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Joy Winter
Joy Winter

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How to Perform a Cyber Security Risk Assessment: A Step-by-Step Guide

Companies are increasingly spending money on cyber security. However, attackers are launching more sophisticated cyber attacks that are hard to detect, and businesses often suffer severe consequences from them.

In the first half of 2019 alone, data breaches exposed nearly 4.1 billion records. This is why it is imperative for businesses to empower themselves with the knowledge of how strong their cyber security is, what potential vulnerabilities exist, and how those risks can be mitigated.

Performing a cyber security risk assessment helps organizations strengthen their overall security. The primary goal of a risk assessment is to determine what the critical assets are and if a threat exploits those assets, how much it would cost to mitigate those risks and to protect your assets from a breach.

How can you perform a cyber risk assessment?

In order to perform a cyber security risk assessment, you need consider three factors:

• Importance of the assets at risk
• Severity of the threat
• Vulnerability of the system

But before we dive into how to perform a cyber security risk assessment, let’s understand what a cyber security risk assessment is.

What is a Cyber Security Risk Assessment?

A cyber security risk assessment is the fundamental approach for companies to assess, identify, and modify their security protocols and enable strong security operations to safeguard it against attackers.

It also helps to understand the value of the various types of data generated and stored across the organization. Without determining the value of your data, it is quite difficult to prioritize and assign resources where they are needed the most.

In a cyber security risk assessment, you also have to consider how your company generates revenue, how your employees and assets affect the profitability of the organization, and what potential risks could lead to monetary losses for the company.

Once you have identified all this, you should think about how you could enhance your IT infrastructure to reduce potential risks that might lead to financial losses to the organization.

Furthermore, a cyber security risk assessment helps inform decision makers and support proper risk responses. Most C-suite executives and higher management professionals don’t have the time to delve into the minute details of the company’s cyber security operations.

A cyber security risk analysis serves as a summary to help them make informed decisions about security for their organization.

There are several ways you can collect the information you need to start your risk assessment process:

• Review documentation.
• Interview data owners, management, and other employees.
• Analyze your infrastructure and systems.

How to Perform Cyber Security Risk Assessment?

To begin cyber security risk assessment, you should take the following steps:

Step 1: Determine Information Value

Most organizations don’t have a large budget for security risk assessments, especially small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), so it’s best to limit your scope of assessment to the most critical business information.

Spend time to define a standard for determining the importance of information and prioritizing it. Companies often include asset value, business importance, and legal standing.

Once you have created a standard and it is embedded in your organization’s cyber security risk analysis solution, use it to categorize information as minor, major, or critical.

Here are some questions that you can ask to determine information value:

• How valuable is this information to competitors or attackers?
• If this information is lost, could you recreate the information? How long would it take? What would be the associated costs?
• Are there any financial or legal penalties associated with losing or exposing
the information?
• Would losing the information impact the company’s day-to-day operations?
• What would be the financial damage of the data being leaked or stolen?
• What would be the long-term impacts of the information being lost
completely or exposed? Would it cause reputational damage? How could you recover from it?

Step 2: Identify and Prioritize Assets

The first and most important step to perform a cyber security risk assessment is to evaluate and determine the scope of the assessment.

This means you have to identify and prioritize which data assets to assess. You may not want to conduct an assessment of all your employees, buildings, trade secrets, electronic data, or office devices.

You need to work with the management and business users to create a comprehensive list of all the valuable assets. Some assets could be valuable because they largely impact your company’s revenue, while others could be valuable because they ensure data integrity to your users.

Once you have identified crucial assets for the assessment, collect the following information:

• Data
• Purpose
• Criticality
• Software
• Functional requirements
• Information flow
• Interface
• End-users
• Hardware
• Information security policies
• Information security architecture
• Network topology
• Technical security controls
• Physical security controls
• Environmental security
• Information storage protection
• Support personal

Step 3: Identify Threats

Once you have identified and prioritized assets that are crucial to your company, it is time to identify threats that could impact your organization.
A threat can be defined as an occurrence, individual, entity, or action that has the potential to harm operations, systems and/or exploit vulnerabilities to circumvent the security of your organization.

There is a wide range of threats that could impact an enterprise ranging from malware, IT security risks, insider threats, attackers, etc.

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