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How to conduct a security risk assessment

The pandemic provided threat actors with numerous new opportunities to try to infiltrate corporate networks and cloud systems. Businesses had to quickly bring new systems online to support their remote employees as more employees moved to remote working arrangements.

The size of attack surfaces grew rapidly, and companies struggled to keep up due to a significant talent gap for cybersecurity professionals. As a result, the number of cyberattacks increased dramatically.

Companies must take the time to review the security of their current systems as threat actors become more sophisticated and persistent in their efforts. Conducting a security risk assessment is an important step that all businesses must take.

But, do you know what is a security risk assessment

What is a security risk assessment

Definition-of-a-security-risk-assessment
A security risk assessment is a method of analysis which helps to project the future. It goes beyond simply thinking about the worst case scenario.

A security risk assessment identifies, evaluates, and prioritizes potential vulnerabilities in various information assets (systems, hardware, applications, and data), as well as the various risks that could affect those vulnerabilities.

A risk assessment’s primary goal is to inform decision-makers about vulnerabilities in corporate systems, allowing them to take proactive defensive measures and plan effective risk responses.

The evaluation also includes an executive summary to assist executives in making informed decisions about ongoing security efforts.

Security risk assessments also show management which employees require training to help reduce attack surfaces.

8 steps to conduct a successful security risk assessment 

Steps-to-conduct-a-risk-assessment
A security risk assessment is something that looks at a situation and determines the probability of something happening. This should ideally be done before anything is done.

Security risk assessments are a time-consuming and repetitive process. Understanding your organization’s resources is the first step in developing a security assessment plan.

Once you have a thorough and complete inventory, you can begin to identify the vulnerabilities of each resource and implement appropriate security measures to correct the vulnerabilities or protect them from exploits.

  1. Map your assets 

Security efforts will always fall short unless you have a thorough understanding of your organization’s assets. As a result, the first step in conducting an effective security risk assessment is to create a comprehensive map of potentially vulnerable assets.

Asset maps necessitate more than simply identifying the hardware in use. You must also include all applications, all users (human or process), and all data storage containers, as each of these adds to your overall attack surface.

Each asset should be logged and tracked in a centralized database that you can quickly and easily update. After you’ve completed your asset inventory, assign a value to each asset and map data flows among your various resources.

Creating data flow diagrams allows you to better understand where your network’s weak points and vulnerabilities are. You should categorize your data by access levels as part of assigning value to your assets.

Third-party data flow assessments are especially critical for ensuring compliance with global data privacy laws and regulations.

Building data flow maps, whether internally or with third-party providers, necessitates the following knowledge:

What data you have

  • How you gather data (online forms, phone calls, hard copy, etc.)
  • How you store data (electronic databases, hard copy documents, etc.)
  • Where you store your data (internal electronic storage, filing cabinets, cloud storage, backup hardware, etc.)
  • How you handle data (internal workflows)
  • How do you move data (email, FTP sites, phone, mail, etc.)
  1. Identify security threats and vulnerabilities

After you’ve created your asset inventory, you can start identifying vulnerabilities and threats for each asset.

Many tests and risk assessment software tools are available to assist you in this process. For example, vulnerability scanning looks into your network and applications to see if they are vulnerable to known threats.

The ability to categorize scan results by severity allows your security team to prioritize remediation efforts.

  1. Determine and prioritize risks

Vulnerability and security threat assessments will almost always uncover more risks than you can handle at once.

Following your risk assessment procedures, the next step is to prioritize risks by assigning a risk rating to each vulnerability so that you can prepare your remediation plans.

Prioritizing your remediation responses entails weighing the risks and consequences of each threat or vulnerability against your overall remediation budget.

  1. Analyze and develop security controls

There are several types of security controls to consider for any given vulnerability.

The following are the primary security controls:

  • Physical security controls: These regulate physical access to corporate assets and include, among other things, biometric or coded locks, security cameras, and guards.
  • Administrative security controls entail corporate security policies, procedures, and workflows.
  • Technical security controls: As the name implies, these controls use technological resources to address risk, such as firewalls, encryption, and antivirus software.

Each of these controls can be further classified according to their function, that is, whether they detect, prevent/deter, correct, or compensate for threats and vulnerabilities. You can then develop specific remediation plans once you’ve determined the appropriate controls for each vulnerability.

  1. Document results from risk assessment results

Effective risk assessment reports will condense the results of various threat and vulnerability assessments into a concise threat ranking that will provide you with a visual prioritization of your remediation plan.

Using risk analysis templates, such as a risk matrix, is an effective way to represent your risk prioritization. The risk matrix weighs the likelihood of exploitation against the severity of the damage caused by a successful attack.

As the likelihood of exploitation and the value of the attack increase, vulnerabilities gain priority and move up the remediation plan.

  1. Create a remediation plan to reduce risks

You can start creating your detailed remediation plan now that you’ve determined your risk ratings and the order in which you’ll address vulnerabilities. This should include the fundamental, high-level steps for each remediation procedure, as well as the associated costs.

If you still have several options for a specific vulnerability, you should conduct a cost/benefit analysis. Comparing the cost of remediation to the potential cost of a successful attack can help you choose your preferred control.

Costs do not have to be monetary; they can also include the time required to implement a solution and the disruption to the business. Applying software patches, for example, may have a low overall cost for an organization, but it can be disruptive if done during business hours.

  1. Implement recommendations

It’s finally time to get started.

Each item in the remediation plan should now be assigned to the appropriate team by your security team. Assignments should include realistic completion dates.

You should also include any necessary reporting workflows and steps that teams should take to monitor the effectiveness of their remediation efforts.

Consider proactive risk responses such as Managed Detection and Response (MDR) solutions or Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions as part of your remediation efforts.

Your choice of proactive risk response solutions may be influenced by whether you want to keep your efforts internal (SIEM) or rely on external providers (MDR). Even if you control your SIEM processes internally, experienced external providers can assist you in developing them.

  1. Evaluate effectiveness and repeat

Risk assessments are never one-time events.

They necessitate continuous monitoring and optimization. Rinse and repeat, as the saying goes. Internal audits are one method of determining whether remediation efforts are effective.

You can also repeat your risk assessments and gap analyses to ensure that your security posture has improved.

Conclusion

Since the pandemic of Covid-19 and the wave of remote work – which seems to be here to stay – the increase in cyberattacks was astounding.

Phishing schemes grew in popularity, with threat actors preying on people looking for vaccine information and updates on government assistance payments. Ransomware attacks exploded, with several high-profile attacks.

A risk assessment is something that looks like an urgency for all businesses right now. This should ideally be done before anything is done.

Risk assessment is a method of analysis which helps to project the future. It goes beyond simply thinking about the worst case scenario. But there are two main parts to risk assessment.

The first part is what is called the “known” part. This is where you look at what is known about a situation or environment. Knowing what is going on around you and in your environment will help you to project what might happen.

The second part is what is called the “unknown” part. This is where you look at what is unknown about the situation. It is here that you add in what risks might be present.

A security risk assessment is not only a preventive measure, but a security methodology that not only works to save costs in the long run, but also to prevent loss of money, time and even customers.

In addition, having a plan of procedure in case of being a victim of a security breach or data loss allows any businessman to sleep more peacefully.

And you, do you have a security risk assessment?

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