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3 Templates for a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

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What is a Cyber Risk 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 security posture of the enterprise, effectively managing both internal and external risks and reporting out has become a core tenet of a CISOs job description.

Cybersecurity risk assessments are the foundation of a risk management strategy. Understanding where the organization stands as it relates to potential threats and vulnerabilities specific to the enterprise’s information systems and critical assets is essential. Risk assessments both as a baselining method and as a means to track risk mitigation guide both the security strategy as well as, as we’re starting to see, the strategy for the enterprise as a whole. Deciding on a framework to guide the risk management process to conduct this critical function can seem daunting, however, we’ll dive into the top risk assessment templates that your organization can leverage to ensure that this process aligns with your organization and business objectives.

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 program management was the need for a more tailored approach to address the risks 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 risk assessments, many gold-standard frameworks that organizations already have in place or are working to adopt include guidance to assess the 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 and responsible for the creation of the popular CIS Top 20 Security Controls. The CIS Risk Assessment Method was originally developed by HALOCK Security Labs, after which HALOCK approached CIS to make the framework more widely available and 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), both of which have their own risk assessment frameworks that we will be touching on in this article.

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

The CIS RAM uses a tiered method based on the goals and maturity of the organization to reduce the risk. Again the CIS RAM tiers align with implementation tiers seen in other frameworks (i.e. the NIST CSF Implementation Tiers). On the whole, 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 risk assessment process to their respective templates might make more sense.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework/Risk Management Framework Risk Assessment

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

The value of using NIST SP 800-30 as a cyber risk assessment template is the large supporting body of work that comes with it. NIST has developed a robust ecosystem of guidance and supporting documentation to guide organizations as regulated as the United States federal government but the guidance given 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; with each tier from one through three expanding to include more stakeholders across the organization.

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

ISO 27000 Risk Assessment

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

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

Choosing the Right Risk Assessment Approach for Your Organization

Information technology leaders must ensure that they are using the most effective and efficient risk assessment approach for their organization. In many cases, regulatory frameworks and standards require a risk assessment with allusions and recommendations (i.e. PCI DSS). Managing risk such that the efforts of risk teams and compliance teams align is critical - streamlining the assessment process for both teams ensures that there is a single source of truth for the entire organization and makes risk assessment reporting that much easier.

In the end, the most important factor to consider when deciding on a risk assessment methodology is alignment and utility. As we discussed, ensuring that your risk teams are aligned with your compliance teams is essential. Utility, in this case, speaks to ensuring that your risk and data security teams are collecting information in such a way that leaders can effectively use that data collected to make informed decisions. 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, 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 if you have any questions regarding your next risk assessment, please don’t hesitate to reach out or request a demo.

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