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3 Templates for a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Assessment


What is a Cybersecurity Assessment?

Information security risk assessments are increasingly replacing checkbox compliance as the foundation for an effective cybersecurity program. As more executive teams and Boards take greater interest and concern around the enterprise's security posture, effectively managing internal and external risks and reporting out has become a core tenet of a CISO's job description.

Cybersecurity risk assessments are the foundation of a cyber risk management strategy and efficient risk responses. Understanding where the organization stands regarding potential threats and vulnerabilities specific to the enterprise’s information systems and critical assets is essential. Vulnerability assessments, both as a baselining method and as a means to track risk mitigation, guide both the security strategy and, as we’re starting to see, the strategy for the enterprise as a whole. Deciding on a framework to guide the data protection and risk management process to conduct this critical function can seem daunting. However, we’ll dive into the top cyber security risk assessment models your organization can leverage to ensure that this process aligns with your business operations and helps you proactively assess cyber threats.

Cyber Security Risk Assessment Templates

What most people think of when they hear “template” is almost incongruous with the notion of risk. What caused the shift from compliance-based to risk-focused cybersecurity project management was the need for a more tailored approach to treating risks, identified risks, and potential impacts specific to the organization that may not have been considered by the governing body that created the compliance requirement.

However, there is good news; in the context of security assessments, many gold-standard frameworks that organizations already have in place or are working to adopt include guidance to assess the impact and likelihood of risk to the organization as it relates to cyber and IT.

CIS Risk Assessment Method (RAM)

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) is a leading cybersecurity research organization responsible for creating the popular CIS Top 20 Security Controls. The CIS Risk Assessment Method was initially developed by HALOCK Security Labs, after which HALOCK approached CIS to make the framework more widely available. Version 1.0 of the CIS RAM was published in 2018. The CIS RAM leverages other industry standards from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which have their own risk assessment program template that we will touch on in this article.

Based on the Duty of Care Risk Analysis (DOCRA) that many regulatory bodies rely on to ensure that organizations deliver reasonable risk management plan templates to protect their customers and vendors, the CIS RAM aligns with the CIS Controls. He uses a simplified risk statement to benchmark the level of risk associated and determine a viable safeguard to mitigate risk.

3 Templates for a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Risk Assessment


The CIS RAM uses a tiered method based on the organization's goals and maturity to reduce risk. Again, the CIS RAM tiers align with implementation tiers seen in other frameworks (e.g., the NIST CSF Implementation Tiers). Overall, if your organization leverages the CIS Controls, the CIS RAM can be a good fit. However, should your organization rely on frameworks and standards from NIST or ISO, aligning your security threat assessment reporting to their respective project plans might make more sense.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework/Risk Management Framework Risk Assessment

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) outlined its guidelines for risk assessment processes in Special Publication 800-30. The guidance has been widely applied across industries and company sizes, primarily because the popular NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) recommends SP 800-30 as the risk assessment methodology.

The sizeable supporting body of work that comes with it is the value of using NIST SP 800-30 as a cyber risk assessment template. NIST has developed a robust ecosystem of guidance and supporting documentation to guide organizations as regulated as the United States federal government. Still, the guidance has been applied across organizations of all industries and sizes.

Similar to the CIS RAM, NIST SP 800-30 uses a hierarchical model but, in this case, to indicate the extent to which the results of a risk assessment inform the organization. Each tier, from one through three, expands to include more organizational stakeholders.

Developed to support the NIST Risk Management Framework and NIST Cybersecurity Framework, SP 800-30 is a management template best suited for organizations required to meet standards built from the NIST CSF or other NIST publications (e.g., defense and aerospace organizations, federal organizations, and contractors).

ISO 27000 Risk Assessment Methodology

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)’s 27000 series documentation for risk management, specifically ISO 27005, supports organizations using ISO’s cybersecurity frameworks to build a risk-based cybersecurity program.

Like NIST SP 800-30, using the ISO guidance is the most beneficial for organizations pursuing or maintaining an ISO 27001 certification.

Choosing the Right Cybersecurity Assessment Approach

Information technology leaders must use the most effective and efficient risk assessment approach to safeguard business continuity. Regulatory frameworks and standards often require an internal audit risk assessment with allusions and recommendations (i.e., PCI DSS). Managing risk so that risk and compliance teams' efforts align is critical. Streamlining the assessment process for both teams ensures a single source of truth for the entire organization and makes risk assessment reporting much easier. A tool like a cybersecurity risk register is a centralized record of identified cybersecurity threats that can be managed and tracked for all business units to use within risk treatment plans.

Check out our guide to cyber risk analysis and how it can enhance security and business operations.

Ultimately, alignment and utility are the most critical factors when deciding on a cybersecurity program assessment methodology. As we discussed, ensuring that each risk team member is aligned with your compliance team is essential. In this case, utility speaks to ensuring that your risk and data security teams are collecting information so that leaders can effectively use that data collected to make informed decisions and proactively prevent cyber attacks. With more business leaders requiring greater insight into the cybersecurity posture of the enterprise as well as third-party risk, ensuring that security leaders can be transparent and clear in their reporting is no longer optional.

In the CyberStrong platform, risk and compliance are completely aligned at the control level in real-time, enabling risk and compliance teams to collect data at the same level of granularity in an integrated approach. For more information on the CyberStrong platform or any questions regarding your following risk assessment, please don’t hesitate to reach out or request a demo.

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