Defending the Digital Frontier: Essential Cybersecurity KPIs and Metrics

Securing your organization against hackers, cyber-attacks, and data breaches can seem daunting. The key to tackling this task lies in defining and adhering to specific cybersecurity metrics and KPIs. These metrics and KPIs serve as a roadmap, guiding cybersecurity teams to protect their organization’s data and ensure safety. Yet, the task isn’t easy, especially with limited information security reporting that often leaves CIOs and CISOs without a clear picture of the cybersecurity landscape.

To aid you in creating an effective cybersecurity strategy, this article delves into the top metrics and KPIs that can fortify your organization security and data.

What are cybersecurity metrics?

Cybersecurity metrics measure an organization’s information security performance. They give crucial data, revealing the strength of current cyber defenses. They highlight areas of weakness. By using these metrics, businesses can better plan and direct resources, strengthening their cybersecurity.

Why are cybersecurity metrics important? 

Management of cybersecurity depends on measurable data. Cyber threats evolve, becoming harder to detect. Metrics allow us to assess the effectiveness of cybersecurity programs. These metrics give you the ability to:

Communicate with business stakeholders: Good cybersecurity metrics back up the need for infosec efforts and budget when reporting to board members or leaders. Cybersecurity KPIs offer insight into network infrastructure, addressing performance questions during presentations. Clear, relevant cybersecurity metrics and KPIs offer a comprehensive view of an organization’s cybersecurity posture. This is essential when reporting to non-technical colleagues.

Make informed decisions: Without tracking key risk indicators (KRIs) and key performance indicators (KPIs), understanding the effectiveness of cybersecurity efforts becomes difficult. Solid historical data informs future cybersecurity decisions. Without it, decisions are blind. Even third-party vendors who access your networks need benchmarks. They can pose risks to your organization.

What is the difference between cybersecurity metrics and KPIs?

Cybersecurity KPIs steer your organization towards long-term goals. They provide valuable measures for vital security initiatives. They also illustrate the benefits of investment in security to your organization. On the flip side, metrics present data-driven, objective values with no direct tie to specific goals. While not representing critical data, metrics hold value for your business. They quantify your organization’s security posture by measuring it against a benchmark of performance.

Essential cybersecurity metrics and KPIs to track

Level of Preparedness 

Understanding your organization’s readiness against cyberattacks is crucial. This readiness reflects the strength of your cybersecurity program. Key factors to look at are:

  • The number of fully patched and up-to-date devices on your network
  • The frequency of device and software updates
  • The number of high-risk vulnerabilities identified

Intrusion Attempts 

If unauthorized parties are continuously trying to access your computer networks, systems, or data, it’s a critical factor your business needs to measure. Evaluating the number of breach attempts made by malicious actors provides insights into potential vulnerabilities.

Unidentified Devices on the Internal Network

Devices brought to work by employees or used as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) that are not known to your organization pose significant security risks. Here, the key is to identify:

  • The number of such devices on your network
  • Whether your business maintains a log of the devices associated with your network

Non-human traffic (NHT) 

The portion of network or web traffic from automated sources rather than human users is termed non-human traffic. Understanding NHT is crucial to distinguish between genuine and bot traffic. Ask:

  • Is the current website traffic normal or a sudden spike indicates a bot breach?
  • What percentage of your overall web traffic is categorized as non-human?

Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) 

This metric measures the average time between two consecutive system, component, or device failures. MTBF provides insights into reliability. Questions to ponder:

  • What is the average time between system or product failures?
  • How frequently do product or system failures occur?

Mean Time to Acknowledge (MTTA)

MTTA quantifies the average duration from when an alert is raised until the initiation of a response. It evaluates the alertness and responsiveness of an organization’s cybersecurity team. It raises questions about the average reaction time to alerts and the consistency of documentation and adherence to the MTTA protocol.

Mean Time to Contain (MTTC)

MTTC measures the period between the discovery of a threat and its containment. It gives an idea of the efficiency of the organization’s immediate reaction to cyber threats. Critical factors to consider are the speed of containment of identified threats and the rigidity of containment protocols.

Mean Time to Resolve (MTTR)

This metric gauges the time taken to address and resolve a threat once detected. It’s a critical measure of the effectiveness of the incident response team. Understanding how long it typically takes your team to respond to a threat and the process for restoring systems and data post-incident is essential.

Mean Time to Recovery (MTTR)

MTTR evaluates the time spent on full recovery after a cyber incident. It reflects the resilience and recovery capabilities of an organization. You should consider the typical recovery duration from system failures and if historical recovery time data is available for reference.

Security Policy Compliance 

This refers to an organization’s adherence to established security practices, procedures, and controls. Considerations include:

  • How well are exceptions, configurations, and compliance controls tracked and documented?
  • Is there a process to monitor employee compliance with security policies?

Virus Infection Monitoring 

Keeping a close eye on potential virus infections is vital. This means constantly surveying applications, systems, and endpoints to detect viruses, malware, or malicious code. You’ll want to ask how frequently your antivirus software scans common applications like email clients, web browsers, and messaging software for known malware. Once a virus infection is detected, it’s essential to understand the actions taken for containment and remediation.

Phishing Attack Success 

It’s a measure of the success rate of cybercriminals deceiving users via phishing attempts. Key points to understand here are the percentage of phishing emails opened by users and the variations of phishing attacks that have been successful.

Cost Per Incident 

This refers to the monetary impact associated with each security incident on an organization. Here, you want to evaluate how much it costs to respond to and resolve an attack. Additional costs, like investigation expenses, employee overtime, and personnel productivity loss should be factored in.

Days to patch 

Time gaps between patch releases and implementation can be exploited by cybercriminals. Assessing this lag can indicate your team’s post-breach efficiency. Questions to ask include:

  • How long does your team take to implement security patches?
  • How is the “days to patch” metric defined and measured in your organization?

Cybersecurity Awareness Training Results

This metric looks at the effectiveness of your cybersecurity training programs. Consider who has completed training, their understanding of the material, and whether there is recurring employee cybersecurity training.

Number of Cybersecurity Incidents Reported

This metric measures the organization’s awareness of cybersecurity issues. It provides a sense of the effectiveness of your training programs. It would be beneficial to track the number of reported incidents and compare them with past data or industry benchmarks.

First-Party Security Ratings

First-party security ratings assess your organization’s cybersecurity. Cybersecurity companies score parameters like network security, phishing susceptibility, and risk of data leaks. Regular updates to your security practices can align your organization with industry standards. Ratings communicate complex cybersecurity data to non-technical team members, promoting a broad understanding of cybersecurity. Here are some key considerations:

  • How is your security rating calculated?
  • How does your rating compare with industry benchmarks?
  • What measures improve your security rating?

Patching Cadence

The patching cadence is vital to an organization’s cybersecurity posture. It indicates how frequently security patches are released and implemented. The process for testing and validating patches is equally crucial. Key considerations in patching cadence include:

  • How are high-risk vulnerabilities prioritized?
  • How are patches for unsupported legacy systems managed?

Average Vendor Security Rating

The threat landscape extends beyond your organization. Vendor risk management and a robust third-party risk management framework form an essential part of security operations. Some reports provide an average vendor rating over the last twelve months, and continuous monitoring of vendor risks helps reduce third-party and fourth-party risk. Key questions include:

  • How many vendors pose a high-risk?
  • What criteria evaluate vendor security?
  • What types of ratings evaluate vendor security?

Intrusion Detection Rate

The intrusion detection rate reflects how effectively your security systems and protocols identify threats. A high detection rate implies strong security protocols, while a low rate may necessitate a review of your systems.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many intrusions has your security system detected over a given period?
  • What percentage of total attempts did these detected intrusions represent?
  • How do you improve your intrusion detection rate?

Data Breach Cost

The data breach cost is an often overlooked but significant metric. It incorporates the financial impact related to a cybersecurity incident. This could span from direct expenses such as regulatory fines and recovery operations, to indirect costs such as reputational damage and customer churn.

False Positive Rate

False-positive rate is a vital metric in the realm of cybersecurity. It pertains to the frequency of false alarms raised by your cybersecurity systems. While it’s critical for a security system to alert the team of potential threats, too many false positives can lead to alert fatigue. Over time, this may result in slow response to genuine threats.

User Behavior Analysis

User behavior analysis assesses how users interact with systems and data. By understanding normal behavior patterns, abnormal or potentially malicious activities can be identified. This is especially crucial in detecting insider threats, where a legitimate user account might be used for unauthorized activities.

Compliance Score

The compliance score is a measure of how well your organization aligns with relevant industry standards and regulations, such as CCPA, GDPR or ISO 27001. A high compliance score implies robust security practices and procedures that meet industry standards, contributing to your organization’s overall security posture.

Risk Assessment Coverage

Risk assessment coverage quantifies the extent to which your organization’s assets, both physical and digital, have been evaluated for vulnerabilities and risks. A high-risk assessment coverage indicates that a large proportion of your assets are accounted for, reducing the chances of overlooking potential threats.

Security Audit Failure Rate

The security audit failure rate measures how often your organization fails security audits. A high failure rate could indicate systemic security issues that require attention.

Key considerations include:

  • What is your organization’s security audit failure rate?
  • How do you address identified issues post-audit?
  • What measures do you implement to reduce the audit failure rate?

Number of Known Vulnerabilities Within Internal Systems

Number of Known Vulnerabilities Within Internal Systems

The number of known vulnerabilities within internal systems is a critical cybersecurity metric. It identifies potential threats facing the organization by referencing the number of exposed assets, vulnerable targets, and compromised users. Regular penetration tests and automated vulnerability scans help ascertain the number of threat vectors within the system, guiding security priorities and the management of patches and updates across vulnerable assets.

Third-Party Risk

Third-party risk metrics evaluate potential threats from external entities, such as third-party vendors, apps, and APIs. While these entities often provide essential services and have privileged access to resources, they can also introduce vulnerabilities. A third-party risk metric assesses potential impact of a cybersecurity breach originating from them.


Monitoring cybersecurity metrics and KPIs is key. It shapes an organization’s security and health. Metrics like incident response time and intrusion detection rate are crucial. Risk assessment coverage is also important. KPIs, such as the phishing test success rate and third-party risk, offer valuable insight. They highlight weaknesses. They inform security priorities. They drive organizational defense operations. In essence, they strengthen the defense against cyber threats. As threats evolve, these metrics and KPIs grow in value. Every organization must prioritize their use and regular assessment.