A risk assessment is a multi-step process that catalogs all the potential threats to your business. In the same way a person might check the air pressure in a car’s tires or that the office elevator was recently serviced, CISOs should conduct regular risk assessments. Consider it a part of your standard safety management routines.

A cybersecurity risk assessment focuses on risks (both internal and external) related to information systems, data, and sensitive information, as well as the preventive control measures associated with each.

People sometimes conflate risk assessment and risk analysis as the same thing. In informal conversation we might use “assessment” and “analysis” interchangeably — but in the cybersecurity world, your risk assessment is the whole process, and risk analysis is one step within that process. It’s an important step, to be sure; but still only one step in your larger risk management process.

Why are risk assessments important?

A cyber risk assessment is important for your company’s overall safety management because it shows all the potential digital hazards within the organization. You can then create a cyber risk management strategy that accounts for those threats before they come to pass. By being prepared with control measures in place, you keep your business, your staff, and your clientele as secure as possible.

What are the different types of risk assessments?

The two main types of risk assessments are quantitative and qualitative. Each type uses different data to perform a risk analysis.

A quantitative risk assessment uses data and numbers to measure risk. For example, this type of risk assessment may assign financial costs to the number of personal records compromised in event of a breach. It’s a simple way to communicate damage in terms that executives can understand when discussing potential hazards.

A qualitative risk assessment involves more legwork. In this method, you interview key stakeholders and decision-makers across your organization to ask how a breach or cyberattack would affect their day-to-day work. In this way, you’ll understand what information systems are crucial to which products and services your business provides to customers. Then you can qualify which threats are most pressing, usually on a high-medium-low priority scale.

How often should I conduct a risk assessment?

The frequency of your risk assessments often depends on the legal requirements of your organization. If you work within the healthcare industry, for example, you may need to follow HIPAA guidelines for risk assessment frequency. You can check with your industry leaders and auditors for guidance on the risk assessment process.

Beyond any industry-specific requirements, consider performing risk assessments at fixed intervals — say, once a year, or once every two years. It’s also wise to perform risk assessments after significant corporate events such as a merger, a major systems integration, or even major operational changes (such as sending employees to work remotely during a pandemic).

What common risks should businesses look for?

Be on the lookout for common cybersecurity risks such as malware, ransomware, phishing, and SQL injection — all external cyberattacks that can compromise sensitive data within your organization. Internal risks include poor network configurations, weak patch management, sloppy user access controls, or the lack of employee training.

What are the steps to conducting a risk assessment?

The steps in a cybersecurity risk assessment depend on whether your business already has a risk mitigation strategy in place. Essentially, you’ll first collect and prioritize all the data within your organization. Then you’ll make a list of all the potential cyber risks your company faces on a day-to-day basis. Finally, you’ll implement mitigation and regulatory protocols to reduce the likelihood of those potential threats harming your data.

If you’re unsure how to do this, fear not. NIST, the National Institute for Standards & Technology, has numerous risk assessment templates that can help. You can also keep an internal version of a risk assessment form that you can adapt over time.

ZenGRC Helps Businesses with Cyber Risk Management

ZenGRC can help you create a seamless risk assessment process for the long term by monitoring your data and finding cybersecurity and compliance gaps. The integrated dashboard experience allows you to continue your risk management activities, storing all documentation in one repository for easy sharing whether you need a full report or more simple data sheets for distribution. Schedule a demo with our team today to learn more.