In order to stay competitive, today's organizations are expected to embrace and undergo digital transformation, a task that is easier said than done while accounting for security. Effective cybersecurity risk management allows businesses to confidently embrace emerging solutions and leverage third- and fourth-party vendors without having to worry about compromising their cybersecurity posture.
What is cybersecurity risk management?
Cybersecurity risk management is the process of identifying potential risks, assessing the impact of those risks, and planning how to respond if the risks become reality. It is important for every organization, no matter the size or industry, to develop a cybersecurity management plan. However, it is also important to know that not all risks, even if identified in advance, can be eliminated. That said, even in those cases, there are steps that your organization can take to reduce the potential impact of a cyber attack.
What is the process of cybersecurity risk management?
The process of cybersecurity risk management can be outlined in the following 4 steps:
Step 1: Identify risk - Identify where risk is located within the organization.
Step 2: Assess risk - Risk is assessed based on identified vulnerabilities and their potential impact.
Step 3: Prioritize risk - Identified risks are then prioritized based on their severity.
Step 4: Monitor risks - Risks are continuously monitored and have a clear risk response plan that evolves with the shifting environment of the organization.
Having a clear cybersecurity risk management process helps ensure protocols remain up-to-date and cohesive among the entire organization. While this is a general outline for cybersecurity risk management, there are several different types of frameworks organizations can consider.
Types of cybersecurity risk management frameworks
A cybersecurity risk management framework provides a set of standards for security leaders across industries to understand their current security postures and those of their vendors. Having a framework in place makes it easier for organizations to define the appropriate processes and procedures needed to assess, monitor, and mitigate risks. Here are some common frameworks.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is one of the most popular frameworks in the industry. This framework provides a comprehensive map of activities and outcomes relevant to the five core functions of cybersecurity risk management: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover.
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) partnered with International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to produce ISO/IEC 270001 – one of the longest-running cybersecurity frameworks. This framework provides a certifiable set of standards for systematically managing risks posed by information systems. In addition, the organization manages the ISO 31000 standard which provides guidelines for successful enterprise risk management.
The Department of Defense (DoD) Risk Management Framework (RMF) is a set of guidelines DoD agencies use to assess and manage cybersecurity risks across IT assets. From there, RMF divides the cyber risk management strategy into six steps: categorize, select, implement, assess, authorize, and monitor.
The Factor Analysis of Information Risk (FAIR) framework aims to help enterprises understand, measure, and analyze information risks to help make well-informed decisions when developing cybersecurity best practices.
12 best practices for cybersecurity risk management
There are a number of steps organizations can take to ensure effective cybersecurity risk management on a continuous basis. Let’s take a look at 12 best practices for organizations to keep in mind when overseeing their IT ecosystem:
1. Build a company culture
The first thing to consider when you are planning your organization's cybersecurity risk management program is your company's culture. The average cost of a cyberattack now exceeds $1.1 million, and 37% of companies attacked saw reputational damage following the attack. This is why you need to establish a cybersecurity-focused culture throughout the entire organization, from the part-time staff up to the executive suite.
2. Distribute responsibility
Security is everyone’s number one job. The burden for maintaining cybersecurity cannot rest exclusively on the IT or security departments. Your security plans have to take into account human factors, not just your hardware and software. Distributing responsibility across your entire organization will ensure that every employee is aware of potential risks that are associated with a cyber attack and have the know-how to respond to an attack right when it happens.
3. Train employees
Employee training is necessary to spread and encourage a security-aware culture as well as to ensure all employees know how to use the cybersecurity systems and tools you plan to implement. Staff should be fully trained at all levels on the identified risks and on the procedures and systems designed to mitigate those risks. To guard against these human-related intrusions, employees need the right tools to recognize malware and phishing emails, and know exactly which types of data should not be shared over email and who to contact if they’ve discovered a security threat. This is part and parcel of developing an organizational culture of security.
A robust security awareness program should educate employees about corporate policies and appropriate procedures when working with IT assets and sensitive data. Some important topics to be included in the training can include password security, safe internet habits, clean desk policies, data management and privacy, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, and more.
4. Share information
Putting cybersecurity in a silo will result in failure. Information about cybersecurity risks must be shared across all departments and at all levels. Implementing new security measures and applications or socializing issues surrounding cybersecurity must be communicated to all the appropriate stakeholders, especially those involved in your company's decision-making. You need to make it clear to all appropriate parties the potential business impact of relevant cyber risks—and then keep them aware and involved in ongoing conversations and activities surrounding the cyber posture of your business.
5. Implement a cybersecurity framework
It is important to implement the appropriate cybersecurity framework for your company. This is typically dictated by the standards adopted by your industry. The most frequently adopted cybersecurity frameworks are:
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls
NIST Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Security
6. Prioritize cybersecurity risks
No one has an infinite number of employees or an unlimited budget. Consequently, you need to prioritize cybersecurity risks in terms of both probability and the level of impact, and then prioritize your security preparations accordingly.
7. Encourage diverse views
Too often, cybersecurity staff and management view risk from a single viewpoint, sometimes based on personal experience or company history. But cybercriminals seldom share this same viewpoint; malicious actors are more likely to think "outside the box" and identify vulnerabilities in your system that you haven't seen before or even considered. For this reason, it's useful to encourage team members to think of and argue different points of view — either through penetration testing or phishing simulations. These tests will give employees the opportunity to see what a hacker sees, giving them the insight necessary to help identify more risks and more possible solutions.
8. Emphasize speed
When a security breach or cyberattack occurs, an immediate response is required. The longer it takes to address the threat, the more damage may be done. Studies show that 56% of IT managers take more than 60 minutes to get information about an ongoing cyberattack. But a lot of damage can be done in an hour.
Speedy reactions must be a part of your security-forward culture: recognize potential risks early, identify attacks and breaches immediately, and respond to security incidents rapidly. When it comes to risk containment, speed is of the essence.
9. Develop a risk assessment process
Risk assessment is an important part of any cybersecurity risk management plan. You need to:
Identify all your company's digital assets, including all stored data and intellectual property.
Identify all potential cyber threats, both external (hacking, attacks, ransomware, etc.) and internal (accidental file deletion, data theft, malicious current or former employees, etc.).
Identify the impact (financial and otherwise) if any of your assets were to be stolen or damaged.
Rank the likelihood of each potential risk occurring.
10. Incident response plan
Develop an incident response plan, focusing on the priority of risks you've previously identified. You need to know what needs to be done when a threat is detected—and who needs to do it. This plan should be codified so that even if an incident occurs after you've personally left the company, the team currently in place will have a roadmap for how to respond.
11. Be attentive to your threat environment
Cybercriminals continue to leverage information gathered from public sources, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, to launch sophisticated whaling attacks. A whaling attack is a type of corporate phishing attack that targets high-level executives (CEO or CFO), to steal sensitive information from a company. In some instances, hackers may pose as the CEO or other executives to manipulate their targets into authorizing access to financial information or employees’ personal information. For that reason, organizations should consider investing in cybersecurity training for their high-level executives.
12. Identify value-driven workflows
It’s important to have an understanding of the workflows that present significant impact because they could also pose significant risks. For instance, payment processes generate value, but they can also present serious business risks if they become vulnerable to fraud or a data breach. Identify which workflows in your organization are valuable and from there, identify who is in charge of its data assets, tools, and teams.
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