Remediation and mitigation are words commonly used interchangeably to describe a wide variety of risk management measures within an organization or project. They are, however, distinct concepts under enterprise risk management (ERM) principles, with particular relevance for safeguarding the organization and its stakeholders.

Remediation activities focus on fixing a problem to avoid or prevent the arrival of a risk. For example, in the cybersecurity world, remediation measures are usually related to patching vulnerabilities with software updates, to eliminate those weak spots in your cyber defenses.

On the other hand, mitigation measures focus on reducing the potential damage of a threat, to levels that are tolerable for the company or that can be accepted based on a cost-benefit analysis. Mitigation activities address vulnerabilities that can’t be addressed via remediation — perhaps because remediation of one issue might cause other risks, or the costs of downtime would be too high to be worth the cost.

An effective cybersecurity program will weave together a blend of remediation and mitigation efforts, into one tapestry of better protection for the whole enterprise. So what are the critical differences between remediation and mitigation, and how can these concepts be leveraged to benefit businesses?

Risk Mitigation and Risk Remediation: Key Differences

The main difference between mitigation and remediation is the amount of risk containment or eradication.

Risk remediation seeks to eradicate identified vulnerabilities completely, either because the potential damage is so great or the remediation measures themselves are so easy to implement. Risk mitigation focuses on minimizing risks to a point where they are within the organization’s risk tolerance or can be accepted.

When remediating security risks, actions are focused on the root cause rather than its manifestations or consequence. Risk mitigation operates the other way around: addressing a risk’s manifestations and consequences, rather than the root cause. So it’s even possible that risk mitigation activities might be a temporary measure to give IT security teams time to engage in more permanent risk remediation.

Eradicating a vulnerability is often more challenging to achieve than reducing its effects, so within an overall vulnerability management program, both measures are used together to protect the company from cyberattacks and to minimize attack vectors without affecting process uptime.

Sometimes mitigation may not be enough to comply with regulatory compliance obligations. The PCI DSS standard for credit card security is a good example of this; it requires remediation measures within 30 days of notification of risk higher than four (4) on the common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS) scale.

Implementing Risk Mitigation vs. Risk Remediation Processes

Whether your goal is to remediate or mitigate vulnerabilities, it’s essential to maintain a robust risk management plan and ongoing risk and vulnerability assessments. These are common elements of mitigation and remediation processes and critical requirements to develop other cybersecurity strategies.

Mitigation processes can be general and applicable to different cases. Basic tools of a risk management program can be maintained over time to address similar attack vectors or vulnerabilities of the same type. For example, introducing a firewall rule to prevent the entry of packets on a particular port can be tweaked to deal with different threats.

On the other hand, remediation activities are specific. They are the result of in-depth assessments of the organization’s vulnerabilities, with the help of penetration testing and other security testing tools. Efforts to remediate vulnerabilities are designed almost exclusively for the risk to be eradicated, and security teams must analyze the cost-benefit of these actions.

Risk Mitigation and Remediation in GRC

ZenGRC is a risk management, compliance, and governance solution that can help you build, monitor, and assess your risk management framework and remediation activities.

It can help you comply with various standards, such as GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, and others, by detecting vulnerabilities, reviewing policies and practices, and assuring tracking and other measures work correctly.

ZenGRC is the ideal option for resolving compliance concerns and effectively managing your compliance strategy over time with workflows, document management, dynamic visualization materials, and risk assessment tools.

Schedule a demo to discover how ZenGRC can assist your company in achieving confidence in information security risk and compliance.