“Value at Risk”: Focus Your Anti-Phishing on the Bottom Line

Share Now


Part 1 of 3:

Over the past year at Cofense, we’ve introduced and discussed the importance of elevating the visibility of anti-phishing programs to the Board of Directors level. The key measures we presented included a measure of capability we refer to as ‘resilience’ and enumeration of which specific attacks your organization may be facing.

As a result, the questions we are now answering for board members globally are –

  1. “What phishing threats do you need to be the most concerned with?”
  2. “How likely are you to stop those specific attacks in progress?”

In the same time frame, the World Economic Forum’s Partnering for Cyber Resilience initiative proposed a model for quantifying the financial impact of cyber-threats. It’s called value at risk (VAR) and can be quite useful when applied to phishing.

While the two measures mentioned above can and do begin to answer the questions already posed, they can also enable us to better understand and measure the Value at Risk associated with different types and models of attacks.

In other words, we can answer even more questions for your CEO and Board.

  1. “If this phishing attack breaches our network, how much will it cost us?”
  2. “Which phishing attacks should we worry about the most?”
  3. “Are we improving our capability to resist those attacks?”

Here’s How It Works

Most breaches begin as phishing attacks. People quibble over the exact stat, but no one doubts that phishing is the #1 attack vector. It’s easy enough to fool employees  into clicking on an email loaded with malware or a social engineering scam. One example: a crook in Lithuania fleeced Facebook and Google out of $100 million via emails spoofing a legitimate vendor asking for wire transfers.

To understand the risks of similar scenarios, a phishing-specific VAR model pulls together multiple data points to better visualize the impacts of:

  1. Known Active Threats —
    • Highlights the type and frequency of phishing attacks your company currently faces.


Note: The above graphic represents results of active threat phishing simulations run from March through May of 2018. Note the decline in resilience for those simulation models as the chart moves left to right. This indicates lower resilience for the threats listed to the right-hand side of the chart. Were these your company’s results, your program would best reduce current risk by focusing on repetition of those lower resilience simulations.

  1. Company Resilience to Known Active Threats —
    • A ratio representing the ratio of reporting to susceptibility
  1. Associated Dollars at Risk —
    • Identify and document the value of any impacts or losses from a phishing-related breach and the estimated cost of recovering from that breach.

These 3 factors can be tied together to provide a visual representation of phishing value at risk. In the chart below the X-axis represents the frequency of known attacks (increasing left to right). The Y-axis represents the capability to recognize and report (measured as the ratio of reported only over those susceptible in simulations) those specific threats. The size of the plot point indicates the value of data potentially exposed as part of your active threat simulations.

Plotting frequency (likelihood) of attack, your capability to recognize and report, and value of exposed data, as outlined above, shows your active-threat risk profile. The visual helps identify the specific types of attack your anti-phishing programs should focus on. To address higher-risk threats, simulate them more often.

Note: all threats identified on your chart represent a risk of exposure. Those plotted in the upper right are the most frequently faced and that your company is least likely to recognize and report.

To recap, knowing your phishing VAR means knowing the types and frequency of phishing attacks your organization faces, your ability to resist each type of attack, and the dollars each type might expose. An understanding of value at risk keeps your anti-phishing relevant, both in awareness training and incident response.

It also helps your leadership team make more confident decisions about risk tolerance, cyber-security investments, and risk mitigation strategies. You’ll be using your anti-phishing program data to figure out optimum ways to protect… data and dollars.

Next week in part 2, we’ll look at ways to assess the value of everything you protect. For another perspective on how to maintain your anti-phishing program, view our “Left of Breach” e-book.

All third-party trademarks referenced by Cofense whether in logo form, name form or product form, or otherwise, remain the property of their respective holders, and use of these trademarks in no way indicates any relationship between Cofense and the holders of the trademarks.


We use our own and third-party cookies to enhance your experience by showing you relevant content, personalizing our communications with you, and remembering your preferences when you visit our website. We also use them to improve the overall performance of our site. You can learn more about the cookies and similar technology we use by viewing our privacy policy. By clicking ‘Accept,’ you acknowledge and consent to our use of all cookies on our website.

This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site.