A robust, cohesive risk management strategy is critical to the success of any cybersecurity plan. The enterprise risk management (ERM) framework created by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) articulates a number of principles and tactics that can help you develop such an enterprise risk management plan, and one recommended tool is a risk heat map – a simple but effective method to depict the potential severity of the risks your organization faces.

What Is a Heat Map in Risk Management?

In risk management, a heat map is a kind of risk matrix where risks are ranked based on their potential impact and their likelihood of occurring, which allows you to prioritize the risks that pose the greatest threat.

What sets heat maps apart is that the severity of each risk is indicated by color. Most risk heat maps use standard traffic colors to represent the level of the risks: green for low risk, red for high, and yellow for those that fall in between.

What Are the Benefits of a Risk Heat Map?

A heat map can be a helpful visualization tool for your risk management strategy.

First, it provides a simple, logical method of ranking your risks, and allows you to see a “big picture” perspective of what risks should be prioritized. Heat maps also create an easy visual reference that can be interpreted quickly, creating a common language for staff members and stockholders with minimal risk management experience.

Heat maps are versatile, too, and can be used with multiple risk assessment strategies and across all business units. Heat maps can be adapted to both qualitative and quantitative assessments, and are useful for simple assessments as well as more broad applications.

How Do You Create a Risk Heat Map?

Every heat map will look different depending on your scope and needs, but there are some common steps that can help you create a successful visualization.

Identify Your Risks

To rank and plot your risks, you’ll need to first know what risks you’re facing – so creating a risk heat map always begins with a thorough risk assessment. Make sure you take all possible risks into account.

Examine Your Risks

Once you’ve identified and listed all your risks, gauge the impact (or severity) and likelihood of each threat. These two factors taken together will be instrumental in ranking your risks and creating an effective visualization.

Your final ranking will also depend on your company’s specific risk appetite. This appetite can be expressed numerically or you can use a qualitative approach to base your rankings on the company’s past experiences.

Map Your Risks

Now plot those ranked risks on your map. Computer programs and Excel functions exist that can help you create your map, or you can render it by hand. One axis of your map will represent the impact of each risk; the other will represent the risk event’s likelihood of occurring. Once your key risks are written down, use your selected colors to indicate which risks are more and less severe.

Monitor and Update Accordingly

A risk heat map is not a static document. Rather, it is a representation that can (and will) change over time as your organization grows. Hence you should revisit your heat map periodically (once a year, for example), and then adjust your risks, their ranking, and your mitigation efforts accordingly.

Integrate ZenGRC with Your Risk Management Strategy

A risk heat map is only one part of your overall risk management process. To properly defend your organization from threats, you’ll need a way to track every risk that you might be facing.

ZenGRC is an integrated risk management tool that gives you a full view of your company’s risk and compliance landscape. This innovative software system tracks your risk in real-time and provides you with tools to help you organize your risk register and streamline your efforts – including risk maps. Schedule a demo today and learn more about how ZenGRC can take your risk management strategy to the next level.