Businesses face an endless range of security concerns. Internal controls and security procedures help, but not every risk can be managed out of existence.

To build a sustainable security program, then, executives need to rely on risk acceptance and security exceptions to keep operations running and to appease stakeholders as best as possible.

Although those two terms might seem at first glance like similar techniques in the world of risk management, they actually are independent processes with different objectives and implications.

What Is a Security Exception?

A security exception happens when you don’t apply a certain internal cybersecurity policy, based on functional or strategic factors. That is, some set of circumstances arises where the organization decides to grant an exception to security policies that would normally be in place.

For example, your business might have processes in place for software or operating system updates. Under certain circumstances, an update might create operational issues with drivers, software, or other hardware. Security exceptions allow the cybersecurity team to suspend its update policies if the update would substantially disrupt workflow.

Exception requests must be strictly monitored to assure their proper use, and security exceptions should be rare. Too many exceptions can lead to the failure of a compliance program. You should have a process in place to review exception requests and determine whether the need to deviate from a security policy truly is necessary.

What Is Risk Acceptance?

Risk acceptance is a component of risk management. Executives assess the costs and benefits of policies or practices at the company that are above the company’s tolerable risk levels, and then decide whether those practices are worth the higher risk — that is, they accept the risk — or should be mitigated.

Risk acceptance allows businesses to take advantage of profitable opportunities that would not be available under strict compliance settings with minimal risk exceptions.
The decision to embrace a specific risk requires a rigorous risk assessment process, along with a risk mitigation strategy designed to provide the best protection for stakeholders.

For that reason, risk assessments must go beyond considering the direct benefit of the policy against possible damages or threats. Executives should also consider the expenses allocated to reduce these new risks and to establish new security measures.

In the cybersecurity environment, risk acceptance can be linked to tools that automate processes.

How Do Risk Acceptance and Security Exceptions Differ?

Risk acceptance and security exceptions are not the same. They mainly differ in their evaluation focus.

A security exception evaluates an action (or the lack thereof) from a business compliance perspective: “How great is our compliance risk if we don’t follow existing policy in this instance?” Risk acceptance evaluates business activities from a larger risk management perspective: “Are the benefits of this action large enough that we should undertake it?”

Not every non-compliance issue turns into business risk, and not every business risk leads to a compliance failure. In the same way, a security exception could generate a risk that is consequently accepted.

When security exceptions have a high impact, there will usually be a high risk that the stakeholders will have to accept or remediate.

Especially in cloud-based process automation and real-time database sync cases, information security offices will need to perform various risk analyses depending on the enterprise’s risk appetite.

They will also need to apply some combination of security exceptions and risk acceptance to protect their stakeholders from information security risks and the potential security incidents that may follow.

ZenGRC Helps Reduce Your Information Security Risks

Dealing with risk management can be difficult, particularly if you’re using legacy systems or manual tools like spreadsheets. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

With ZenGRC, your security team can protect your company from the risks of today’s highly interconnected world with tools that make tracking incidents and assessing the level of risk easy.

With ZenGRC’s central dashboard, automation capabilities, and easy-to-use templates, much of your security control management is done for you; so team members can work on serving other business needs and senior management can sleep well at night.

Built with several national and international frameworks (like SOX, CMMC, COBIT, SOC, COSO, NIST, PCI, and others) and backed by specialists in risk management and cybersecurity, ZenGRC is risk management software aimed at facilitating the work of information security officers.

Ready to learn more? Book a free demo today.