Performing Cybersecurity Risk Assessments

Posted on November 4, 2019 at 2:46 PM

Performing Cybersecurity Risk Assessments

In today’s tech-savvy corporate world, organizations face risks every day. Risk management is as essential as any other business strategies that you might have in place. Nowadays, all businesses rely on IT systems to undertake their operations. Risks are inherent in these systems, and if left unchecked, they can cripple operations. Risk assessment entails identifying, estimating, and prioritizing risks that your organization might encounter. The primary objective of undertaking a risk management exercise is to support effective risk responses.

Typically, C-suite executives hardly have time to oversee the day to day IT security operations. Therefore, risk assessment somewhat serves as an executive summary that enables executives to make informed decisions about cybersecurity. Federal and state regulations do not explicitly instruct organizations on how they can secure or control their systems. Nonetheless, you have the obligation of ensuring that your systems are secure.

Independent auditors must prove that your data security infrastructure is impermeable. Initially, data security was perceived as the responsibility of the IT department. In recent years, however, IT systems have become more sophisticated, interlinked, and connected to third-parties. Risk assessment ought to involve all stakeholders for it to be successful. Here’s how you can effectively perform a cybersecurity risk assessment.

Gather Relevant Information

Cybersecurity risk assessment aims at gathering information about your data security stance, your network’s security controls, and any vulnerabilities therein. If you have no idea about what you are looking for or what you are doing, the undertaking will end up being an exercise in futility. While gathering information, work closely with your IT staff since they have in-depth knowledge about your system.

Gathering data also entails identifying and prioritizing your data assets. This way, you will determine the scope of your assessment. Create a list of your data assets and gather relevant information about them where applicable. Some of the assets that you should audit include software, hardware, interfaces, IT security policies, technical security controls, and physical security controls.

Identify Threats

Threats are vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and other malicious individuals to breach your system. Malware, hackers, and other data security risks are not the only threats that you face. Other threats that can lead to costly breaches include system failure, natural disasters, human errors, adversarial threats, service disruptions, and information misuse by authorized users.

After identifying threats that your organization faces, it will be easier for you to assess their impact. This means you must move from thinking about “what could happen” to “what has a higher chance of happening.” Vulnerabilities are weaknesses that can be exploited by a threat to cause a breach. Software-based vulnerabilities can get neutralized if you have the proper patch management tools in place. Similarly, automatic forced updates can help you reduce this type of vulnerabilities.

On the other hand, physical vulnerabilities such as data misuse by authorized users can be reduced by vetting individuals who access sensitive systems. Likewise, vulnerabilities such as intruders gaining access to your data center can be reduced by security strategies such as having keycard access.

Analyze Existing Controls

If you have a computer system in place, it automatically means that you also have various controls for safeguarding your data. Risk assessment should also entail the evaluation of these controls. Typically, cybersecurity controls get implemented via technical means such as encryption, two-factor authentication, and the establishment of intrusion detection mechanisms. Non Technical controls include physical mechanisms such as keycard access.

Analyzing the controls that you already have in place will enable you to pinpoint any weaknesses in your cybersecurity stance. In doing so, you will also be able to implement new controls for sealing off all security gaps in your network. You should classify your controls as either detective of preventative.

Preventative controls aim at stopping attacks, and they include antivirus software, encryption, and continuous security monitoring. On the other hand, detective controls attempt to discover when attacks have occurred so that risk mitigation measures can get implemented. These controls include continuous data exposure detection.

Evaluate the Possibility and Impact of Various Risks

Once you’ve gathered relevant data and your threats and controls have been audited, you should evaluate the possibility and impact of various risks. This is not about pondering whether or not you could face the risks, but the potential effects that these risks will have on your company. By undertaking this evaluation, you will determine how resources need to be spent mitigating each of the identified threats.

According to cybersecurity experts, you should estimate that if a breach hits, at least 50% of your data will get exposed. Likewise, you should prioritize risks according to the cost of prevention vis-a-vis the information value. This implies using risk value as the basis for determining the actions that senior managers will take to prevent them from morphing into breaches.

Document Your Assessment

If you are undertaking risk management for compliance purposes, you are required to provide evidence that all risks that you might face have been assessed. A risk assessment report also supports the C-suite as they make decisions related to budgets, procedures, and policies for mitigating risks.

For every identified threat, the risk assessment report must describe its inherent risks, vulnerabilities, and priority. Similarly, the report should also state the impact and possibility of occurrence as well as control recommendations. While writing the report, you will get a more in-depth insight into your company’s data infrastructure and how you can secure its systems better.

There are various reasons why you should undertake a cybersecurity risk assessment. Besides enabling you to safeguard your systems and data, the evaluation can help you minimize long-term costs. Similarly, it provides a template for undertaking future assessments since a cyber-security risk assessment isn’t a one-off affair.

By successfully undertaking the first one, it will be easier to create an imitable process that other people within the organization can pick up in the future. An assessment also provides your organization with greater self-understanding. From this exercise, you get a better idea about areas in your data security framework that are beset with errors.


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