Business Cyber Security

How to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment in 5 Steps

Today the biggest, most damaging, and widespread threat facing many organizations worldwide is the threat of cyber-attacks. Recent studies reveal cybercrime is up 600% due to the COVID-19, and the increased adoption of remote working has introduced new vulnerabilities. Notably, experts are now warning a ransomware attack will occur every 11 seconds in 2021, up from 19 seconds a year ago.

No organization is immune to cyberattacks, and what separates resilient businesses from vulnerable victims is their level of risk management. Experts reveal that an effective way to achieve resilience and prepare adequately for any event is to perform a well-thought-out and executed routine cybersecurity risk assessment. This blog provides five easy steps to help organizations conduct a practical cybersecurity risk assessment for enhanced security.

What Is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

A cybersecurity assessment entails identifying the various information assets that could be affected by a cyberattack and identifying specific risks that could affect those assets. In essence, a cybersecurity assessment includes identifying, analyzing, and evaluating risks to determine whether the specific cybersecurity controls and techniques you choose are appropriate for the level of risk that your company faces. This assessment enables managers and their security teams to make informed decisions regarding the ideal security controls to minimize the risk and protect the organization.

Notably, organizations conduct a complete cybersecurity risk assessment to get a clear understanding of how massive the risks are and come up with methods to mitigate them. A risk assessment process also raises awareness within an organization and obligates everyone to adopt the best security practices, which eventually translates into a more risk-aware culture.

5 Steps to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

The following steps can help you effectively perform a highly productive cybersecurity risk assessment:

Step 1: Identify and Prioritize Assets

The first step to conducting a highly effective cybersecurity risk assessment is to define the extent of the risk assessment process. Depending on the size of your organization, you can plan an assessment that covers the entire company or some specific units, locations, or areas of a business like payment systems or web applications.

Before the assessment, ensure you get the full support of all stakeholders within the target areas of assessment, as their input is crucial to the success of the entire process. Additionally, take time to review essential standards and laws that provide guidelines and recommendations on successfully completing a risk assessment. These include:

Step 2: Identify Cybersecurity Risks/Threats

Ideally, you will only be proactive at protecting your assets when you know what you are up against. The following are essential tips to help you effectively identify risks/ threats facing your organization:

Inventory All Your Assets

Before you identify the kinds of risks and threats facing your organization, it is crucial to create a list of all physical and logical assets that fall within the scope of your cybersecurity assessment. Single out the most valuable assets critical to the business and probably the primary targets of attackers. These include the databases containing sensitive employee and client details or financial systems containing highly sensitive company information. Others are digital files, storage devices, laptops, and hard drives with vital financial data and intellectual property information.

Identify the Threats

Simply put, a threat is anything with the potential to harm your organization. Although cyber-attacks are a leading form of threat, there are other types of threats to watch out for. Common threats include:

  • Unauthorized assess: These include direct attack, malware infection, phishing, or internal threats
  • Abuse of privileges: Abuse of privileges entails misuse of information by an authorized user. This may take the form of unapproved access and usage of data. It could also entail changes made without approval.
  • Data leakage: Includes the use of unencrypted USB or the use of CD-ROM without restriction. It also entails the transmission of Non-Public Personal Information (NPPI) over unsecured channels and unintentionally sending sensitive information to the wrong recipient.
  • Loss of data: Data loss can be due to a lack of backup process or poorly executed backup strategies.
  • Natural disasters: These include risks of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and other natural disasters that could destroy servers, data, and appliances.
  • Hardware failure: Ideally, the chances for hardware to fail largely depend on the quality and age of the machine and servers. Modern, high-quality equipment poses a minimal risk of failure.

Step 3: Analyze the Risks and Identify Their Impact

Your next step is to analyze the risks identified in step 2 to determine their likelihood of a risk occurring and the impact it will likely have on your organization if it happens.

Examples of likelihood ratings include:

  • High: A high risk implies the threat source is extremely motivated and highly capable of executing the threat. It also suggests that current controls to mitigate the vulnerability from being exercised are missing or ineffective.
  • Medium: A medium risk is where the threat source is still motivated and capable, however, controls to mitigate and prevent the threat from being exercised successfully are in place
  • Low: Low risk is a threat source that doesn’t have the motivation and capabilities. It also suggests controls are already in place to prevent the vulnerability from being exercised.

Step 4: Calculate and Prioritize the Risks

Use an agreeable formula to calculate the risks and prioritize them accordingly. One of the most commonly used equations to calculate the rating of the risk is the 5×5 risk matrix:

Impact (if exploited) * likelihood (of exploit in the assessed control environment) = risk rating

Typical examples of risk ratings include:

Severe: There is a massive and urgent threat to an organization. Risk reduction remediation actions should be undertaken immediately.

Elevated: A potential threat to an organization exists. Complete risk remediation actions within a reasonable period.

Low: Normal and acceptable threats exist. However, they could still impact the organization. Implement additional security measures to boost the protection against potential and undetected threats.

Essentially, any scenario above an agreed-upon risk level should be prioritized for urgent remediation action that brings the risk to a tolerance level. Some of the corrective actions to mitigate the risks include:

  • Avoid: Discontinue an activity if it is determined the risk outweighs the benefits
  • Transfer: You can minimize risk by sharing portions of the risk with other parties. This includes getting cyber insurance and outsourcing some operations to certified third parties.
  • Mitigate: This is the most commonly used method to resolve risks facing organizations. It involves deploying security controls and other measures that help reduce the chance and impact of the risk level.

Step 5: Document Risks

It is crucial to create a cybersecurity risk assessment report covering all the identified risk levels. A risk assessment report helps the management make appropriate decisions regarding cybersecurity budgets, policies, and procedures. In your report, include the following:

  • Each identified threat
  • The corresponding vulnerabilities,
  • The asset at risk
  • The impact of the risk if it occurs
  • The likelihood of occurrence
  • The control recommendations

Get Professional Help to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

Doing a cybersecurity risk assessment to help protect your infrastructure may seem a complicated and time-consuming process. However, risk assessment is undeniably the most powerful tool that can help organizations effectively eliminate the chances of being attacked by cybercriminals. If you turn your cybersecurity assessment into an ongoing and more deliberate activity, it could make a huge difference in the improvement of your cybersecurity posture.

Unfortunately, conductive and effective cybersecurity assessment can be a complex procedure. Importantly, not all organizations have the skills, tools, and time to complete this crucial process effectively. It pays to have someone dependable in your corner to help you with the steps outlined above.

If you have further questions or need help to get started, don’t hesitate to DSS IT today. Our cybersecurity professionals boast extensive experience, skills, and modern tools to identify and mitigate the risks facing your organization. Contact us today to learn more.

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