There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all cybersecurity. Every organization faces its own unique set of security risks, and needs to take its own approach to cybersecurity risk assessment.

Cybersecurity standards and regulatory requirements do recognize that different companies need to take those different approaches to guard their information systems. To secure your data against cybercrime and to elevate your overall security posture, you need a comprehensive information technology security program. The way to start is with a cyber risk assessment.

That said, cybersecurity risk assessments (also known as vulnerability assessments) aren’t easy — and getting started can be the hardest part of your risk management strategy. To help, we’ll take you through the process step by step. 

First let’s discuss who should perform a cybersecurity risk assessment, as well as the benefits of performing one.

What Companies Should Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

All organizations that use IT infrastructure should conduct cybersecurity risk assessments. 

Some small businesses, however, may have limited budget or manpower, which impedes your ability to do a thorough job of assessing and mitigating risk. For that reason, many organizations turn to cybersecurity software to help them better assess, mitigate, and monitor their risk management strategies. 

Modern cybersecurity solutions are designed to help prevent the three major categories of cybersecurity risk: malware, ransomware, and phishing.

And why is understanding and mitigating cybersecurity risk so important? We’ll address this in the next session.

The Benefits of Performing a Security Risk Assessment

There are several benefits to performing a cybersecurity risk assessment and implementing a risk management process within your organization. Here are just a few of them.

Reduce costs associated with security incidents

You can reduce the long-term costs associated with damage caused by a data breach or theft of critical assets.

Gain a baseline for organizational risk 

It provides a baseline for future assessments as you address your level of risk over time.

Supports the need for a cybersecurity program

Conducting a risk assessment provides your CISO with proof of the need for a cybersecurity program, which he or she can then show stakeholders.

Avoid data breaches

You can identify threats, mitigate them, and avoid data breaches.

Avoid compliance issues

You can avoid regulatory compliance issues related to customer data. 

Avoid lost productivity

When you identify vulnerabilities and mitigate them, you avoid disruptions that can lead to lost productivity.

Avoid data loss

The theft of critical information assets could cost you more than just monetary damages. You could lose your reputation and, ultimately, your ability to operate your business.

Now that you understand the benefits of cybersecurity risk assessments, let’s get to how you can prepare for one.

Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Best Practices

Step 1: Create a Risk Management Team

A cross-departmental team is crucial to identifying cyber threats and mitigating the risks to your IT systems and data. The risk management team can also communicate the risk to employees and conduct incident response more effectively.

At minimum, your team should include:

  • Senior management, to provide oversight
  • The chief information security officer, to review network architecture
  • A privacy officer, to locate personally identifiable information, as required by the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • The compliance officer, to assure compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology‘s Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and other security standards
  • Someone from the marketing team, to discuss the information collected and stored
  • Someone from the product management team, to assure product security throughout the development cycle
  • Human resources, to give insight into employee personally identifiable information
  • A manager from each major business line, to cover all data across the enterprise

The risk-based approach starts with understanding and aligning business objectives to information security goals. Therefore, you need cross-functional input.

Step 2: Catalogue Information Assets

Your risk management team can now work together to catalog all your business’s information assets. That includes your IT infrastructure and the various Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions used throughout the company.

The assets that your third-party vendors use should be included in your list. Third-party vendors remain a significant data breach risk. 

To understand the types of data your company collects, stores, and transmits, as well as the locations involved, ask these questions:

  • What kinds of information are departments collecting?
  • Where are they storing that information?
  • Where do they send that information?
  • From where are they collecting it?
  • Which vendors does each department use?
  • What access do those vendors have?
  • Which authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication, do you use for information access?
  • Where, physically, does your company store information?
  • Which devices do workforce members use?
  • Do remote workers access information? How?
  • Which networks transmit information?
  • Which databases store information?
  • Which servers collect, transmit, and store information?

Step 3: Assess Risk

Some information is more critical than other information. Not all vendors are equally secure. Once you’ve identified your information assets, it’s time to assess the risks to them and your enterprise. 

  • Which systems, networks, and software are critical to business operations?
  • What sensitive information needs to maintain availability, confidentiality, and integrity?
  • What personal information do you store, transmit, or collect that needs to be anonymized in the event of an encryption failure?
  • Which devices are most at risk of data loss?
  • What is the potential for data corruption?
  • Which IT systems, networks, and software might cybercriminals target for a data breach?
  • What reputation harm might arise from a security incident?
  • What are the financial risks posed by a potential data breach or data leak?
  • What business operation risks would stem from a cybersecurity event?
  • Do you have a business continuity plan that enables you to get back to business rapidly?

The risk assessment process considers risks to the information assets in your catalog, and what harm breaches of each might cause to your enterprise. That includes harm to business reputation, finances, continuity, and operations.

Step 4: Analyze Risk

Risk analysis assigns priority to the risks you’ve listed. For each risk, assign a score based on: 

  • Probability: The likelihood of a cybercriminal’s obtaining access to the asset
  • Impact: The financial, operational, and reputational impact that a security event might have on your organization

To establish your risk tolerance level, multiply the probability by the impact.

Also, for each risk, determine your response:  accept, avoid, transfer, or mitigate.

For example, a database containing public information such as the definition of NIST or NY DFS requirements might have few controls securing it, so the probability of a breach might be high. On the other hand, if attackers grabbed only that information or other publicly available data, the impact would be low. 

In your risk analysis, therefore, you might be willing to accept the information security risk for that particular database, because despite the high probability of a breach, the impact score is low.

Conversely if you’re collecting financial information from customers, the probability score of a breach might be low, but the impact of a breach could be severe regulatory penalties and a battered corporate reputation. So you may decide to mitigate this risk by taking out a cybersecurity insurance policy. 

Step 5: Set Security Controls

Next, you need to define and implement security controls. Security controls will help you to manage potential risks so that they are eliminated entirely, or the chance of them happening is significantly reduced. 

Controls are important for every potential risk. They require the entire organization to make an effort at both implementing them and assuring that those controls are continuously carried out.

Examples of controls include:

  • Network segregation
  • At-rest and in-transit encryption
  • Anti-malware, anti-ransomware, and anti-phishing software
  • Firewall configuration
  • Password protocols
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Workforce training
  • Vendor risk management program

Step 6: Monitor and Review Effectiveness

For many years, organizations relied on penetration testing and periodic audits to establish and assure their IT security. 

But as malicious actors keep changing their methodologies to thwart security controls, your organization needs to adjust its security policies and maintain a risk management program that continuously monitors your IT environment for new threats.

Your risk analysis needs to be flexible, too. For example, as part of the risk mitigation process, you need to think about your response mechanisms so that you can maintain a robust cybersecurity profile.

ZenGRC for Worry-free Risk Management 

ZenGRC is a governance, risk, and compliance platform that can help you to implement, manage, and monitor your risk management framework as well as your remediation tasks. 

For example, ZenGRC helps you prioritize tasks so that everyone knows what to do and when to do it. Its user-friendly dashboards make it easy to review “to do” and “completed tasks” lists.

Its workflow tagging lets you easily assign tasks for the activities involved in risk assessment, risk analysis, and risk mitigation. Its ServiceNow connector enables two-way communication with that popular workflow application.

When audit time rolls around, ZenGRC’s “single source of truth” audit-trail document repository lets you quickly access the evidence you need of data confidentiality, integrity, and availability as required by law. 

ZenGRC is equipped to help you streamline management the entire lifecycle of all your relevant cybersecurity risk management frameworks including PCI, ISO, HIPAA, and more.

Contact our team for a free consultation, and get started on the path to worry-free risk management–the Zen way.