Imagine that you are a traveler setting off on an arduous journey. You have no clue what awaits you. You will encounter a landscape that you have never seen before. So before you set out, you take extra precautions to prepare yourself for the potential struggles to come. You assess what threats you might encounter along the way and ensure that you have enough resources – food, water, and tools – to make a safe return. In other words, you attempt to make a realistic risk assessment.
The risk assessments of a traveler are not so different from cybersecurity risk assessments. Every organization will face a unique threat landscape. They’ll have differing security vulnerabilities, facing a unique combination of threats. An organization must tailor their risk assessments to match its asset vulnerability and distinct threat landscape.
But like a traveler exploring unchartered territory, it’s not always so easy to predict your risks. But by making a risk assessment, you increase the chances of reducing any damage along the way. So to ensure a safe cybersecurity journey, in this blog post, we take you through the steps to create effective risk assessments.
What is a cybersecurity risk assessment?
Cybersecurity risk assessments are about evaluating potential vulnerabilities and threats that can compromise your organization’s security, such as data and other digital asset breaches.
Risk assessments identify what assets need to be protected, which assets are most vulnerable to an attack, and therefore how your vulnerabilities should be prioritized. They help you reduce costly incidents and data breaches.
Asset risk is calculated by determining both the likelihood of a breach and the impact were such a breach to happen (more on that later). For example, a risk assessment may identify that a company’s firewall, protecting sensitive customer data is outdated, and therefore should be addressed as soon as possible to reduce the risk of a data breach. By prioritizing security vulnerabilities – based on the likelihood of an attack and its impact – security teams can make informed decisions about how to focus their efforts and resources.
How do you actually create a risk assessment?
- Identify your assets
Risk management should take precautions to document all your digital assets such as hardware, software, networks, and databases. Identifying your assets helps predict potential threats. You may also consider weaknesses in your internal and external security processes. The processes to pay special attention to include internal and external interfaces, data recovery processes, and system access.
- Assess potential threats and risk
After documenting your assets, identify what threats you are most vulnerable to. For instance, some common threats to consider include malware, data breach, social engineering, and denial of service attacks. You may also seek to identify the potential for misuse of data by an authorized user or any weakness in your organizational security control.
You should also keep an on the latest threat trends. You can turn to threat libraries for up-to-date information on current threats. Pay attention to government adversaries and reports on emerging threats, particularly what industries and locations are being hit.
The next step is to identify where the actual risks are for your organization. This step entails developing a scenario map that pictures the potential consequences of a threat. For example, a scenario map may show that a successful ransomware attack could disrupt business operations, lead to lost customers and revenue, and damage the organization’s reputation.
- Analyze the risk
There are two main components to risk analysis:
- The impact of an attack
- The probability of such an attack occurring
To assess impact, you may consider, for example, the extent of financial loss, reputational damage, and operational disruptions. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How bad would the financial cost be if there were to be a data breach?
- How would business operations be impacted?
But you should also assess the type of data that is at risk. For example, if the data contains less sensitive information, the impact on your business would not be as high. But if the data contains sensitive customer information, the impact would be much higher. With a higher potential impact, more attention should be paid to that specific vulnerability risk.
Then assess the likelihood of the risk occurring. To determine the likelihood, it is recommended not to focus too much on historical data, as threats are capable of evolving quickly. Rather focus on these three factors: discoverability, exploitability, and reproducibility. In short:
Discoverability refers to the amount of effort it takes to find the threat.
Exploitability is how easily an attacker can utilize the threat to attack a vulnerability.
Reproducibility is the ease with which the attacker can reproduce the vulnerability exploitation.
With these three concepts in mind, you can build a framework to determine the likelihood of vulnerability exploitation. For example, a threat that has high discoverability, high exploitability, and high reproducibility has a greater likelihood of exploitation. On the other hand, if a threat has high exploitability but low discoverability and reproducibility, it will have a lower exploitation likelihood as the threat requires less effort to find and the threat cannot be reproduced as quickly.
- Implement mitigation measures
Next, you should develop and implement a mitigation plan. The mitigation plan will help you manage the risks. For instance, if the data vulnerability is related to customer information, the mitigation plan could include measures such as implementing a two-factor authentication system, encrypting stored data, and creating a data disposal policy.
- Regularly review your plan and update it when necessary
The final step is consistently to review your vulnerabilities and the plan to control them. Malicious actors will continue to change their tactics in an attempt to stay ahead of security measures. With the fast-changing attacks, as well as changes in organization vulnerability, it’s imperative to conduct regular risk reassessments.
In the case of a breach, your response should also remain relevant and up-to-date with the threat landscape. We recommend adopting threat response tools that make it easy to configure your security system to stay ahead of evolving threats.
To conclude, risk assessments help you stay safe from new threats by identifying your vulnerabilities, assessing the probability of a vulnerability exploitation occurring, and the impact of such an event occurring. Risk assessments help you prioritize your vulnerabilities to improve your threat response. You can safeguard your digital assets, minimize the likelihood of a breach, and mitigate the impact should a security incident occur.
If you need help minimizing your vulnerabilities, Seculyze, as an add-on to Microsoft Sentinel, helps you lower your risks through improved threat alert management.