How to Conduct a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

How to Conduct a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

Every enterprise regardless of size or industry must conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment as part of their information technology routine. But why?

A cybersecurity risk assessment allows your enterprises to discover and close security vulnerabilities before hackers do. This allows your business to more effectively prevent and detect cyber attacks in the long and short terms. Moreover, risk assessments help your enterprise stay in compliance by analyzing how you collect and store personally identifiable information (PII).

However, conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment can feel intimidating and confusing. Where do you begin? What should you even look for in your assessment?

We answer these questions below.

First, Assemble A Strong IT Security Team

As a rule, each user and employees share responsibility for your cybersecurity’s effectiveness. If they don’t follow cybersecurity best practices, then your SIEM solution and other protections face an uphill battle.

However, your IT security team must lead your cybersecurity risk assessment. Only they possess the InfoSec knowledge and skills to ensure the assessment runs smoothly and comprehensively. Additionally, conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment with your own team saves you considerably, although it requires investing your own resources.

Therefore, you need to assemble a strong IT security team. This should ideally include a CISO so your c-suite executives stay up-to-date with cybersecurity. Moreover, you need threat hunters, communications specialists, and other specialists.

Know Your IT Environment

A lack of IT environment visibility proves the bane of many SIEM and cybersecurity efforts. Entire databases and devices can vanish from your network map without the proper monitoring capabilities. In addition, departments creating or transferring databases without informing your IT team can produce unseen network areas.

Your cybersecurity risk assessment can certainly help you uncover these missing network areas. Yet you should also take preemptive steps to uncover as much of your network as possible to better plan out your assessment.

To do so, you can begin by preliminarily determining your data collection and storage methods and tools. Most especially, you should make an effort to discover as many hidden databases as possible. Every step you take to gain greater visibility in your IT environment through SIEM facilitates your assessments.

Performing a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

At its core, your cybersecurity risk assessment should examine databases and business processes.

This involves determining the exact networks and software involved in your business processes. Moreover, you need to evaluate the data you store, including PII; how your system encrypts, moves, and anonymizes personal data factors into your potential risks.

Perhaps most importantly, your cybersecurity risk assessment should help facilitate your incident response plan. A good analysis should help you determine threat actors’ most likely target in your IT environment. With this information, you should reconstruct an incident response plan which allows you to continue or quickly regain operations in case of network downtime.

Several tools can help you determine your potential digital risks; they offer automated options for relieving the burden on your IT security team. One example includes a phishing simulator, which can help you determine how your business handles such an attack.

Above all, you need to look for any potential vulnerabilities in your perimeter or business processes. Anything which leaves data exposed needs immediate reconfiguration and encryption. All firmware must be updated, and all software should be the latest versions.  

Finally, you need to assess the potential impacts of a breach, both in terms of finances and in reputation. This should incentivize any decision makers neglecting your cybersecurity.  

Incorporate the Best Threat Intelligence

To conduct a strong cybersecurity risk assessment, you need to draw from the best sources of information. Hackers never stagnate, and they never pass up an opportunity for improvement. They design their threats to bypass or evade firewalls and antivirus software. If you don’t have up-to-date InfoSec information, you allow hackers the upper hand.

Therefore, your IT team needs access to threat intelligence from multiple feeds. This intelligence should become a part of future threat monitoring and assessments.

Speaking of incorporating intelligence…   

Incorporate Your Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

Performed correctly, your cybersecurity risk assessment will uncover potential security vulnerabilities or faulty processes. But knowing this isn’t enough. You must also act on this knowledge and make cybersecurity improvements as soon as possible.

In fact, failing to act on it essentially wastes your time and the time of your IT security team. You need to follow-up with your assessment and its findings. Plain and simple.

Once you have your risk assessment in hand, you can begin to make changes by:

  • Enacting database and business process configurations, ensuring only authorized users can access either.
  • Changing password protocols. Weak passwords and authentication can spell doom to your enterprise’s security.
  • Investing in better workforce training. You need to take cybersecurity ignorance and negligence seriously and work to stamp it out effectively.
  • Changing your cybersecurity and SIEM solutions. Legacy solutions can’t provide the necessary threat monitoring to protect your business. So don’t hold onto them just because they are familiar.

Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate

Your enterprise should not treat conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment as a one-and-done affair. Cybersecurity is a marathon, not a sprint. Treating as a sprint only results in trying to catch up later, possibly after a breach.  

Even after you conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment, you need to monitor its effectiveness. Only then can you determine whether you need a more immediate follow-up or if you can move forward with your current intelligence.

Regardless, you should conduct a risk assessment every few months—if not more regularly—to ensure you stay up to date with modern cyber attacks.

To learn more about SIEM solutions which can facilitate cybersecurity risk assessment, be sure to check out our 2019 Buyer’s Guide! We compile the key vendors in the SIEM field and their key capabilities. We even provide a Bottom Line assessment for each provider and our own market analysis. Download it below!   

Ben Canner

Ben Canner is an enterprise technology writer and analyst covering Identity Management, SIEM, Endpoint Protection, and Cybersecurity writ large. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Clark University in Worcester, MA. He previously worked as a corporate blogger and ghost writer. You can reach him via Twitter and LinkedIn.
Ben Canner