We often consider “how to defend ourselves” against cyber threats and attacks when discussing cybersecurity.
It is all about what to do to keep things secure and what to do when things go south. But how does one know that they will be targeted? What will they be attacked for? How much cost would it take to get the organization back on its feet after a cyberattack?
A cybersecurity risk assessment can answer all of these questions. Hence, the assessment is one of the crucial things when crafting a cybersecurity strategy.
What Is Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?
A cybersecurity risk assessment is a process that helps align an organization’s cybersecurity plan with its business goals and aims. It also helps understand the objectives better and evaluate the assets available/required to keep things afloat.
The assessment report will technically cover all kinds of things for its cybersecurity game. It can also enhance the organization’s cyber resilience.
Ranging from what the threats are to asset value and insurance coverages. All of this information should help the stakeholders and the administration to make an informed decision when there is a risk of a cyberattack (or after the incident).
Importance of Risk Assessment in Cybersecurity
With a risk assessment, you get a threat layout that helps you know the chances of getting attacked, the potential aim of malicious actors against your organization, and the damage it will do.
You are not limited to the types of threats against your organization but also be aware of what they can do and how it will affect the organization.
So, it gives you the whole picture of what you can do in case of a successful cyberattack against your business.
In other words, the cybersecurity risk assessment makes you realize the degree of risk associated with a cyberattack. And this helps the organization, its stakeholders, and any of the responsible peers of the organization to prepare themselves to minimize the risk and have a solid plan for everything.
Types of Risk Assessments
While the steps for cybersecurity risk assessments remain standard for the most part, the types of assessments differ.
The assessment type tells you what exactly the organization is focusing on for evaluating the security needs of its business.
#1. Generic Assessment
A questionnaire-based assessment deals with simple but effective things that reduce security risks.
For instance, the state of password policy, the type of firewall implemented, regular security patches, and authentication/encryption policies.
While this can be straightforward and hassle-free, it may not suit all kinds of organizations. This could suit an organization with limited assets and less sensitive data.
#2. Qualitative Risk Assessment
Qualitative risk assessment could be a little speculative, as it depends on who (an individual or a group of people) reviews and checks the background to discuss things like data breaches and financial risks.
It does not involve a special report but more of a “brainstorming” session for the top-level individuals responsible for the organization.
#3. Quantitative Risk Assessment
When considering quantitative assessment, we deal with data and insights and calculate the risk.
This assessment will help cover a wide range of things for bigger organizations, where the financial risk is higher and data assets are bigger and more valuable.
#4. Site-specific Risk Assessment
Site-specific risk assessment focuses on only one use case. Whether it is about one section of the organization or a particular location, you could consider this type of assessment niche-specific.
It only evaluates a particular network, a technology, and similar static things. You cannot expect this to be helpful for the rest of the organization.
#5. Dynamic Risk Assessment
Dynamic risk assessment confronts the risks that change in real-time.
For it to be effective, the organization has to monitor and tackle threats/attacks as they happen.
Steps to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment
The steps to perform the assessment depend on the organization and the resources they have to make it happen.
While it is almost the same, a few tweaks could exist for different organizations. For instance, the number of steps and how they categorize and prioritize each step.
Here, we discuss the nine steps allowing us to tackle all the nitty-gritty details, which should help you correctly make a cybersecurity risk assessment.
#1. Identify Your Assets
Identifying the assets in your organization is critical and should be the priority.
Assets may include hardware (laptops, phones, USB drives), software (free or licensed), files, PDF documents, infrastructure for electricity, and others like paper documents.
Every so often, you might have to include the online services the organizations depend on as one of the assets because those indirectly/directly influence some of the organization’s operations.
For instance, the cloud storage solution that you use to store documents.
#2. Identify Your Threats
As per your assets, you can identify the potential threats that would be associated with them.
But how do you do that? The easiest way is to keep up with the cyberthreat trends, and news. So, an organization can be aware of everything on the surface.
Next, they can use threat libraries, knowledge bases, and resources from the government or security agencies to learn about all kinds of cyber threats.
Ultimately, you can also take the help of frameworks like cyber kill chain to evaluate what steps you need to take to protect your assets from those threats.
#3. Assess Your Vulnerabilities
Now that you know your assets and their potential threats, how can an attacker gain access to them?
Of course, if your devices, network, or any asset has vulnerabilities, it could let a malicious actor exploit it to gain unauthorized access.
The vulnerabilities can be with an operating system on a laptop, a phone, a company portal website, or an online account. Anything can open up vulnerabilities. Even a simple password that is easy to break counts as a vulnerability.
Overall, whether it is something from within the system or something from outside, vulnerabilities can be anywhere. So, taking measures to eliminate common/known vulnerabilities should help.
#4. Calculate Your Risk
The risk is calculated per the asset’s threat, vulnerability, and value.
Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Value
When you assess risk, it refers to the probability of a threat affecting the organization.
It is no rocket science that the higher the probability, the higher the risk. But, it cannot be precisely predicted because the threat landscape continually changes.
So, the risk level should be calculated instead, which says how significant the risk is—if something is exploited. The level can be determined by discussing which asset is more valuable, and if the same asset gets compromised or stolen, what impact would it have on the organization?
This could vary between organizations. For instance, a PDF file for a specific company could be publicly available information, and for others, it could be highly confidential.
#5. Prioritize Your Risks
Once you have gauged the risk levels, it is easy to prioritize them.
What should you focus on protecting first? The type of attack that’s more likely to happen and the attack that may cause the most harm, right?
Like everything else, it can be subjective. But, if you can categorize the risks, you can have a priority order for them.
It can be one of the following:
You prioritize the risks as per the value associated with them.
Filter down the risks based on hardware, software, and other external factors like your vendors, shipping services, etc.
Filter the risks by predicting the future course of action if a certain risk becomes a reality.
Allow me to clarify the three points here:
If a risk is valued at $1 million, another risk bears a $1 billion value. Of course, the latter is put more focus on.
Next, if your business objectives depend on the hardware rather than external factors, you prioritize them more.
Similarly, if a particular risk needs a big undertaking, that should have a higher priority.
#6. Implement Controls
When we discuss implementing controls, it refers to the security measures that help manage the risks.
The controls could help reduce the risk and sometimes eliminate them.
Whether it is about enforcing access control, a strict password policy, or a firewall, all measures help you manage the risk.
#7. Monitor and Improve
All the assets, vulnerability patches, and potential risks must be monitored to identify any room for improvement.
Considering that cybersecurity threats evolve and can end up defeating a solid security strategy, it is essential that all the preparedness should be reviewed regularly.
Yes, security audits help, but one cannot stop monitoring after having good results in an audit.
If you do not monitor, you lower your guard against cyber threats.
#8. Compliance and Regulations
While completing a cybersecurity assessment naturally makes your organization adhere to specific standards and laws, you might want to check more about it.
You should not make your assessment per a compliance requirement, instead, make the assessment and then make tweaks to fulfill compliance requirements that let you operate without breaking any laws or standards.
For instance, HIPAA compliance is necessary if your organization deals with healthcare information in the United States.
You can explore the regulatory requirements in your business/organization’s geographical location and then work on them.
#9. Continuous Improvement
No matter how good the measures, controls, and threat research is—it always boils down to constant efforts to improve them.
If an organization does not want to re-review, improve, or make subtle changes to fix/enhance things, the cybersecurity strategy may fail sooner than expected.
Cybersecurity Risk Assessment is Essential
Cybersecurity risk assessment is crucial for all kinds of organizations.
Whether big or small, it relies on fewer online services or more; it matters. The assessment will help the administrator, stakeholders, or vendors associated with the organization know the resources needed to keep things safe and be ready to minimize damage after any cyberattack.
A computer science graduate with a passion to explore and write about various technologies. When he’s not writing, it is usually his cats who keep him busy.
Narendra Mohan Mittal
Narendra Mohan Mittal is a Senior Digital Branding Strategist and Content Editor with over 12 years of versatile experience. He holds an M-Tech (Gold Medalist) and B-Tech (Gold Medalist) in Computer Science & Engineering.