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Cyber Risk Management

Conducting Your First Risk Assessment in the Wake of a Data Breach


As digital adoption across industries increases, companies are facing increasing cybersecurity risks. Regardless of their size, cyber-attacks are a persistent threat that must be prioritized to safeguard business assets. 

Still not convinced? Take a look at some of the global cybersecurity statistics that further illustrate the pressing need to prioritize cybersecurity:

  • 39% of companies say they experienced a cybersecurity breach or attack once in the last 12 months.
  • According to a University of Maryland report, cybercriminals attack every 39 seconds.

Understanding what cyber risk is, how much is at risk, and how to manage risks and security solutions have become critically important for businesses. Security leaders can leverage this information by conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment

A risk assessment evaluates what assets are vulnerable to cyber risks. Routine risk assessments help leaders determine where security needs to be improved and where investment is required.

Believe it or not, risk assessments are performed more often than we think. In our daily lives, when we face challenges or setbacks, we assess what is vulnerable about our environment or self. Only after this assessment can we better prepare ourselves for the next challenge. 

The same goes for your company. After a data breach, it’s imperative to perform breach determination and regular risk assessments. This ensures that security leaders are always aware of what is vulnerable and can proactively monitor security gaps and threats.

How To Conduct A Cyber Security Risk Assessment?

Before running a risk assessment, security professionals should consider gold-standard frameworks like NIST and ISO (available through Cyberstrong) to help assess the impact and likelihood of risks to the organization and ensure controls are adequately monitored. 

Listed below is the four-step framework you need to conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment to help your company prevent and minimize costly security breaches and compliance issues:

Determine The Scope Of The Risk Assessment 

Before starting your cybersecurity risk assessment process, you must decide the scope, stakeholders involved, necessary resources, and laws you’ll have to follow.

  • Scope: From the processes and physical locations to functions and activities, define everything you include in risk assessment. Whether organization, business unit, or specific aspects such as web applications or payment processing, you should explain what’s included to plan and budget accurately
  • Stakeholders: Who is part of the risk-assessment process? Make sure all relevant stakeholders are on board. They will help you understand which processes and assets are more critical, identify risks, assess impacts, and define risk tolerance limits
  • Laws And Standards: Different industries and niches have specific legal requirements and standards, such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and Sarbanes-Oxley, that govern risks and workplace hazards. Plan your risk assessment keeping rules and regulations in mind to ensure compliance.

Identify Assets, Threats, And Vulnerabilities 

Identify Assets

How can you protect something you know nothing about? So, identify and form a comprehensive list of all logical and physical assets within your risk assessment scope. An asset can be databases, servers, key people, confidential documents like contracts, customer data, trade secrets, intellectual property, and SLAs. Not every asset is the same or has a similar value, so you must prioritize your assets.

For every asset, collect the following data where applicable:

  • Software
  • Hardware
  • Data
  • Interface
  • End-users
  • Support personnel
  • Purpose
  • Criticality
  • Functional requirements
  • Network topology
  • Environmental security
  • Information flow

Identify Threats

Threats are methods, techniques, and tactics utilized by malicious actors to damage or harm organizations’ assets. To determine potential threats and risks to assets, utilize reliable threat libraries (such as MITRE ATT&CK) and resources (like Cyber Threat Alliance) to have up-to-date, quality cyber-threat information.

In addition, security advisories and vendor reports from government bodies like CISA can be a perfect source of information on the latest threats in specific verticals, geographic regions, industries, or technologies. 

Identify Vulnerabilities 

Vulnerabilities are weak points that threat actors exploit to steal confidential data, breach security, or harm an organization. Your task is to identify what vulnerabilities threat actors can exploit and what actions you need to overcome or mitigate these threats. 

Organizations can easily find vulnerabilities using vulnerability analysis, vendor data, audit reports, security analysis, and the NIST vulnerability database. 

Risk Analysis 

Now you know the risk assessment scope, assets, threats, and vulnerabilities, it’s time to determine how likely cybersecurity risks will happen along with impacts. It’s not only whether you may experience these risks in the future but their odds for success. It’s crucial to calculate risk probabilities to reduce the likelihood of future events.

You can utilize these insights to identify how much resource investment you’ll need to mitigate identified cybersecurity risks. 

Identify & Prioritize Risks 

Use generic or pre-defined risk levels like high, medium, and low as a base and determine measures for senior-level management or any other responsible body to mitigate risks.

Here are a few general guidelines around cyber risk levels:

  • High Risk: Organizations need to develop corrective actions promptly 
  • Medium Risk: Companies should formulate corrective actions within a specific time (short-term plan)
  • Low Risk: Organizations need to determine whether to live with risks (acceptance) or implement corrective actions 

High cyber risks get top priority to mitigate in short-term plans. They can be accepted, reduced, or transferred. However, it’s increasingly complex than implementing recommended actions from the “Penetration Testing Report.”

Before you choose risk treatment actions, compare asset value and costs with risk-remedial measures to check whether preventive actions (controls) are worth investing in.

Often, preventive control expenses outweigh the asset’s overall costs, making a solid case for dropping the initiative. In such cases, organizations either accept risks or use compensating controls.   

Here are a few other things you should consider:

  • Organizational risk appetite
  • Organizational policies
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Regulations
  • Safety & reliability
  • Feasibility
  • Reputational damage
  • Control effectiveness

Why Use A Risk Assessment Template?

Looking for a way to overcome cyber-security threats and attacks? Look no further than risk assessment templates.

Risk assessment templates (documents) pinpoint and outline various cyber risks and threats. They help identify and tackle potential security threats before they occur so organizations can handle them properly. This help prevent revenue loss and reduces expensive downtime and ransom payments to cyber criminals. 

Wrapping Up

No matter the business type, risk assessments are crucial to reduce (or prevent) data breaches and security incidents and ensure compliance. By implementing these four risk assessment steps, you can effortlessly manage various potential risks to your organization.  

With CyberStrong, you can perform routine automated risk assessments and keep your company safe while recognizing cyber risks before they infiltrate your system. Contact us to learn more about CyberStrong’s automated risk assessment capabilities.

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