From ransomware and persistent hackers to misconfigurations and employee negligence, the average company is up to its neck in cyber threats. Failing to address these issues can lead to serious data breaches, reputational damage, and productivity losses.
According to the 2021 Thales Data Threat Report, 58% of firms were compromised by a data breach in the past year— with 49% citing an increase in cyber attacks.
Organizations of all sizes have to deal with the challenge of balancing technology adoption and rock-solid IT security that safeguards sensitive information. So how do you know where you stand? By adding cybersecurity risk assessments to your overall security strategy.
What Is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?
A cybersecurity risk assessment is a risk management methodology that reviews the security profile of a given IT environment. The process should ideally help with business objectives, like:
- Identifying underlying risks and vulnerabilities that require immediate attention
- Predicting the impact of security incidents
- Devising strategies to mitigate or avoid cybersecurity threats
- Uncovering potential compliance-related risks
- Confirming the effectiveness of incident response capabilities
- Improving employee awareness
A cybersecurity risk assessment will provide a comprehensive overview of issues that could potentially impact privacy, integrity, and availability of business-critical resources. In turn, the results can be instrumental in determining the right security controls and practices for the technology, processes, and people that drive the underlying IT environment.
The following is a simplified example of the risk assessment process:
- Identify vulnerabilities: A legacy operating system runs everyday business applications.
- Correlate threats: The outdated operating system is vulnerable to compatibility issues with newer technology and security attacks that prey on unpatched software.
- Identify potential risks: Continually running the system increases the likelihood of loss productivity, data breaches, and compliance-related penalties that could result from failing to secure protected data.
- Resolve issues: Upgrade to an operating system that is regularly updated to ensure compatibility and protect against the latest cyber threats.
Types of Cybersecurity Risk Assessments
There are many types of cybersecurity risk assessments, and may analyze one or more of the following aspects:
- IT infrastructure
- IT security policy
- Local networking
- Website security
- Web applications
- Wireless configurations
Although these different approaches generally strive for a singular set of goals, don’t think of risk assessment as a one-size-fits-all ordeal. Make sure you use the type you need to get the highest level of security.
Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Best Practices
A cybersecurity risk assessment requires absolute precision. The following pointers will help you effectively conduct the risk assessment process:
Identify Critical Assets
The first step in any risk assessment process is outlining a comprehensive map of every essential information asset across your infrastructure. This is where you identify the data, applications, hardware, and personnel that, if exploited, could lead to a security incident.
Once you have conducted inventory, you can segment those assets into groups for a targeted perspective on respective risks. This is particularly useful when evaluating individual data sets. Examples may include customer profiles, employee data, intellectual property, and sensitive data covered by various compliance standards.
Asset segmentation can drive a number of key determinations, including understanding who has access to which resources and at what level of authority. Moreover, it helps you pinpoint vulnerabilities in your organization.
Highlight Vulnerabilities and Risks
One of the more challenging aspects of a cyber risk assessment is understanding the true threat identified risks pose to business objectives. The process not only calls for proper identification, but validation of their potential impact.
Generally speaking, security risks threaten IT operations on three fronts:
- Confidentiality: Most commonly associated with data security, confidentiality refers to privacy and the authorization necessary to access a given asset.
- Integrity: The accuracy, consistency, and quality of a given asset over its lifecycle.
- Availability: The readiness and reliability of access to a given asset.
Confidentiality, integrity, and availability share one notable commonality. From cyber attacks to human mishaps, they are vulnerable to many of the same threats. For example, a malware attack that breaches an IT system, can alter system data, and eventually render the system inaccessible to authorized users.
Identifying vulnerabilities, risks, and the associated cybersecurity threats is necessary to predict the impact of a security event, and formulate solutions for risk mitigation and remediation efforts as well.
Perform a Risk Analysis
A risk assessment calls for thorough analysis of vulnerabilities, in addition to corresponding threats and the security incidents that could occur via exploitation. Risk analysis is where you hone in on the consequences of leaving those gaps uncovered. Understanding the operational, regulatory, and financial repercussions of not addressing those issues is absolutely critical.
With all your risks on the table, classify their severity by assigning a value or score that represents the likelihood of a threat actor exploiting a vulnerability into a security event. A simple rating on a scale of 1 to 5 will show you which risks demand the most attention.
It also helps to define variables that could influence the likelihood of a security incident. For instance, while vulnerable to a cyber attack, archived data no longer in production could be considered a low-risk priority, especially if it can be recovered from backups. On the other hand, open ports might be deemed high-risk due to the limited attention given to USB-driven exploits.
Design Security Measures
In most cases, a cybersecurity assessment will require an organization to take some form of action. Recommended security measures are generally grouped in the following categories:
- Prevention: Security controls can help reduce the likelihood of a security incident. Perhaps it's installing a biometric security system to control physical access in the data center, or using multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to information systems.
- Remediation: These are measures taken to eradicate the presence of potential threats. Harking back to legacy systems, the risks of running an outdated application can be eliminated entirely by simply upgrading to a modern version of the software.
- Mitigation: Controls or measures implemented to reduce the impact of high-risk security threats. Mitigation is typically required when a risk assessment reveals that a risk cannot be eradicated immediately, or a security event has already taken place.
Prevention, remediation, and mitigation are often required to work in a collective response strategy. Let's say an employee has contracted a ransomware infection. In this case, prevention of damage might require disconnecting the affected system from the network.
If the company has a data protection plan in place, the infected system can be fully restored from a backup copy, and this remediation means paying a ransom fee can be avoided entirely.
Finally, as a measure of mitigation, the security team deploys a more effective threat detection solution, alongside policies and educational resources to help employees avoid future ransomware attacks.
Document, Measure and Repeat
Having a way to document the process is vital to the success of a cybersecurity risk assessment. Ideally, documentation will allow you to visualize the results by highlighting individual vulnerabilities, threats, and the variables that allow you to rank each instance by level of risk. This information will ultimately determine when and where to focus your response efforts.
A cybersecurity risk assessment is not a one-and-done undertaking. It's part of a comprehensive program that requires continuous maintenance and optimization. Plus, seeing the effectiveness of your actions in documented form as you repeat these processes will go a long way in enhancing your security posture over time.
Your Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Tool
Some organizations lack the resources to foster the visibility and insight a cybersecurity assessment requires. To help, ThreatKey's fully automated platform takes a deep dive into your infrastructure, analyzing every application and critical network connection. The results are available in detailed reports that let you zero in on each identified risk, potential impact, and recommended course of action.
Beyond technology, ThreatKey works with your security experts to evaluate your information systems from top to bottom. Together, we'll uncover the origins of the vulnerabilities uncovered in our risk assessment, and help translate those insights into actionable strategies that bulletproof your cybersecurity framework.
Put Your Risks into Focus
The importance of a cybersecurity risk assessment cannot be overstated. Done right, it can identify vulnerabilities that require immediate attention, drive smarter decisions, and tighten security across the board. In today's increasingly dangerous digital world, this proven methodology should be a core piece of an inclusive cybersecurity framework.
ThreatKey specializes in cybersecurity risk assessments. From in-depth analysis to reporting and recommendations, our platform is designed to help organizations calculate their exposure to cyber threats with the utmost efficiency. Contact us today to schedule a free demo.
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