Performing a Cyber Risk Assessment

Woman performing a cyber risk assessment

Performing a Cyber Risk Assessment

Cyber Risk Assessments

Risk assessments are crucial to any organization’s risk management strategy. A cyber risk assessment functions to identify information assets that could be impacted by a cyberattack and what risks are possible for each asset identified. These assessments are necessary for staff to be able to manage cyber threats by helping them understand both existing and potential risks, and how to best mitigate them.

The Necessity

According to the Herjavec Group, cybercriminal activity is expected to be one of the largest challenges humanity faces in the next two decades. Why? We simply aren’t prepared. It’s a quickly evolving field and security technology is struggling to keep up. Cybersecurity Ventures even predicts that cybercrime will end up costing the world over $6 trillion annually by 2021. This is double the cost from 2015, just 5 years ago.

Potential impacts on organizations range from data theft to productivity loss. The result is a hit to the bottom line, whether data is held for ransom, the company suffers reputational damage, or non-compliance fines are issued. The necessity for thorough cyber risk assessments is evident. 

As assessments are completed, future assessments will become easier to perform as well since you will have a template to follow and predetermined focus points. Sticker shock and scare tactics aside, there are major benefits to performing cyber risk assessments.

Improved Communication

A thorough cyber risk assessment requires employees from different departments to communicate. This effectively increases organizational visibility and awareness, contributing to a risk-aware culture.

Better Self-Awareness

Knowing exactly where your organization’s weaknesses lie is key to growth. Accurately pinpointing where to direct resources helps your business to improve and expand, because being in tune with your weaknesses also reveals your strengths.

Prevent Future Incidents

Data breaches, data loss, regulatory issues – none of them sound like a good time. The act of identifying and mitigating identified risks contributes to long-term security.  This prevents disruptions to work and helps remove the element of the unknown from business planning. The cost savings from preventing incidents is also very attractive to most, if not all, organizations. 

Who’s Responsible for Cyber Security?

This is often a question we’re asked by larger companies who need to distribute work to the proper employees. The truth is, everyone should take responsibility in part. Yes, your security or IT teams may take charge of leading the assessment and evaluation, but its truly a collective effort that makes your assessment successful. While evaluating other departments, you’ll need to work with them to understand different job functions. This helps when your data shows that you need to adjust a practice or find a new way of meeting the same end result. Hands-on knowledge combined with IT’s understanding of the company’s network infrastructure and systems will contribute to a comprehensive assessment.

Each department will naturally treat risks independently, based on its main function. Using a cybersecurity framework and working together with each department ensures cyber risks are being examined holistically.

How to Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment

If you’re familiar with a typical assessment, the steps for a cyber risk assessment shouldn’t be too foreign to you. To simplify the process, we will group the assessment into three main categories.The Risk Management Process

  1. Determine Scope and Identify

This is essentially “assessment prep.” First, determine the scope of the assessment. A cyber assessment is still very broad, so you need to determine the purpose of your assessment, which systems or processes you’re evaluating, what infrastructure you’re trying to protect, etc.

Identify your contacts for each location or department that will be answering your requests for information. You should have noted all company hardware, network diagrams, existing policies, and any industry standard or regulation questions that need to be addressed.

  1. Assess and Calculate

Next, you’ll evaluate the critical systems, processes, and assets that you identified in phase one. Review vulnerabilities and determine both the likelihood and probability of each risk occurring based on internal and third-party data. Then, determine the potential impact of those risks, if they did occur. Using the information you’ve collected, you should be able to calculate individual risk scores. Once you’ve completed your assessment(s), these risk scores will show a heat map of risk across your organization. This data can be further grouped into categories for a more clear picture of risk. It’s also important to quantify and score your current state of risk so you have benchmarks for future assessments. Since most organizations don’t have an unlimited budget for cybersecurity, you need risk scoring to protect your most critical assets.

  1. Review and Make Changes

After reviewing your assessment data, you’ll have a clear picture of your most pressing problem areas and how resources should be directed. Define targets within budget and set deadlines for changes prior to the next assessment. You’ll start to prioritize initiatives and implement system changes and policies. Report on all assessment findings, and changes taken. Present your reports to management, file them as proof of assessment (in case of an audit, for example), and save them for comparison with future assessments to ensure risk is reducing.

Cyber Risk Assessment Automation

Hopefully, we’ve detailed how you should get started – but there is a lot more detail to delve into, which unfortunately is pretty dependent on your organization and industry. No matter the assessment, it’s a lot of work. This is why we recommend using software to automate your assessment functions.

For starters, a proper risk assessment software will have a built-in grading system so you can easily evaluate company risks. The software should also make it easy to collaborate with coworkers. As we mentioned, this is a team effort. Simply assigning your designated staff their specific questions and granting access will save you hours of emailing and follow-up. The last major focus should be on automated reporting. Assessment software will have charts and graphs that easily show risk across the company, progress on assessments, levels of compliance, etc. RiskWatch even has a customizable reporting template, because we know creating C-level reports take hours to complete. Just select which assessment data you want to be included and customize the layout and brand colors.

Have a cyber assessment coming up? Use CyberWatch – its free! Your first 3 assessments are on us. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a cybersecurity framework for best practices, and we offer this as one of our free content libraries.