The Guide to Risk Management and Cybersecurity Assessments  

The idea of understanding your cybersecurity risks, program, threats, and potential impacts seems like an obvious item on a business leader’s to-do list — yet often only done when a firm needs to “check a box” for compliance purposes. A proper assessment and analysis is the first step for robust risk management and cybersecurity program development — regardless of contractual, regulatory, or insurance underwriting requirements.

One estimate, however, indicates that only 47% of organizations have assessed their incident response capabilities. This means that for most firms, the first time they will ever test or evaluate their incident response procedures will be during an actual breach. On top of that, only 16% of small businesses feel they are “cyber-security ready.” Based on this data alone, one can infer that risk assessments are not being utilized to their full extent to allow businesses to know their risk and impact levels.      

Sure, some might follow the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security framework, which specifically cites its “Identify” function — detailing how to evaluate, understand, and document security programs, threats, vulnerabilities, and technology assets. Proper risk management, however, is so much more than that as it should help both “identify” and prioritize. 

Here we’ll cover why you must do risk assessments, the many different types of assessments you can use for various insights, and the circumstances for which risk and security assessments should be a top priority for your business. 

Why Do Risk Assessments? 

Businesses often must manage many risks such as contract dispute claims, customer or employee injuries, natural disasters, or negative impacts from poor quality products and services. When it comes specifically to protecting data, applications, and network resources, however, risk and cybersecurity program development starts with a proper assessment — ideally by an impartial third-party practitioner.  

By identifying technology assets, security gaps, vulnerabilities, threats, disaster impacts, and compliance requirements, you can construct a comprehensive cybersecurity program that protects your assets, gives you complete system visibility, and provides a precise method to remediate incidents. 

Additionally, but lesser known, it allows you to prioritize objectives during protect, detect, response, and recovery activities. For instance, let’s say you ran assessments and now understand where your mission-critical production environments are and which parts of your network could have the most considerable operational and financial impact if breached. You can now tailor your security program in terms of controls, detection mechanisms, and response procedures to focus efforts and resources on those areas — ultimately enhancing overall risk posture.      

Types of Risk and Security Assessments

There are numerous risk and security assessments you can run depending on the information you want to obtain. Below are some excellent options to start with, along with their primary purpose:  

  • Security Program Evaluation & Control Gap Analysis: A review of an organization’s current security program in terms of controls, governance policies, system visibility, response management, disaster recovery, and other solutions to identify security gaps.  
  • IT and Technology Asset Audit: An inventory review of all data, devices, applications, and other resources used at your organization, as well as its network connectivity with one another.   
  • Compliance Assessment: An evaluation of contract, legal, regulatory, and underwriting requirements and reviewing organizational gaps for meeting those requirements.  
  • Vulnerability Assessment: A review (usually through scanning technology) of a network, application, or other systems to identify security weaknesses, their potential severity, and the impact of those weaknesses for prioritizing remediation steps. 
  • Cloud-Security Assessment: A system review focused on an organization’s cloud infrastructure to identify security threats and vulnerabilities. While critical in today’s IT environments, only 20% of organizations can assess their cloud-security posture in real-time. 
  • Threat and Adversary Assessment: An intelligence evaluation to identify specific malicious actors and their respective threat levels to an organization.  
  • Penetration (Pen) Testing: A simulation such as phishing or network hacking that attempts to exploit system vulnerabilities and test an organization’s security program. While 70% of enterprises have performed pentests to some extent, only 38% tested more than half of their attack surface.  
  • Third-Party Risk Assessment: An examination of a supplier, partner, vendor, or contractor within an organization’s supply chain to identify, mitigate, and prioritize security risks associated with third parties
  • Impact Analysis: An in-depth evaluation that quantifies the financial and operational impact or consequences of a breach or cyber-related incident.     

When to Conduct Assessments

Frequently conducting any of the risk assessments above is always a wise decision. However, you absolutely should evaluate or reevaluate your cybersecurity program, risk impacts, threats, gaps, and vulnerabilities if your business meets one of these circumstances:  

If You’ve Never Done One Before 

First and most apparent, you’ll have no idea what your IT infrastructure, security program, compliance demands, or threat actors consist of if you’ve never done any risk assessment. In these cases, it’s a good idea to contact a cybersecurity consultant as soon as possible to start that process.  

When You Just Recovered from a Security Breach 

Upon finishing recovery and remediation processes after a breach, organizations should assess their program and priorities by reevaluating all or most components of their risk management program. Specifically, they should focus on vulnerability assessments for the compromised system, control gap analysis to what can protect those weaknesses, and supplement it with pentests to see if the new solutions will work properly.   

After a Merger or Acquisition

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) often lead to drastic changes to a firm’s IT infrastructure, security program, and possibly compliance needs. Once the transactions are finalized, newly partnered or taken over businesses should reassess their assets, program, and risk priorities.  

For Compliance Purposes 

As mentioned, assessments are often required to procure cyber insurance, conform to a contract, or remain in compliance with industry or regulatory requirements. Nevertheless, utilize risk and security assessments regardless of compliance demands.  

After Large-Scale Deployment   

Suppose your firm recently deployed a specific software, cloud environment, server, or online service into its network. In that case, you should immediately look into newly-added risks associated with the modified infrastructure and new potential security solutions.  

If It’s Been a Long Time

Even if your business has not suffered from a data breach, undergone a merger or acquisition, or made a large software deployment, it should still consider consistent assessments of its risk and security programs. Threats, IT environments, and cybersecurity solutions evolve faster than we realize. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to formulate a program that meets today’s needs without a proper way to identify and prioritize those components.  

Review Your Risks with Ascension Global Technology 

Running risk and cybersecurity assessments lets your organization better protect itself and improve its visibility, response, and recovery mechanism for cyber-related incidents. By evaluating your current security program, identifying vulnerabilities and control gaps, determining adversaries and incident likelihood, and establishing financial and operational impacts of cyber events, you can be better prepared to manage breaches and prioritize operational objectives and resources.  

Contact us today to learn about our ecosystem of software providers and practitioners that can offer numerous risk assessment options for your organization. Also, be sure to check out our blog for industry updates, cybersecurity news, and valuable insights that can help your business understand and improve its security posture.     

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"AGT" offers complete end-to-end security protection through technology tools, cybersecurity strategy, consulting, and project management services. From addressing specific security gaps to a full environment cybersecurity strategy. With services designed to improve any organization’s overall organizational security posture, AGT develops strategies to implement and deploy successful cybersecurity solutions to protect companies from data and financial loss.