Alas, cybersecurity risk assessments aren’t easy to undertake – and getting started can be the most challenging part of your risk management strategy. To help, we’ll take you through the process step by step.
What Is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?
A cybersecurity risk assessment is the process of evaluating the threats to your organization’s IT systems and data, as well as your capacity to safeguard those things from cyber attacks.
Organizations may use a cybersecurity risk assessment to identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement in existing information security programs. A risk assessment also assists companies in communicating risks to stakeholders, and making educated decisions about how to deploy resources to mitigate those security risks.
How Do You Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?
To perform a cybersecurity risk assessment, it’s essential to assemble a team with the right qualifications. A cross-departmental group is crucial to identify cyber threats (which can come from both inside and outside your organization) and to mitigate 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 a minimum, your team should include the following:
- 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 (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework, 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 central business line to cover all data across the enterprise.
Taking a risk-based approach to cybersecurity starts with understanding and aligning business objectives to information security and cybersecurity goals. Hence you need cross-functional input.
Step 1: Catalog Information Assets
Your risk management team should catalog all your business’s information assets. That includes your IT infrastructure, as well as the various Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions used throughout the company. It also includes the data that those systems process.
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 so?
- Which networks transmit information?
- Which databases store information?
- Which servers collect, transfer, and store data?
Step 2: Assess the Risk
Some types of information are more critical than others. Not all vendors are equally secure. So once you’ve identified your information assets, it’s time to assess their risks and your enterprise.
- Which systems, networks, and software are critical to business operations?
- What sensitive information or systems must maintain availability, confidentiality, and integrity?
- What personal information do you store, transmit, or collect that needs to be anonymized in case 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 financial risks are 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 allows you to return to business operations rapidly after an IT disruption?
The risk assessment process considers risks to the information assets in your catalog and what harm breaches of each IT asset might cause to your enterprise. That includes harm to business reputation, finances, continuity, and operations.
Step 3: Analyze the Risk
Risk analysis assigns priority to the risks you’ve listed. For each risk, give a score based on the following:
- Probability. The likelihood of a cybercriminal’s obtaining access to the asset
- Impact. The financial, operational, strategic, and reputational impact that a security event might have on your organization
To establish your risk tolerance level, multiply the probability by the impact. Then, 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 New York State Department of Financial Services (NY DFS) requirements might have few controls securing it, so the probability of a breach might be high. On the other hand, the damage would be low since the attackers would only be grabbing information that’s publicly available. So you might be willing to accept the 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 of a breach might be low, but the harm from such 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 4: Set Security Controls
Next, define and implement security controls. Security controls will help you to manage potential risks so that the risks are eliminated or the chance of them happening is significantly reduced.
Controls are essential for every potential risk. That said, they require the entire organization to make an effort to implement them and to assure 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 5: Monitor and Review Effectiveness
Historically, organizations have relied on penetration testing and periodic audits to establish and assure their IT security. But as malicious actors keep changing their tactics, 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 must consider your response mechanisms to maintain a robust cybersecurity profile.
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 a limited budget or workforce, which impedes your ability to assess and mitigate risk thoroughly. For that reason, many organizations turn to cybersecurity software to help them better evaluate, mitigate, and monitor their risk management strategies.
Modern cybersecurity solutions are designed to help prevent the three significant categories of cybersecurity risk: malware, ransomware, and phishing. And why is understanding and mitigating cybersecurity risk so important?
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. Risk assessments provide a baseline for future assessments as you address your level of risk over time.
- Support the need for a cybersecurity program. Conducting a risk assessment provides your CISO with proof of the need for a cybersecurity program, which the CISO 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 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.
ZenRisk for Worry-free Risk Management
ZenRisk is a governance, risk, and compliance platform that can help you implement, manage, and monitor your risk management framework and remediation tasks.
For example, ZenRisk helps you prioritize tasks so everyone knows what to do and when. 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. In addition, its ServiceNow connector enables two-way communication with that popular workflow application.
When audit time rolls around, ZenRisk’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.
ZenRisk is equipped to help you streamline the entire lifecycle of all your relevant cybersecurity risk management frameworks, including Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), International Organization for Standardization (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!