It’s well-understood that computers, information technology, and the internet are here to stay. As wonderful as the internet may be, however, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that it also brings risk. Every organization must accept that fact, and prepare for it. By creating a cybersecurity risk management program, you can assure that you have the best possible defense against data breaches, cyber threats, and other attacks.

When computers were first invented, security wasn’t a significant consideration in technologists’ minds. Not until we began to allow computers to communicate with one another did we begin to grasp the error of that approach. The first computer virus arrived in 1986,  and though it was mostly harmless, it set off a chain of events that we still confront today.

Taming those risks today—that is, developing a cybersecurity risk management program and deploying it—is no easy task. It takes a lot of planning, effort, and money to do it properly. Moreover, cybersecurity risk management never ends; as soon as you implement the program, you need to begin adjusting for new security risks coming over the horizon. Here are some things to consider while planning an effective cybersecurity risk management program.

What Are The Goals Of Your Organization?

Before you begin, pinpoint your company’s goals—not only in terms of cybersecurity but as a whole. Think about what changes you anticipate in the near future: consider your staff, new markets, and the possibility of acquisitions or mergers. By analyzing your organization’s strategic goals, you’ll gain a better sense of where you might need additional security moving forward.

Once you have an idea of your company’s specific needs, proceed to a cybersecurity risk assessment. Risk assessments come in a few flavors but the most common are qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative risk assessments rely on subjective experience and are usually better suited for everyday businesspeople without specialized IT training. A quantitative risk assessment looks at raw data and historical models to assess cybersecurity risk. With both, the objective is essentially the same: what has the potential to do us damage, and how much damage could those things do?

What Does a Successful Risk Management Process Look Like?

Cybersecurity risk management systems are unique to each organization. Think about both the scope and the size of your business activities: What compliance requirements do you need to meet given those activities? What will the roles and responsibilities be for each staff member, and what technology will work best for your organization? 

Keep in mind the five functions of the cybersecurity framework developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. How can your organization best implement those capabilities? 

Mitigating cyber threats, data breaches, and downtimes is an important aspect of a solid cybersecurity framework. The objective is to strengthen your organization’s IT infrastructure and data management practices so that it’s extremely difficult to launch a cyberattack in the first place. Often this starts with a good firewall, a well-configured router, secure switches, VLANs, secure APIs, and good endpoint protections. In more secure environments it can also include threat detection appliances, threat response appliances, and even active monitoring from a specialized team.

What Does Risk Management Mean to Your Organization?

Implementing a risk management program is a great opportunity to examine your company and ask, “What’s important to us operationally? What do we need to perform our function?” Consider your assets and determine how they’re integrated with other systems. For example, a domain controller is important because, without it, users can’t log into the domain, file servers are inaccessible, and businesses grind to a halt. Therefore, the asset is highly valuable and the company should have a secondary system to fall back upon should the controller fail.

Don’t overlook the importance of company culture, either. People are the largest risk to information security. Staff should be trained to identify potential threats, report them, and avoid them. By distributing the responsibility of cybersecurity in this way, an organization stands a better chance of avoiding attack. The business should implement an acceptable use policy, have an identity and access controls, enact a security policy, enforce separation of duties, and abide by the principle of least privilege—where you have access to the data you need, and no more. You might also want to consider enterprise risk management (ERM) to examine the company as a whole and make sure that employees at every level are aware of potential data breaches and response protocols.

The importance of a well-planned cybersecurity risk management program is equal to the value of the enterprise it stands to protect. By taking the time to examine your company’s structure and needs, you’ll assure that your investment is a sound one.