Whose Risk?

I often get frustrated when we talk about risk, measurement, metrics, and (my new least favorite buzz word) “key performance indicators”. Because we (as an industry) have a tendency to drop the audience from the statement of risk.

That may sound confusing, but I’ll illustrate by example. This is a real sentence that I hear far too often:

Doing that presents too much risk.

Unfortunately, that sentence is linguistically incomplete. The concept of “risk” requires specification of the audience – Risk to whom/what? This is a similar problem as that which Lakoff presents in Whose Freedom? – certain concepts require a reference to the audience in order to make sense of them. Leaving the audience unspecified is productive when used in marketing (or politics), but creates massive confusion when actually trying to have real productive discourse.

A recent post at Security Retentive illustrates the kind of confusion that ensues when the audience for risk metrics/measurements isn’t specified. (I have also previously talked (ranted?) about this type of confusion here and here.

This confusion fundamentally arises from the need to remember that risk is relative to an audience. The confusion arises because of a lack of perspective – each person in the discourse applies the “risk” to their own perspective, and comes up with radically differing meanings.

It seems important that when we’re talking about and attempting to measure and specify risk, we need to always present the data/information to a relevant audience: risk to what/whom is an important way of ensuring that we don’t remain mired in the kind of confusion that Security Retentive talked about.