The key to effectively minimizing cybersecurity threats and their impact on your organization is achieving and maintaining the right security level. For most small to mid-size organizations, figuring out what the right security level actually is, can seem like a daunting task. With so many security solutions available to choose from, knowing where to start can often be the most difficult part of the process. This is where conducting a cyber risk assessment comes in.
Takeaway #1: You can’t be sure of your security posture unless you’re conducting periodic cybersecurity assessments.
Cyber risk assessments identify specific, known security vulnerabilities that may exist on your network; both from an internal and an external perspective. If you haven’t identified what your vulnerabilities are, you can’t properly manage the risks that come along with them. If you aren’t properly managing your risks, you’re essentially guessing at what they are. In that state, your strategy becomes a reactive one because you’ve left yourself exposed.
Once completed, a cyber risk assessment should provide you with a report that explains the scope and severity of all potential risks identified, along with a set of recommendations and prioritizations for remediation. So, by the end of the assessment you will have actionable information that you can use to proactively address known vulnerabilities before an attacker can exploit them. It’s important to note here that, as with all other best practices in cybersecurity, a “perpetual vigilance” approach is required. Meaning, since the threat landscape is constantly changing, you can’t just do a single assessment and consider your organization “protected.” To be most effective, cyber risk assessments should be conducted on an ongoing, routine basis.
Takeaway #2: The cyber risk assessment should align with your business operations and goals along with helping you cost-effectively understand and reduce inherent risks.
Cyber risk assessments can include technology, operations, people, processes and policies within your organization. To be most effective, it should fit the size, scope, and complexity of your organization. This involves identifying internal and external systems that are critical to your operations and how you process, store, or transmit protected or sensitive data.
Aside from the most obvious advantage—the ability to identify vulnerabilities before attackers do—cyber risk assessments can help create or update a detailed network map of your organization. An important part of securing your IT environment is having an accurate idea of what systems are present. Creating an inventory of all the devices on the network identifies the device type, current operating system levels, hardware configurations, application versions, and any other pertinent system information. Having this information becomes very valuable from a security/vulnerability tracking perspective. In addition, the cyber assessment process can provide you with a better understanding of exactly where your data resides, which employees and third parties have access to what, and what security measures are in place to safeguard it. In this way, it can help you tighten up your internal and external controls like security of stored data, access privileges, secure systems interface and data loss prevention.
Takeaway #3: Implementing periodic cyber risk assessments can go a long way in supporting your regulatory compliance goals and requirements.
Organizations subject to regulatory compliance and oversight, who don’t prioritize cyber risk assessments, will quickly find themselves under the microscope of the authorities when a cyber incident occurs. States and regulated industries are now implementing and enforcing breach notification laws. If your organization operates in a regulated industry, failing to satisfy regulatory requirements can disrupt your operations and set the stage for investigations, fines and a damaged reputation. Regulations such as HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley (Sox) and Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLBA) acts, not only contain references as to how organizations should protect different kinds of data, but they require regular security assessments. Once an assessment is completed, the corresponding report can be furnished to all levels of management and can often help jumpstart or fast-track compliance initiatives. Since regular security assessments are a critical part of an effective cyber defense plan, compliance auditors will want to see their results, provided in a clear and concise format. Working towards minimizing the risks associated with your information systems and various forms of sensitive data, will help you work towards compliance—but remember, compliance doesn’t equal security.
Getting Started with a Cyber Risk Assessment
The cyber risk assessment and the resulting threat management process are at the heart of sound security. They provide real answers to what threats and vulnerabilities can actually cause harm to your organization, and are the foundation upon which the security rules and guidelines your organization should operate by. As you continually work through the processes, you’ll get a better idea of how your organizations IT and security operate and how it can operate better.
We invite you to get started on your path to a more secure IT environment by talking to us about conducting an initial cyber risk assessment for your organization.