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Steps To Risk Assessment 

Cybersecurity risk assessment identifies, analyzes, and evaluates potential threats and vulnerabilities associated with a digital system or network. It is a vital part of any information security management system, as it helps to prevent cyberattacks, data breaches, and losses. 

A cybersecurity risk assessment can be conducted at different levels, such as organization, system, application, or data. Depending on the scope and complexity of the risk assessment, it may involve other methods and tools, such as frameworks, standards, questionnaires, software, or expert consultation. 


However, regardless of the level and steps to risk assessment, some common steps should be followed to ensure a systematic and practical approach. This blog post will outline the seven steps to cybersecurity risk assessment and provide some tips and examples for each step. 


Steps To Risk Assessment 

7 Steps to Risk Assessment for Your Organization  


To ensure the safety and security of your organization in the year 2024, it is crucial to conduct a thorough risk assessment.  


Step 1: Identify The Assets 


The first step of cybersecurity risk assessment is identifying the assets that are part of the digital system or network. An asset is anything that has value for the organization, such as hardware, software, data, or services. 


There are various methods to identify assets, such as inventory of the system's or network's physical and logical components, such as servers, routers, switches, computers, devices, applications, databases, or files. Another method is reviewing the documentation and diagrams of the system or network architecture, design, and configuration.  

Additionally, one can consult with the owners, users, administrators, and developers of the system or network or refer to relevant laws, regulations, standards, codes of practice, and industry guidelines. 

Some examples of assets that may be identified in a cybersecurity risk assessment are: 

  • A web server that hosts the organization's website and online services 

  • A database server that stores the organization's customer and employee data 

  • A laptop that contains the organization's confidential and sensitive documents 


Step 2: Identify The Threats 


The second step of cybersecurity risk assessment is identifying the threats in the digital system or network. A threat is anything that has the potential to endanger the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of assets, like data breaches caused by hackers, malware, natural disasters, or human errors. There are various ways to identify these threats, such as analyzing historical and current system or network data such as logs, alerts, incidents, or reports.  

Another way is to conduct a threat intelligence analysis, which systematically gathers, processes, and analyzes information about the sources, methods, and motives of potential attackers. Consulting with security experts, analysts, and consultants with knowledge and experience in the cyber threat landscape is also helpful.  


Finally, conducting safety risk identification is a systematic process of identifying and evaluating the threats associated with the physical and environmental aspects of the system or network, such as fire, flood, or power outage. 


Some examples of threats that may be identified in a cybersecurity risk assessment are: 

  • A hacker exploits a vulnerability in the web server and gains unauthorized access to the database server. 

  • A malware that infects the laptop and encrypts the documents, demanding a ransom for decryption. 

  • A natural disaster that damages the firewall and disrupts network connectivity. 

  • A human error that deletes the backup system and causes data loss. 

 

Step 3: Identify The Vulnerabilities 


The third step of cybersecurity risk assessment is identifying the vulnerabilities that exist or may occur in the digital system or network. A vulnerability is a weakness or flaw in the design, implementation, or operation of assets that threats can exploit. These threats can come in various forms, such as outdated software, misconfigured settings, or poor practices. 

There are different methods you can use to identify vulnerabilities. One option is to conduct a job site risk assessment. This is a systematic approach to identifying and evaluating vulnerabilities associated with human and organizational aspects of a system or network, such as policies, procedures, roles, or responsibilities. 


Another option is to conduct an occupational hazard review. This is a systematic method of identifying and evaluating vulnerabilities associated with the health and safety aspects of the system or network, such as ergonomics, stress, or fatigue. 

Some examples of vulnerabilities that may be identified in a cybersecurity risk assessment are: 

  • An outdated software that has a known bug or security patch that has not been applied. 

  • A misconfigured setting that allows unauthorized access or privilege escalation. 


Step 4: Analyze The Risks 


The fourth step of cybersecurity risk assessment is to analyze the risks that result from the combination of assets, threats, and vulnerabilities. The definition of a risk is the probability and consequence of a threat exploiting a vulnerability and causing harm to an asset. A risk assessment involves evaluating the degree of risk and comparing it with the acceptable or permissible level of risk. 


Different techniques can be employed to analyze risks, such as utilizing a qualitative approach, like a risk matrix, which rates the likelihood and impact of a risk and calculates the risk level based on a predefined scale. Another method is the quantitative approach, like a risk formula, which assigns a numerical value to the likelihood and impact of a risk and computes the risk level using a mathematical equation.  


The semi-quantitative approach is another option that blends the qualitative and quantitative methods and uses a range of values to indicate the likelihood and impact of a risk. 

Risk analysis helps to prioritize the risks and determine the need and urgency of control measures. A control measure is any action or device that reduces or eliminates the risk of a threat exploiting a vulnerability and causing harm to an asset.  


There are different types of control measures, such as

  • Preventive, which involves preventing the occurrence or exploitation of the threat or vulnerability, such as installing antivirus software, applying security patches, or enforcing strong passwords. 

  • Detecting involves detecting the occurrence or exploitation of the threat or vulnerability, such as monitoring the system or network activity, alerting the security incidents, or auditing the security logs. 

  • Corrective, which involves correcting the occurrence or exploitation of the threat or vulnerability, such as restoring the system or network functionality, recovering the data, or reporting security breaches. 

  • Recovery involves recovering from the occurrence or exploitation of the threat or vulnerability, such as conducting a root cause analysis, implementing a lesson learned, or improving security policies. 

The control measures should be selected based on the cost-benefit analysis, which compares the costs and benefits of implementing the control measures versus accepting the risks. The cost-benefit analysis is: 

  • Cost = resources required to implement the control measures, such as time, money, or effort 

  • Benefit = reduction in the likelihood or impact of the risk, such as frequency, severity, or duration 

Step 5: Implement The Control Measures 

After identifying the potential cybersecurity risks, the next step is to assess and select the control measures that can help mitigate those risks. Once the control measures have been finalized, the fifth step involves implementing them effectively. This process includes planning, executing, and documenting the actions and devices required to reduce or eliminate the identified risks.  


It is essential to ensure that the control measures are implemented correctly and are in line with the organization's security policies and standards. Proper documentation for task-specific risk review is also necessary to track progress and ensure the effectiveness of the measures in managing cybersecurity risks. 


Step 6: Monitor & Review the Control Measures 


In the cybersecurity risk assessment process, the sixth step is crucial as it involves monitoring and reviewing the control measures that were put in place during the previous step. This step requires a thorough evaluation of the performance and effectiveness of the control measures, such as workplace hazard analysis, that have been implemented. It also involves identifying gaps, issues, or areas that need improvement and taking appropriate measures to address them.  

By doing so, organizations can ensure that their cybersecurity protocols remain solid and practical and are adequately protected against potential cyber threats. 


Step 7: Repeat The Process 


The seventh and final step of cybersecurity risk assessment is to repeat the process periodically or as needed. This involves revisiting and updating the previous steps of the risk assessment and implementing and monitoring the new or revised control measures. This ensures that safety risk identification and task-specific risk review remain relevant, accurate, and practical as the system or network evolves. 


Final Thoughts  


Cybersecurity risk assessment is a crucial and continuous process that helps identify, analyze, and evaluate the potential threats and vulnerabilities associated with a digital system or network and implement and monitor the appropriate control measures to reduce or eliminate the risks.  

By following the seven steps to risk assessment, you can ensure a systematic and practical approach to protect your assets, data, and services from cyberattacks, data breaches, and losses. 

Need help with your risk assessments? Book Your Free Strategy Call Today! 

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