Conducting a regular risk assessment is an integral part of any organization’s overall risk management plan. It’s sometimes even a legal requirement, depending on your industry, contractual obligations, or the number of people you employ.
Risk assessments also help you perform a risk analysis to evaluate the risks associated with a hazard after the hazard is identified. Risk controls can then be put in place to eliminate, mitigate, or reduce the potential harm of threats.
A security risk assessment (SRA) evaluates risks in your company, technology, and processes to assure that controls are in place to protect against security threats. Depending on the industry or use case, security risk assessments might also be called risk assessments, IT infrastructure risk assessments, security risk audits, and security audits.
Various compliance standards require security risk assessments, including PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards), ISO 27001 (International Standards Organization), and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
What Is Risk Control?
Risk control, a crucial part of the risk management process, is a business strategy that enables organizations to assess potential losses and then take action to reduce or eliminate those identified risks. Its objective is to identify and assess risk, and to prepare a company for any threats that could interfere with corporate operations or the organization’s ability to pursue financial and other objectives.
Risk control uses the findings of risk assessments – specifically, the potential risk factors in an organization’s operations and management practices that assessments bring to light. These factors include weak financial controls, technical and non-technical controls, and other issues that could harm the business.
How Are Risk Control and Risk Management Different?
Risk control and risk management are distinct but related concepts. Risk management refers to all the steps for identifying, preventing, and mitigating risks; risk control is one of the tools under the risk management umbrella. Risk management is the methodology for addressing and assessing vulnerabilities; risk control is the strategy of attempting to prevent them.
Specific risk control strategies will vary from company to company, depending on your needs and policies. Examples of controls may include testing, periodic internal audits or inspections, and even your training program. Your risk assessment will determine what risks are present in your company and what controls need to be placed to protect your assets.
What Is the Risk Assessment Process?
A risk assessment is a systematic process of identifying threats or hazards in your work environment, evaluating the potential severity of those risks, and then implementing reasonable control measures to mitigate or remediate the risks.
More simply, a risk assessment is essentially a thorough examination of your organization. Risk assessments and risk analysis are often used interchangeably, but risk analysis is a specific step within an assessment process.
Typically, risk assessments involve this five-step process:
- Identify all potential threats.
- Determine the potential impacts of each threat.
- Perform risk analysis and establish suitable precautions.
- Implement security control measures and record your findings.
- Review and re-assess when necessary.
Why Are Risk Assessments Important?
Thorough risk assessments are the fundamental management tool in risk management; they help you to evaluate the effectiveness of your existing security standards. This allows you to prioritize high-risk areas and implement new or additional controls to keep remaining risk levels low.
For many companies, specific legal requirements will dictate which type of risk assessment you should conduct. For example, organizations holding or using hazardous substances must complete a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Assessment (COSHH). Other risk assessments include fire risk assessments, manual handling risk assessments, Display Screen Equipment (DSE) risk assessments, and security risk assessments.
What Is a Security Risk Assessment?
A security risk assessment is a specific type of risk assessment that focuses on information security risks posed by the applications and technologies an organization uses or develops.
In cybersecurity, we use the terms “threat” and “vulnerability” to refer to security weaknesses, and their definitions are more specific to cybersecurity risk management:
- A threat typically involves a malicious act – malware, a virus, a denial-of-service attack, or a data breach – that aims to destroy data, inflict harm, or disrupt operations.
- A vulnerability is a weakness in a system that leaves it open to threats or potential attacks.
In cybersecurity, risk represents the potential harm that vulnerabilities could cause if successfully exploited.
Completing a security risk assessment is crucial not only for cybersecurity but also for regulatory compliance. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and HIPAA require periodic security risk assessments.
How to Conduct a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment
Cybersecurity risk assessment models typically consist of the following steps:
- Identify critical technology assets and the sensitive data those devices create, store, or transmit.
- Create a risk profile for each asset.
- Assess the risks for all critical assets.
- Map all the interconnections of critical assets.
- Prioritize which assets to address.
- Develop a mitigation plan with control measures for each risk.
- Implement those measures to prevent or minimize vulnerabilities.
- Monitor risks, threats, and vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis.
Security risk assessments are an essential component of enterprise risk management. They will help your organization establish more effective control measures to prevent cybersecurity threats from coming to fruition.
What Are Risk Assessment Control Measures?
During your risk assessment, you may ask yourself, “How exactly will I control the risks once they’re identified?” After all, a risk assessment is just that: an assessment. It’s up to you to assess the risk and decide whether it’s safe to proceed.
After identifying any hazards, you’ll need to implement control measures to reduce risk and prevent harm. A thorough risk assessment will check your existing precautions and then help you decide whether or not you need to do more to prevent damage.
Control measures usually include one or a mix of the following:
Choosing the best controls for your business will depend on the hazards or threats your organization faces and their risks. For instance, if you require that your employees participate in a cybersecurity awareness training program, that’s a control measure. Another control measure is telling your team to wear safety goggles when performing a specific task.
On paper, the best control measure is elimination: removing the risk from your environment. In practice, it’s not possible to eliminate every threat. When it’s impossible to eliminate a risk, using the hierarchy of risk control measures can help you decide the best control measures for any risk assessment your organization might need. For example, implementing anti-phishing tools will reduce some of the dangers cyberattacks pose without having to eliminate the use of email.)
Practical Risk Assessment Control Measures
In an ideal world, elimination would work in every situation. There are, however, other risk assessment control measures you can implement instead of, or in addition to, elimination. Together, these control measures make up the Hierarchy of Controls.
In cybersecurity, elimination might involve removing an application from company-wide use, perhaps because it poses a security risk to your sensitive information.
Where elimination is not possible, substitution is often the next best control measure available. In workplace safety, consider substituting a hazardous chemical with a safer alternative, replacing ladders with tower scaffolds, or exchanging old worn-out equipment with newer technology.
Substitution in cybersecurity could mean investing in new hardware for your organization, finding a more secure application suited to your needs, or migrating to more secure storage options like the cloud.
Engineering controls for cybersecurity could include implementing multi-factor authentication for all users, access control, enforcing a stringent password policy for employees, or cybersecurity tools such as antivirus software and firewalls.
Cybersecurity administrative control measures might include scoring requirements for cybersecurity awareness training assessments, documented business processes, company-wide phishing tests, or disciplinary actions for non-compliance with security policies.
Personal Protective Equipment
Finally, personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense against workplace health hazards. These are valuable safeguards giving the wearer added protection for any remaining level of risk or if other controls fail. Examples of PPE include ear mufflers when using noisy equipment, harnesses, lanyards when working at height, or hard hats when falling tools or materials are overhead.
For your organization’s cybersecurity, think of PPE as the IT security tools and software you use to protect your organization’s information systems and information assets from risk. Good risk mitigation software can do just that: minimize your risks and make risk assessments and the risk management process more streamlined and less stressful for you.
Streamline Cyber Risk Management with Reciprocity ZenRisk
You must conduct regular risk assessments as part of your organization’s overall risk management program. Identifying even the most obvious workplace hazards and assigning the level of risk is difficult enough. Adding cybersecurity to the mix and risk management can quickly become overwhelming.
A good risk management program should change in response to the risks your organization faces, and cybersecurity risk management is no different. Fortunately, risk mitigation software solutions are available.
Reciprocity ZenRisk can help you implement, manage, and monitor your risk management framework and remediation tasks to improve your security posture and business operations.
ZenRisk enables task assignment and prioritization so that all stakeholders know what to do and when to do it. And its user-friendly dashboards make it easy to review “To Do” and “Completed Tasks” lists. And when audit time rolls around, ZenRisk’s “single source of truth” audit-trail document repository lets you quickly access the evidence you need.
ZenRisk is equipped to help you mitigate risks and streamline risk management during the entire lifecycle of all your relevant cybersecurity risk management frameworks, including PCI DSS, ISO, SOX, HIPAA, and more. Templates and tools help perform assessments, prioritize high-risk areas, and document security measures.
Contact our team for a free demo today and get started on the path to worry-free risk management – the Zen way.