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Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Guide

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When a cyber-attack occurs, the impact on a company, its customers, and the data involved is often devastating. Severe blows are dealt with a business’s bottom line, its reputation, and its very ability to continue operating, or for these reasons, preventing breaches and other security incidents must be a primary priority for all IT and management teams.

To that end, conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment is an important introductory step. If done correctly, it can provide the stakeholders in your organization with the information they need to identify vulnerabilities and risks and secure your systems and other assets.

The Foundations of a Cyber Risk Assessment

Before undertaking this multi-faceted, evaluative process of cybersecurity risk assessment, it is important to gain an understanding of the concept of risk. This term refers to the likelihood of damage to your company’s finances or reputation should a particular incident occur. In general, the risk is measured as being low, medium, or high. When undergoing a cyber risk analysis, the tasks before you involve identifying a threat, determining how vulnerable your system is, and the negative consequences that would ensue if the worst happened and the breach occurred.
Cybersecurity assessments enable stakeholders to make informed decisions pertaining to the organization’s risk response program. In order to gain a strong foothold on this information, your management team should ask the following questions:

  • What hardware, software, and other assets are most important to your company’s work and operations?
  • What potential breaches, both from inside and outside of the organization, would do the most damage and compromise your ability to function?
  • What are the most serious threats to your data and systems infrastructure, and where do they come from?
  • What internal and external weaknesses in your equipment, protocols, practices, and procedures increase the possibility of a cybersecurity incident?
  • What would happen in the event that your vulnerabilities are exploited?
  • On a scale ranging from low to high, what is the likelihood that someone will take advantage of your organization’s infrastructure weaknesses?
  • What risk level is your organization willing to tolerate?

By carefully considering these questions and arriving at honest answers, your team can institute security controls to manage and safeguard your systems environment, eliminating the likelihood of the most pressing threats and mitigating the severity of the incidents that you are willing to tolerate.


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Why Should You Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

There are numerous, compelling reasons why you should take the time to conduct an information security risk assessment. They include the following:

  • Mitigating weaknesses and potential threats often mean that you can avoid the stress and financial expense of a breach, enabling your company to allocate the funds you have saved to other important areas.
  • It furnishes you with a cybersecurity risk assessment template. Once you have this document in hand, you can use it over and over again to provide stakeholders with frequent monitoring feedback.
  • This ongoing vulnerabilities assessment keeps you informed about the internal workings of your organization and aware of changes as they occur.
  • It helps you to minimize the likelihood and severity of data breaches.
  • It enables you to comply with industry regulations such as PCI DSS and NIST.
  • It assists you in protecting your assets. Keeping programs, intellectual property and other types of data secure from hackers is a vital promise that you make to your customers. Knowing the threats and reducing them as much as possible helps to keep this information safe.
  • It supports and enhances communication and information flow among stakeholders and departments company-wide.
  • It enables your business to get cyber insurance, which has become a must in most industries.

How to Conduct a Cyber Risk Assessment

Companies with significant internal resources can often utilize their own personnel to take them through this step-by-step process while smaller entities may wish to outsource the job to a third-party expert. Regardless of which individuals perform it, this analysis involves the following essential components:
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  • Identify and classify the value of each of your assets. One way to accomplish this task is via a data audit. Useful measures it will employ include where it is stored, the financial or legal costs you would suffer if it is harmed, how easy it would be to replace or restore it, its value to your rivals, and the consequences to your bottom line or reputation if it was lost or compromised.
  • List all of your internal and external assets. These include networks, hardware, software, data, vendors, end-users, security policies and architecture, technical, physical, and environmental security controls and products.
  • Outline every known threat that could compromise your systems or data. Usually classified as either adversarial or non-adversarial, these include damage from natural disasters, unauthorized access, misuse or alteration of data by inside users, leaking of information to unauthorized parties, data loss, and service interruptions.
  • Specify the flaws in your security infrastructure that can turn the above threats into a reality. This essential information is obtained through internal and third-party reports, software and database analysis, and automated and human vulnerability scans.
  • Analyze all of the hardware, software, encryption, intrusion detection mechanisms, policies, and non-technical devices and procedures that have been put in place to prevent and detect intrusions.
  • Arrive at a dollar figure that your company is willing to spend in mitigating each identified risk on a yearly basis.
  • Determine corrective actions based on the identified risk levels for each event. Address high-risk threats before moving to mid-and low-level concerns.
  • Craft a cybersecurity risk assessment matrix. This document, designed to be a tool that can be used by management and other stakeholders for budgetary and decision-making purposes, enumerates each risk. For each, it lists the vulnerabilities that jeopardize it, its value, the likelihood that it will be endangered, the impact of a breach, and the security controls that have been enacted to protect it. You can then articulate a set of risk management cybersecurity policies, making sure to specify the frequency with which you will use it to assess your services and security infrastructure.

Securing your vital assets against attack should be one of your IT and management teams’ highest priorities. The cybersecurity risk assessment framework is an indispensable tool for businesses of all sizes. The more your team uses it to identify the threats that face your infrastructure as well as the best ways to mitigate each vulnerability, the more this means of assessment will help to elevate your company in the eyes of your investors and customers.

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