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5 Step Guide to a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

how to conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment

What is a cybersecurity risk assessment?

A Cybersecurity Risk Assessment is a comprehensive risk and gap analysis evaluation for an organization’s security posture. This assessment is designed to identify and assess potential risks and vulnerabilities, and prioritize risks to its information technology (IT) systems, processes, and policies.

The main objective of a cybersecurity risk assessment service is to provide recommendations and actionable insights to enhance security by identifying vulnerabilities for potential risk and threats. The findings of these assessments serve as a foundation for developing tailored security strategies and remediation for implementing necessary measures to enhance the organization’s resilience against cyber threats, ensuring the protection of sensitive data and critical assets.

There are many different frameworks and methodologies available in the realm of a security risk assessment, but a common objective unites them all: enhancing cybersecurity resilience.

Two of the more popular frameworks being:

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  This is an oft-repeated phrase that definitely applies to a security risk assessment. Many organizations don’t know where to begin when trying to start their cyber journey, and they often ask for a “pen test” or penetration test.

This is not a bad starting point, but … it’s not your best option for determining your current cybersecurity posture. A pen test may tell you that someone can or can’t get into your web application or infrastructure (sometimes!), but it won’t tell you if there’s a process to discover vulnerabilities before the code is deployed, or if you have other risks on the corporate information technology (IT) side that could lead to a compromise.

Consider these facts:

  • The average cost of a data breach for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) range upward of $120,000 to $1.24 million 
  • SMBs account for over 50% of all data breaches
  • About 50% of SMBs are not prepared for a data breach and/or have no cybersecurity measures in place at all
  • At least one open-source vulnerability is found in 84% of codebases
  • The keystone of all cybersecurity programs is a comprehensive cybersecurity assessment

If you haven’t had a security risk assessment recently, the time to do so is yesterday

Sitting duck without a cybersecurity risk assessment

The digital landscape grows more treacherous with the accelerated innovation of generative artificial intelligence and machine learning that offer advanced tools to cybercriminals that perfect phishing emails, deep fakes, malware deficiencies, etc.

SMBs are cyberattack targets precisely because they are low-hanging fruit. Cybercriminals are banking ― literally ― on SMBs to have weaker cybersecurity architecture that is penetrated easily.

Don’t be one of them.

Security gaps all have one thing in common: lack of visibility. Simply put, you can’t protect what you can’t see. A cyber risk assessment equals visibility and visibility equals trust.

Whether you are ready to build a stalwart cybersecurity program to protect your assets and reputation, need to meet compliance regulations, or show your security posture for an audit or questionnaire, a thorough comprehensive cybersecurity risk and vulnerability assessment is critical.

Ok, so now that you know you need a cybersecurity risk assessment … Now what?

How do you perform a cybersecurity risk assessment?

1. How to conduct a security assessment: discovery – take inventory

The first step of a risk assessment or security audit is inventory. Take an in-depth review and catalog existing policies, procedures, and tools already in place across departments within your entire organization, encompassing all business units and stakeholders. By evaluating what your organization currently utilizes, you can see gaps that may exist between intent and actual implementation. This inventory is the first step in a comprehensive assessment process that will involve multiple stages, including testing and evaluating security controls, assembling a core assessment team, determining the scope of the assessment, identifying, analyzing, and evaluating risks, obtaining a signed attestation, and aligning with cybersecurity compliance frameworks. Conducting an information security risk assessment is crucial, highlighting the need for additional resources and budget dedicated to information security processes. Furthermore, security risk assessments focus on identifying threats to information systems, networks, and data, and emphasize the importance of conducting risk assessments regularly and in response to organizational changes.

2. Analysis of risk assessments – Determine system vulnerabilities

Next, run an evaluation that:

  • Determines threats to your organization and helps identify vulnerabilities. Utilizing tools like the MITRE ATT&CK Framework not only determines specific threats to your organization but also plays a crucial role in the risk analysis process by pinpointing weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers. Incorporate penetration testing to simulate real-world attacks and identify potential vulnerabilities in your systems.
  • Probes your existing attack surface, network infrastructure, and cloud environment for gaps an attacker could use to their advantage.
  • Analyzes publicly available data (aka open-source intelligence or OSINT) to see what public information your company is presenting externally that may leave you vulnerable.
  • Analyzes security or compliance frameworks for potential gaps against compliance and security baselines, focusing on evaluating and testing security controls to ensure they meet industry standards and protect against evolving cyber threats (e.g., CIS-18, NIST 800-53, and ISO 270001).

Conducting a comprehensive risk analysis is crucial for condensing the findings from these evaluations into a prioritized remediation plan. A risk matrix is then used to compare the likelihood of exploitation against the severity of potential damage from a successful attack, helping to visualize and prioritize the remediation plan effectively.

3. Investigation of security risks ― talk to your humans

To ensure a thorough security risk assessment focus, conduct 1:1 interviews with key members of departments across your organization to collect intelligence on identifying threats to information systems, networks, and data, and evaluating the potential consequences. This approach helps in collecting critical data on process workflows and the assets required to support data governance and the physical security of facilities where critical data is located.

Conducting a security gap analysis can help identify areas where your security measures may be lacking and need improvement.

The people in the day-to-day operations of your organization can shine light on hidden vulnerabilities, unprotected entryways, and security gaps. When Cyber Defense Group’s team conducts interviews in our process, we do it across an organization ― human resources, sales, operations, legal, C-suite executives, etc. ― not just the IT team. Discussing with personnel can also provide insights into past security incidents and how they were handled, emphasizing the importance of identifying, mitigating, and responding to such incidents to protect sensitive data and systems.

4. Reporting the security risk assessment process ― write it down

Now that you have dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s with a panoramic scope of your cyber environment and cybersecurity posture, it’s time to put your findings on paper to present to management, the board, or for an exterior questionnaire or audit. It’s important to ensure your executive summary is clear and concise, using the BLUF format to ensure comprehension by those that may be too busy to read the entire report. This report will provide a comprehensive view of the organization’s security posture, detailing the effectiveness of policies, processes, and technologies in place to protect against attacks and meet compliance requirements.

5. Roadmap for implementing security controls ― make an action plan

The last and most important step to this process is ACTION, which is a critical component of ongoing risk management efforts. Effective vulnerability management is crucial for addressing the identified threats and ensuring the security of your IT assets. Immediately following this realization, it’s essential to acknowledge that the action plan is formulated based on the findings of a comprehensive security risk assessment, addressing the identified threats and vulnerabilities. Using the detailed risk report of your cyber environment based on the previous stages, you should highlight remediation priorities by focusing on the security risks identified, taking business objectives into account, and create a project schedule for implementation and execution of the roadmap across your organization. In light of the constantly evolving security threats, it’s crucial to conduct regular assessments to identify potential weaknesses in IT assets and understand the impact of these threats on your cyber environment.

The process of planning and completing a successful security risk assessment is time-consuming and requires up-to-date expertise about cybersecurity. Malicious actors only need a tiny crack in your security to get in, so it is prudent to be as meticulous as possible with any assessment of your environment and run assessments regularly.

For these reasons and many more, many companies find it best to partner with experienced cybersecurity professionals.

Cyber Defense Group is that partner.

connect with a cybersecurity risk assessment partner

Our cybersecurity risk and vulnerability assessments include detailed executive summary reports ― a comprehensive technical security and risk report including compliance guidelines for ISO and SOC maturity levels, risks, and gaps. with remediation and security improvement recommendations from our highly experienced team based on our assessment.

With a Cyber Defense Group security risk assessment, our team of cybersecurity experts partner with key members of your departments to initiate a roadmap of remediation and security improvement recommendations based on our findings.

In other words, we don’t hand you your results and go. We teach your team “to fish,” engineering a high-level action schedule from a security, IT, and business mindset.

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to move your cybersecurity resilience forward with a comprehensive, professional security risk assessment, Cyber Defense Group can help.

Get in touch with our team and begin your security risk assessment today.