The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to digital business — everything from decentralizing enterprise workforces and digital assets to cloud migration and digital transformation. Digital security risks increased right along with that change.

What is a digital security risk, exactly? It is a threat to the integrity of an organization’s IT systems (software and hardware) or data (often personal data and sensitive information). Cyber attacks are the most immediate example of a digital security risk, but they aren’t the only example. The full spectrum of digital security risk has grown in complexity and scale, according to Gartner cybersecurity experts:

“In the past year, the typical enterprise has been turned inside out. As the new normal takes shape, all organizations will need an always-connected defensive posture and clarity on what business risks remote users elevate to remain secure,” says Peter Firstbrook, a Gartner analyst.

Understanding today’s digital security risk environment is the first step to protect your business from risk and stay compliant with relevant laws and regulations. See five common digital security risks in 2021 below.

What Are the Most Common Digital Security Risks?

When thinking about digital security risks and how to defend agains them, consider these primary categories of threat.

  1. Cybersecurity Risks: Cyber Attacks and Information Security

    Cyber attacks and information security are always a top digital security risk. For example, cybersecurity complaints to the FBI increased nearly 70 percent from 2019 to 2020, reports the agency.

  2. man working on a computer at a desk with bar graphs in the background
    Source: FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center

    CISOs should watch for three specific cybersecurity threats:

    • Malware. The malware is malicious software implanted on your IT systems surreptitiously. Examples include spyware, trojans, worms, ransomware attacks, viruses, and backdoors.
    • DDOS. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks your organization’s website by flooding its servers with bogus requests, leaving your site unable to respond to legitimate users.
    • Social engineering. Cyber criminals use social engineering to dupe users into sharing valuable information. The attackers can then use that information to gain unauthorized access to systems, exfiltrate data, execute transactions, or even gain entry to physical locations.

    Phishing attacks are a common form of social engineering. During a phishing attack, a hacker sends email messages appearing to come from trusted sources — but the emails are actually trying to trick the recipient to click on a link that will take the recipient to some bogus website (to harvest the recipient’s confidential data) or will install malware.

    10 common attack vectors
    Social engineering is an attack vector largely dependent on human interaction. Source: TechTarget SearchSecurity
  3. Regulatory Compliance Risks

    Compliance risk is the threat that some of your organization’s operations will violate laws, regulations, or other rules that apply to your business. A compliance failure can result in costly investigations, legal penalties, and unwanted media attention, among other pains. If your enterprise shifted to a remote work structure this past year, for example, your risk of privacy breaches may have escalated because home offices rarely offer the same level of network security as business offices.

    While network security is a risk many IT teams are confronting now, organizations must monitor and mitigate other types of compliance risks as well: fraud and money laundering in the financial services industry, corruption payments in global sales; and workplace health and safety, and so forth.

    Many organizations implement compliance risk management programs and use GRC software to reduce their exposure to such threats.

  4. Artificial Intelligence Risks

    As more organizations embrace artificial intelligence in their business processes, technology leaders will need to be more aware of AI-driven risks. Those risks can include AI bias, flawed decision-making, and faulty predictions. CISOs will also need to think about how to protect AI applications from unauthorized manipulation, which means more attention to IT general controls, user access controls, and the like.

  5. Vendor Risks

    Vendor risks arise when an organization doesn’t know how many third parties come into contact with its confidential data or don’t know the security protections those third parties have.

    A high number of vendors (or other third parties generally) increases the complexity of risk management because you must track the security controls, cyber hygiene, and financial health of each party. One possible strategy to tame vendor risk: consolidate the number of vendors you use; and then monitor them with GRC software to identify and mitigate vendor risks promptly.

  6. Remote Workforce

    Gartner estimates that 64 percent of enterprise employees can work from home due to Covid-19, and 40 percent do choose that option. That might be a reasonable choice from a public health perspective, but remote work has also led to a new wave of cybersecurity threats. Cybercriminals exploit weaknesses that arise from employees using home networks and computing devices with insufficient security.

How Can We Avoid Digital Security Risk?

Seventy-five percent of organizations plan to adopt new approaches to combatting cybersecurity threats by 2023, reports Gartner. As businesses restructure their risk management and cybersecurity oversight, Gartner recommends five steps in its IT Roadmap for Cybersecurity to mitigate digital security risks.

  1. Devise a cybersecurity strategy

    Above all, organizations will need to develop a sustainable strategy for mitigating digital security risks. That strategy should identify your cybersecurity objectives and outline key stakeholders’ responsibilities to fulfill those goals.

  2. Develop a Plan of Action

    Perform a risk assessment, penetration testing, and gap analysis to establish a baseline sense of your cybersecurity program’s maturity. Use that baseline to define policies and procedures to bring your program to desired levels, based on the objectives defined in Step 1.

  3. Initiate Execution

    Integrate capabilities, tools, and technologies and establish roles and responsibilities for your cybersecurity team — set metrics to track progress.

  4. Build and Mature Your Program

    Maintain accountability by developing a structure for monitoring and combating advanced cybersecurity threats. Train employees in cybersecurity best practices.

  5. Reassess and Optimize

    Track key performance metrics to understand and improve your cybersecurity program. Make a plan for communicating its value to the boardroom.

ZenGRC Offers Solutions for Digital Risk Reduction

Creating and implementing a plan to combat digital security risks can be a complex and time-consuming endeavor.

ZenGRC’s SaaS solution can simplify and streamline the process, giving your security and compliance teams the power to monitor digital security risks and compliance issues across your organization from a single, integrated dashboard. That frees up time to focus on high-value cybersecurity and compliance tasks.

See how ZenGRC can equip your security and compliance teams with the capabilities they need to manage cybersecurity and compliance risks in 2021 and beyond. Start with a demo today.

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