Discover the importance of making data-driven security risk management decisions for your business or organization. 

What is security risk management?

Security risk management is a process where you identify security risks to your information systems and address them. 

Determining risks involves several steps: interpreting known threats, considering the likelihood that they will affect your organization’s vulnerabilities, and examining the impact they might have on your valuable assets. 

Although “threat” and “vulnerability” may sound like interchangeable terms, they aren’t. Each plays a different role in the security risk management process of information technology

Threats are what your organization defends itself against, such as a “denial of service” (DoS) attack. A threat assessment identifies the source of harm and its potential to carry out its malicious mission. 

Vulnerabilities are gaps or weaknesses in IT systems that undermine your organization’s IT security efforts. Example: a firewall flaw that lets hackers into your network. Vulnerability assessments identify and assess the vulnerabilities for each risk and prioritize them for mitigation

Together, a threat assessment and a vulnerability assessment inform a security risk assessment, which is explained in more detail below.

Effective information security risk management programs

The lifecycle of an information security risk management program includes all risk-related actions: identifying, examining, measuring, mitigating, or transferring risks; all with the goal of reducing the probability or impact of identified risks.

The four steps of a successful security risk management model

  1. Identification: Determine all the critical assets of your technology infrastructure, then catalog all sensitive data created, stored, or transmitted by these assets. Create a risk profile for each. 
  2. Assessment: Devise an approach to assess the identified security risks for critical assets. After careful evaluation and assessment, determine how to allocate time and resources effectively and efficiently toward risk mitigation.
    Your assessment approach (your methodology) must analyze the correlation among assets, threats, vulnerabilities, and mitigating controls. You also must re-evaluate your risks must be reevaluated periodically.
    Assigning a to each risk is an important step in the assessment process. Qualitative and quantitative analyses will help you better understand all the possible impacts each risk carries.  
  3. Mitigation: Define a mitigation approach and enforce security controls for each risk. Acceptable risk responses include reduce, transfer, and accept. How you decide to mitigate risks will become the basis for your security governance and policy. This stage also includes implementing continuous risk monitoring.
  4. Prevention: Implement tools and processes to minimize threats and vulnerabilities in your organization. 

Security risk assessments

An effective security risk management program should include a risk assessment that establishes a baseline by which you can compare new risks to existing ones. 

A security risk assessment identifies, assesses, and implements key security controls to examine the causes, consequences, and probability of risks. Its purpose is to generate a comprehensive list of threats and vulnerabilities that could affect the protection of your assets. Security risk assessments allow your organization to view risk more holistically, and from an attacker’s perspective. 

A comprehensive security risk assessment allows an organization to: 

  • Identify assets within the organization (network, servers, applications, data centers, tools, and so forth) 
  • Create risk profiles for each asset 
  • Understand what data these assets store, transmit, and generate 
  • Assess asset criticality for business operations, including the overall impact to revenue, reputation, and the likelihood of exploitation 
  • Measure the risk ranking for assets, and prioritize them for assessment 
  • Apply mitigating controls for each asset based on assessment results 

The three objectives of a risk assessment are: confidentiality, integrity, and availability (the “CIA triad”). Together, they guide your organization’s information security policies. within an organization. 

Confidentiality means protecting information from unauthorized parties. The key areas for maintaining confidentiality include:

  • Social engineering: implement training and awareness programs, define separation of duties at the tactical level, enforce policies, and conduct vulnerability assessments 
  • Media reuse: wipe media of data before reusing
  • Eavesdropping: keep sensitive information off the network with adequate access controls 

Integrity means protecting sensitive information from being modified by unauthorized parties. The key areas for maintaining integrity include:

  • Encryption: use integrity-based algorithms 
  • Intentional or malicious modification, such as message digest (hash), MAC, and digital signatures 
  • Authentication

Availability means assuring that authorized parties can access information when necessary. The key areas for maintaining availability include:

  • Preventing single points of failure 
  • Comprehensive fault tolerance (data, hard drives, servers, network links, and so forth)

Although factors such as size, growth rate, resource, and asset portfolio will affect the depth of your risk assessment, conducting regular risk assessments is an integral part of any organization’s risk management process

The information you glean from threat assessments, vulnerability assessments, and security risk assessments serves as a basis for the metrics that your organization’s stakeholders and decision-makers should use when allocating resources, tooling, and implementing security controls

Goals of security risk management 

Without risk management, your organization can’t achieve its information security objectives.

Security risk management programs work best when they combine operational, tactical, and strategic goals. 

  • Operational goals, or daily goals, focus on productivity and task-oriented activities to assure an organization’s functionality in a smooth and predictable manner. 
  • Tactical goals, or mid-term goals, are targets that are established in response to real-world conditions as they occur. 
  • Strategic goals, or long-term goals, are objectives that an organization aims to achieve over a specific period of time, usually defined in years. 

Together, these goals should inform your security risk management program to ensure and measure its success.

Choose the best security risk management solution for you

Energy, healthcare, banking, insurance, retail — most industries these days see a surprising number of security threats

Any organizations creating, storing, or transmitting confidential data should undergo a risk assessment as part of its risk management program. 

Risk assessments are required by numerous laws, regulations, and standards, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). 

Although the risks to your organization can seem overwhelming, tools such as ZenGRC from Reciprocity make security risk management easy. 

ZenGRC’s governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) software provides operationalized risk management solutions to address cybersecurity risk across threats, vulnerabilities, and incidents; and communicates current risk status and potential threats through risk heatmaps, dashboards and reports. 

Customizable risk calculators allow you to evaluate risk throughout your systems, networks, business divisions, and controls, using frameworks such as NIST, ISO, or COSO. ZenGRC alerts you to compliance-related risks and continuously monitors your workflows so you can catch and remediate risks before they become threats. 

To learn more about how ZenGRC can help you improve your risk management program, schedule a demo today.