enables early risk detection and mitigation but has various other benefits as well. In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • Common concepts and use cases of risk management frameworks.
  • Five well-known frameworks alongside the best practices for adopting them.
  • Steps necessary to implement any RMF.

What is a risk management framework (RMF)?

A risk management framework is a templated set of guidelines, references, and best practices an organization uses to effectively identify, evaluate, and eliminate risks across categories, such as security, vendor, and third-party risks. RMFs are designed by federal and international agencies and may include formalized policies, procedures, and models that can be directly integrated into your risk culture.

A risk management framework serves several use cases and end goals, most notably:

  • Protecting an organization from cybersecurity threats.
  • Fostering customer trust with enhanced security practices.
  • Enabling stable business growth through risk-informed decision-making.
  • Optimizing revenue and resource allocation by comparing potential risks and rewards.

Components of a risk management framework

A well-developed RMF consists of the following five components to ensure systematic handling of organizational risks:

  1. Identification: The foundation of any RMF is the process of listing all potential risk events that define your internal and external environment.
  2. Severity measurement: The RMF should guide you in assessing the likelihood and impact of identified risks to define your risk profile and prioritize the most severe events.
  3. Mitigation: RMFs provide guidelines to pinpoint the necessary mitigation strategies, which can include avoiding, accepting, diversifying, or reducing risk.
  4. Reporting and monitoring: A successful RMF requires continuous monitoring to report and evaluate any notable changes in the ever-evolving risk landscape.
  5. Governance: The governance of a risk management framework requires risk managers to establish team roles and responsibilities, authorize necessary access and risk mitigation controls, and establish a network of authority and accountability for general oversight.

{{cta_withimage4="/cta-modules"}}

Why your organization should implement an RMF

A well-implemented risk management framework brings more certainty to your operations by giving you a defined approach to risk identification and mitigation. The key benefits of an RMF include:

  • Proactive threat detection: Helps anticipate notable threats. Spotting them early can reduce the chances of their unnoticed escalation and subsequent disruption to your operations.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Enables real-time visibility of crucial data, such as risk limits and real-time compliance posture, serving as a playbook for making informed decisions.
  • Improved reputation: Customers and investors are more likely to choose organizations that maintain a robust RMF. Your business also gets a blueprint to comply with industry standards and regulations more easily, which further strengthens its reputation.
  • Better organizational resilience: Besides preventing risks, an RMF acts as a buffer during unfavorable events with built-in procedures to withstand and recover from active threats without too much disruption.

Popular risk management frameworks you should know about

Several risk management frameworks have been developed to help organizations calibrate their risk appetite, but it’s worth understanding the nuances that set them apart.

Here are five important frameworks you should know about:

  1. NIST RMF
  2. COBIT
  3. OCTAVE
  4. COSO ERM
  5. TARA

We have presented a brief overview of these frameworks below, as well as the process for implementing each. 

1. NIST RMF

Issued by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, NIST RMF is a set of steps for managing information privacy and security risks within an organization, with an emphasis for U.S. federal agencies. It’s widely recognized as one of the most effective frameworks for securing information systems and can be implemented by any organization regardless of its industry or size.

Implementing the framework consists of these six steps:

  1. Categorize the data your information system processes, stores, and transmits, and perform an impact analysis.
  2. Select a baseline of controls you’ll put in place to protect your information systems and critical infrastructure.
  3. Implement chosen controls with the help of policies and document processes and outcomes.
  4. Assess your controls against preset benchmarks.
  5. Leverage reports to analyze the status of permitted risks and track ineffective controls.
  6. Continuously monitor the controls and adjust them as needed to ensure the effectiveness of information systems.

2. COBIT

COBIT stands for Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology. It’s a framework developed by ISACA to help organizations reconcile control requirements, technical issues, and business risks, providing a common ground in terms of IT management and governance. While any organization can implement COBIT, it’s particularly useful if you’re pursuing ISO 27001 certification.

To implement the latest version of this framework, COBIT 2019, you need to design your RMF around six principles:

  1. Meet stakeholder needs.
  2. Build a holistic IT governance system.
  3. Ensure the governance system is dynamic and responds well to changes.
  4. Separate governance activities from management.
  5. Tailor the framework to enterprise needs.
  6. Prioritize having an integrated, end-to-end governance system that encompasses all IT functions.

To implement these principles, COBIT suggests paying attention to the following seven enablers within your RMF for comprehensiveness:

  1. Principles, policies, and frameworks
  2. IT processes
  3. Organizational structures
  4. IT-supportive culture, ethics, and behavior
  5. Optimized storage and dissemination of information
  6. Services, infrastructure, and applications
  7. People, skills, and competencies

3. OCTAVE

The OCTAVE (Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation) framework was developed in 1999 for the United States Department of Defense but has since become a reliable model for managing information security risks. OCTAVE focuses on identifying an organization's critical assets, their vulnerabilities and other threats, and evaluating the potential business impact if the threats were to occur.

OCTAVE is a highly actionable framework that can take months to implement, depending on the complexity of your risk profile. The process here is quite straightforward, typically entailing three steps:

  1. Map out your IT assets and threats that can affect them.
  2. Identify the most pressing vulnerabilities within your organization’s infrastructure. To evaluate the efficacy of your system, you’ll need to perform various tests and assessments (e.g., penetration testing, systems audits, access reviews, etc.).
  3. Define a security risk management strategy tailored to your business.

4. COSO ERM

The COSO ERM (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission’s Enterprise Risk Management) framework is focused on optimizing an organization’s internal controls and promoting better corporate governance. It was commissioned and published in 2004 and has been revised several times to address developments in risk management.

To implement this framework, you have to visualize a structure called a COSO cube, which gives you a bird’s-eye view of your entire risk management culture. Here are the steps you can follow to design the cube’s three dimensions:

  1. Outline four categories of your risk management objectives — strategic, operations, reporting, and compliance. This forms the topmost face of the cube.
  2. For the front face of the cube, define the eight components necessary for achieving your risk management objectives and internal controls, namely:some text
    1. Internal environment
    2. Objective setting
    3. Event identification
    4. Risk assessment
    5. Risk response
    6. Control activities
    7. Information and communication
    8. Monitoring
  3. Explain your organizational structure (subsidiary, business unit, division, and entity level) using the lateral face to pinpoint the areas where the risk management and internal controls are active.

5. TARA

MITRE’s TARA (Threat Assessment and Remediation Analysis) framework is used to identify, assess, and mitigate cybersecurity threats. It was developed in 2010 and has various use cases, such as program protection and vulnerability assessment planning, as well as system architecture analysis.

TARA relies on catalogs of attack vectors (AVs) and countermeasures (CMs), where AVs are quantified and ranked by risk level, while CMs are ranked by cost-effectiveness. The framework essentially combines threat-based and quantitative risk assessment methodologies, providing a comprehensive ecosystem to understand your cybersecurity risk landscape.

To implement TARA assessments, you should go through the following three steps:

  1. Define the assessment scope, including the evaluation targets and range of threats you’ll assess.
  2. Conduct the cyber threat susceptibility analysis (CTSA) and create the threat matrix.
  3. Perform the cyber risk remediation analysis (CRRA) to develop mitigation recommendations. 

{{cta_simple1}}

How to implement a risk management framework

The specific steps for implementing a risk management framework can vary greatly depending on the exact framework you opt for. Still, there are six standard steps you can follow regardless of your chosen option:

  1. Set clear objectives: Consider your risk landscape, organizational needs, and overarching security and privacy objectives to decide which framework you should implement.
  2. Conduct comprehensive risk assessment: Risk assessments are at the heart of every framework. Ideally, an organization should employ adequate tools to conduct them effectively and identify risk areas to assess.
  3. Develop risk mitigation strategies: Create risk mitigation strategies and incident response processes to fortify your organization’s resilience. From there, define specific actions and procedures for your response team.
  4. Document risk management workflows: Process documentation is crucial for monitoring the effectiveness of your framework — make sure to have everything on record and specify ways to centrally track your workflows.
  5. Conduct regular audits: Periodic audits of your RMF help you adapt and enhance your security and privacy processes to get ahead of newly identified threats.

It’s evident that building and maintaining an RMF requires a significant investment of time and resources. However, one of the main reasons organizations hesitate to implement one is the potential fragmentation of the framework’s underlying processes. For instance, risk leaders often cannot dedicate the time and focus necessary to handle complex and labor-intensive steps — like compiling documentation, tracking requirements through spreadsheets, and preparing for audits — over extended periods.

The good news is that there are several ways to implement RMFs more efficiently, such as:

  • Designating a dedicated risk management team to constantly monitor your RMF.
  • Leveraging risk management software to centralize RMF workflows.

Automate RMF implementation with Vanta

Vanta offers a comprehensive Risk Management solution for businesses of all sizes. It lets you streamline your RMF implementation through niche capabilities, such as suggested mitigation controls and linked control tracking, that fast-track and centralize manual and complex risk management processes.

Vanta is pre-configured to support controls mapped to over 20 top standards and frameworks, including ISO 27001, NIST CSF, and NIST AI RMF. You can also build custom frameworks and utilize 50+ pre-built risk scenarios and assessment workflows within Vanta’s risk library, which makes the process easier for non-expert users as well.

If you’re looking to mature your enterprise risk management program, leverage the platform’s complementary AI and automation functionalities to implement frameworks on a larger scale. For instance, you can:

  • Centralize documentation to reduce the inefficient exchange of screenshots and emails.
  • Automate risk scoring to prioritize vulnerabilities accordingly.
  • Enable continuous monitoring through pre-built automated control tests.
  • Assign risk owners for better accountability tracking.
  • Complete security questionnaires faster with Vanta AI.
  • Create color-coded risk matrices and assessment reports with minimal administrative work.

Vanta also enables your task management with native features and 300+ integrations, fostering cohesive collaboration and bringing your teams on the same page.

To learn more about Vanta’s Risk Management solution, visit the product page or get a custom Vanta demo for a more tailored overview of the platform’s features.

{{cta_testimonial8="/cta-modules"}}

Webinar: Scaling your GRC program with automation and AI

Learn how to automate compliance processes, strategies to streamline risk assessments and ways to use automation and AI on vendor security reviews.

Webinar: Scaling your GRC program with automation and AI

Learn how to automate compliance processes, strategies to streamline risk assessments and ways to use automation and AI on vendor security reviews.

Webinar: Scaling your GRC program with automation and AI

Learn how to automate compliance processes, strategies to streamline risk assessments and ways to use automation and AI on vendor security reviews.

Role:GRC responsibilities:
Board of directors
Central to the overarching GRC strategy, this group sets the direction for the compliance strategy. They determine which standards and regulations are necessary for compliance and align the GRC strategy with business objectives.
Chief financial officerPrimary responsibility for the success of the GRC program and for reporting results to the board.
Operations managers from relevant departmentsThis group owns processes. They are responsible for the success and direction of risk management and compliance within their departments.
Representatives from relevant departments
These are the activity owners. These team members are responsible for carrying out specific compliance and risk management tasks within their departments and for integrating these tasks into their workflows.
Contract managers from relevant department
These team members are responsible for managing interactions with vendors and other third parties in their department to ensure all risk management and compliance measures are being taken.
Chief information security officer (CISO)Defines the organization’s information security policy, designs risk and vulnerability assessments, and develops information security policies.
Data protection officer (DPO) or legal counselDevelops goals for data privacy based on legal regulations and other compliance needs, designs and implements privacy policies and practices, and assesses these practices for effectiveness.
GRC leadResponsible for overseeing the execution of the GRC program in collaboration with the executive team as well as maintaining the organization’s library of security controls.
Cybersecurity analyst(s)Implements and monitors cybersecurity measures that are in line with the GRC program and business objectives.
Compliance analyst(s)Monitors the organization’s compliance with all regulations and standards necessary, identifies any compliance gaps, and works to mitigate them.
Risk analyst(s)Carries out the risk management program for the organization and serves as a resource for risk management across various departments, including identifying, mitigating, and monitoring risks.
IT security specialist(s)Implements security controls within the IT system in coordination with the cybersecurity analyst(s).

See how VRM automation works

Let's walk through an interactive tour of Vanta's Vendor Risk Management solution.

Explore more GRC articles

Get started with GRC

Start your GRC journey with these related resources.

Product updates

How Vanta combines automation & customization to supercharge your GRC program

Vanta pairs deep automation with the flexibility and customizability to meet the unique needs of larger, more complex businesses. Read more.

How Vanta combines automation & customization to supercharge your GRC program
How Vanta combines automation & customization to supercharge your GRC program
Security

How to build an enduring security program as your company grows

Join Vanta's CISO, Jadee Hanson, and seasoned security leaders at company's big and small to discuss building and maintaining an efficient and high performing security program.

How to build an enduring security program as your company grows
How to build an enduring security program as your company grows
Security

Growing pains: How to update and automate outdated security processes

Has your business outgrown its security processes? Learn how to update them in this guide.

Growing pains: How to update and automate outdated security processes
Growing pains: How to update and automate outdated security processes