How To Perform a Cyber Security Risk Assessment?

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Apr 01, 2024

Cyber Security Risk Assessment

Digital assets and data are the lifeblood of every organization today. But as with everything precious, they’re constantly at risk of being unlawfully accessed, tampered with, stolen, or transmitted. Such malicious actions can not only cause irreparable harm and damage to the organization but can severely hamper future business prospects. 

Cyber risk assessments are periodical checks that identify new areas of risk, verify if older risks identified from previous incidents or risk exercises were resolved, and detail remediation action plans. These exercises also help pinpoint the type of assets that are most at risk from cyber threats. 

While this may seem straightforward, cyber risk assessments are chaotic, if not cumbersome, especially if security teams don’t have a framework or process to guide them.

In this blog, we run you through the cyber security risk assessment process, what it entails, its benefits, and a downloadable checklist to help you get started.

What is cyber security risk assessment?

Cyber security risk assessment is a way to check the threats to your organization’s IT systems and data and how well you can protect them from cyber-attacks.

Doing these assessments can bring lots of benefits from a security perspective. They can help meet operational needs, boost resilience and cyber security, and even meet requirements for cyber insurance coverage. Organizations need to do these assessments regularly to understand how secure they are.

What does a cybersecurity risk assessment include?

Cyber security risk assessment identifies the data and critical systems a cyber attack can impact. Hardware, systems, laptops, customer data, and intellectual property are some of these assets. Once that information is established, the assessment looks for the risk to those critical assets.

Here is a small list of what is included in the cybersecurity risk assessments:

  • Asset identification and classification
  • Threat identification
  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Impact analysis
  • Risk scoring
  • Security control strategy
  • Cybersecurity strategy
  • Compliance assessment
  • Incident response plan
  • Recovery plan
  • Ongoing risk mitigation
  • Documenting and reporting
  • Risk communication
  • Security training and awareness

Steps to perform cyber security risk assessment

Before we begin the cyber security risk assessment, let’s drill down to the basics of understanding your data and infrastructure. The process starts with a self-evaluation. Here are some questions you need to ask of your organization before getting started:

  • What types of data do you collect?
  • How and where is your data stored?
  • What measures are in place to safeguard and document the data?
  • How long is the data retained?
  • Who (internally and externally) has access to the data?
  • Is physical storage adequately secure? 
  • What specific risk am I mitigating?
  • Is this risk the most critical security concern?
  • Am I mitigating the risk in the most economical manner possible?

Why is this self-evaluation necessary?

A self-evaluation will help you address the importance of the data you’re safeguarding and enhance your understanding of the information risk management process within the context of your business requirements.

Note:

Choose a methodology for conducting the cyber security threat assessment. This may include using industry best practices, frameworks like NIST or ISO, or custom methodologies tailored to your organization’s needs.

Now, let’s take a look at the steps necessary to perform a cybersecurity risk assessment:

1. Identify your asset’s vulnerabilities

In 2021, it was found that 18% of cyber attacks exploited vulnerabilities identified as far back as 2013 or earlier. The research further indicates that 84% of companies that harbor high-risk vulnerabilities could have been easily rectified through a simple software update.

This is why it’s important to catalog your asset vulnerabilities first.

Here, the cataloging includes your hardware, software, interfaces, vendor access, and services. By doing so, you can identify potential threats quickly.

Once you’ve narrowed your focus to a specific asset type, examine its interactions with all other assets, data, and devices within your network. 

This approach ensures that your security teams fully understand your network’s loopholes.

2. Narrow down cyber threats

According to IBM Research, over 8 types of adversarial threats can arise in different forms, triggering catastrophic interruptions worldwide. It is important to evaluate and notice the risks to your business, considering their consequences.

Take, for example, a denial-of-service (DoS) attack where fake traffic is generated and sent to an unacceptable level forcing a website, application, or system to become either slow or completely shut down to the legitimate traffic. 

If your website or the users are getting loads of traffic, this attack can reverse the economic self-sustenance of the business or can stop your business permanently.

This is why you need to identify potential threats and assess their likelihood of occurrence. Make sure to recognize the sources of threats from cybercriminals and understand their methods to compromise data.

For example,

Phishing AttacksLikelihood – High
Malware InfectionsLikelihood – Moderate to High
Insider Threats Likelihood – Moderate
DDoS AttacksLikelihood – Moderate
Data Breaches Likelihood – Moderate to High
Zero-Day Exploits: Likelihood – Moderate to High
Social Engineering AttacksLikelihood – Moderate

3. Identify what “could” happen

In the above section, we have discussed what “could” potentially be a risk to your business. Now, it’s time to move on to the vulnerabilities you will likely face one way or another.

Basically, a vulnerability is a weak point within your system’s security that a threat can exploit to breach your organization’s defenses, cause harm, or gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. 

You can find them through:

  • A vulnerability analysis
  • Audit reports
  • National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) vulnerability database
  • Information from your vendors
  • Incident response teams
  • Software security analysis

4. Create an assessment team

Put together an assessment team member, including internal staff or third-party consultants, who will conduct the cyber security threat assessment. Key roles within the team include the risk manager, assessment team leader, risk assessors, and subject matter experts. 

5. Analyze your controls and assign responsibilities

During this phase of the risk assessment process, thoroughly analyze your existing controls and determine if any new ones need to be implemented. Controls can take various forms, including technical solutions like software, encryption, and non-technical measures such as security policies or physical safeguards.

To strengthen your cyber security posture, consider deploying technical controls like encryption, security policies, continuous data leak detection, and multi-factor authentication. These measures can help mitigate physical vulnerabilities and defend against potential threats.

Also, assign ownership of each control to individuals or teams within the organization. The responsible parties should have the necessary expertise and authority to implement and maintain the controls effectively. 

Analyze controls with Sprinto

With Sprinto, analyzing controls is simplified and streamlined. Our automated controls mapping feature eliminates the manual effort and the associated human error. The time saved is incalculable. 

You’ll be able to categorize production and non-production assets and define your security criteria by asset type or group. You might, for instance, designate certain non-production assets that are out of scope for your audit to ensure a more efficient assessment process. 

6. Calculate the likelihood and risk impact

When assessing potential risks, businesses often rely on a simple equation to identify security gaps:

Risk = Likelihood * Impact

In essence, this equation quantifies the total risk exposure by considering both the probability of an event occurring and the potential damage it could cause.

This is why you need to consider the possibility of facing such events and evaluate their potential impact if they occur successfully. 

When you calculate the likelihood and impact of these risks, you can make informed decisions about how much resources to allocate towards mitigating each identified cyber risk.

7. Notify your stakeholders 

Once the risk assessment is complete, promptly communicate the results to relevant stakeholders. This includes senior management, IT teams, and other departments or individuals affected by the findings. In the notification, summarize the assessment methodology, key findings, identified risks, and recommended mitigation strategies. 

8. Develop a risk mitigation plan

Risk mitigation strategies should be monitored as an ongoing process. As new cybersecurity threats emerge and the risk landscape evolves, companies should continually evaluate and update their strategies as necessary.

Once risks are identified and assessed, mitigation strategies to address them should be developed. Mitigation strategies include implementing detective controls to reduce the likelihood of risks occurring.

Easy automated risk insights. Speak to our experts

9. Monitor the risk mitigation strategy

Once devised, the risk mitigation plan needs implementation and ongoing monitoring to verify its effectiveness. This entails regular reviews and potential adjustments to adapt to changes in the threat landscape.

To address this challenge, employ a blend of continuous monitoring techniques. Integrate tools that offer real-time continuous monitoring of risk and strength of controls—Sprinto is one such tool that provides comprehensive visibility into vulnerable endpoints and promptly identifies newly added assets.

Once anomalies are detected, it sends automated alerts to the respective person to address the issue.

Which companies require cybersecurity risk assessment?

All organizations require cybersecurity risk assessments regardless of their size or industry. With almost every organization relying on IT resources in some capacity, the need to assess and manage cybersecurity risks is universal. 

While the scale and frequency of these assessments may vary depending on the organization’s size and complexity, having a cybersecurity risk assessment plan in place is essential for protecting sensitive data, maintaining operational resilience, and safeguarding against cyber threats.

Benefits of performing risk assessment in cyber security

There are several benefits of performing risk assessments in cybersecurity. Back in 2018, Marriott International experienced one of the largest breaches of this century when over 500 million customers had their personal information stolen. 

The consequences of the breach were profound. Marriott struggled with several lawsuits as well as settlements and regulatory fines. Notably, the company faced a massive $124 million settlement last July, marking the largest fine ever imposed under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) at the time.

Now, if they had a proper risk assessment plan, Marriort could have avoided the breach, and the mitigation plan could have been simple.

Hence, if you don’t want to be the next in line for this, here are some of the benefits of counting a cybersecurity assessment:

  • A security risk assessment provides a means for identifying weaknesses in a system. The breakdown here might be found in a lack of proper security protocols, human errors as simple as clicking on a phishing link, or shortcomings in the firewall system itself. 
  • When you know and understand the potential threats, you can take countermeasures that are designed to limit any casualty should a successful attack materialize. This sort of iterative process can occur when you begin, or it can be part of your annual review. 
  • It allows you to measure the productiveness of your security measures; then, you may adjust and augment these so that they will all better safeguard the technology assets for which all people work in an organization.
  • A cybersecurity assessment can pinpoint areas where compliance requirements are unfulfilled, enabling your business leaders to develop more robust policies. These policies can better monitor compliance and address individuals or departments that frequently fail to meet standards.

Get a real time view of risks

Cyber security risk assessment made easy

A good risk management requires making evaluative judgments about risks within the business context and comparing them to common benchmarks. Without this effective approach, your cyber security risk assessment becomes intuitive, filled with assumptions, and disconnected from reality.

Sprinto, a compliance automation and risk management platform, enables you to assess and visualize the actual impact of security risks using trusted industry benchmarks. This allows you to address risks confidently, prioritize them effectively, and manage them systematically. With Sprinto, you identify risks early and do away with any oversight resulting in assuming more liability than necessary.

Ready to take the first step? Book a call with us to know more.

FAQs

What is a cyber risk?

Cyber risk is the probability of experiencing adverse security incidents that can disrupt sensitive data, financial assets, or business operations online. These risks are often linked to events that may lead to a data breach.

What are cyber risk examples?

Some of the common risk examples from threat actors are phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, social engineering attacks, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and Denial-of-Service attacks.

What is the formula for risk?

The formula for risk is “Risk = Likelihood × Impact.”

How do you calculate your level of risk?

The higher the likelihood and severity of harm, the greater the risk level. Before you can manage risk effectively, you must understand its level. Risk is calculated by multiplying the likelihood of harm by its severity.

What is the first step in performing a security risk assessment?

The first step in performing a security risk assessment is to determine the scope—identify which parts of the organization and which systems need to be assessed.

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Meeba, an ISC2-certified cybersecurity specialist, passionately decodes and delivers impactful content on compliance and complex digital security matters. Adept at transforming intricate concepts into accessible insights, she’s committed to enlightening readers. Off the clock, she can be found with her nose in the latest thriller novel or exploring new haunts in the city.

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