9 Steps to a Comprehensive Cyber Security Risk Assessment

How secure is your IT environment? Probably not as secure as you think.

Cyber Security Risk Assessment

Although cyberattacks and data breaches are on the rise, organizations tend to miscalculate their risk significantly. Research by MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that most organizations underestimate or ignore potential threats and believe generic, off-the-shelf cybersecurity solutions deliver sufficient protection.

As we noted in a previous post, a comprehensive cyber security risk assessment is essential for creating a clearer picture of your risk. An assessment evaluates your current security posture, identifies potential vulnerabilities and risks, and helps guide security investments.


How NIST Suggests Handling Your Cyber Security Risk Assessment

An IT security risk assessment process can follow many different methodologies. The guidelines provided in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) special publication 800-30 offer a good framework for effective assessments for private-sector organizations as well as federal agencies. The NIST guide suggests the following nine steps:


Step #1 System Characterization

The first step is to identify and inventory key technology components, including hardware, software and endpoint devices. This ensures that the assessment addresses every place where data is created, received, maintained, processed or transmitted.

Step #2 Threat Identification

This process is meant to document all sources of potential threats, whether intentional or unintentional. Threats are commonly grouped into three main classes: human threats such as malware attacks and data breaches, environmental threats such as power and HVAC failures, and natural threats such as storms, fires and floods.

A comprehensive cyber security risk assessment is essential for identifying vulnerabilities and developing effective cybersecurity measures to proactively reduce risks.

Step #3 Vulnerability Identification

This step is meant to identify flaws or weaknesses that a threat actor could exploit. These could include outdated or unpatched systems, insufficient safeguards, incomplete or conflicting security policies, and poor password practices.

Step #4 Control Analysis

This is the process of identifying what controls are used to detect, prevent or mitigate threats. The typical environment includes firewalls, access controls, authentication and antivirus tools, and physical controls such as alarms, locks and fire suppression systems. However, other controls may also be in place.

Step #5 Likelihood Determination

This step is designed to assess the probability of a security breach based on the previous evaluation of threats, vulnerabilities and existing controls. Typically, threats are defined in three tiers — high (likely to be exploited this year), medium (likely to be exploited within three years) and low (unlikely to be exploited).

Step #6 Impact Analysis

The goal here is to estimate the potential damage that would result from a successful exploit. Factors to consider include the cost of business disruption, the value of systems or data, remediation costs, regulatory penalties and reputation damage.

Step #7 Risk Determination

Quantifying risk involves evaluating the likelihood of the threat, the vulnerability of a particular asset and the value of that asset. Creating a risk rating for all your IT assets makes it easier to prioritize remediation efforts.

Step #8 Control Recommendations

This is a plan for implementing security improvements based on the risk determination. It will include a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate that the reduction in risk can justify the cost of new security controls.

Step #9 Results Documentation

Results of the assessment are documented in a report that helps senior management make decisions on policy, procedural, budget, operational and management changes. The report should clearly describe threats, vulnerabilities and risks, with specific recommendations for control implementation.

Ideally, an independent team should perform the security risk assessment in cooperation with internal IT staff. The external viewpoint is essential to gaining an objective assessment of the organization’s security posture.


Contact GDS for an IT Security Risk Assessment

GDS can work with you to develop a detailed assessment based on your IT environment, industry, risk tolerance and other factors. IT infrastructure is not static. Because a risk assessment is not a one-time event, we have developed a monthly subscription service featuring continuous monitoring to detect vulnerabilities. 

Regularly running an IT risk assessment is crucial because the threat landscape is dynamic and constantly evolving, with new vulnerabilities and attack methods emerging frequently. This continuous assessment ensures that organizations remain vigilant and can identify and mitigate new risks promptly. 

Many organizations continuously adopt new technologies, update existing systems, and deprecate old ones. These changes can introduce new risks or alter existing ones, necessitating regular reassessments to ensure all potential threats are addressed. Compliance requirements also evolve, with new regulations and standards being introduced or updated, and regular assessments help organizations stay compliant and avoid penalties. 

It is also worth noting that regular risk assessments foster a proactive security culture, encouraging continuous improvement and vigilance. They also help maintain stakeholder confidence by demonstrating a commitment to security and risk management. Overall, the dynamic nature of both the external threat environment and internal IT changes makes regular IT risk assessments essential for effective risk management and organizational security.

You can easily schedule a confidential consultation by reaching out to the GDS team of experts and booking time with our team.



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