How to Perform A Cyber Security Risk Analysis

By Phoebe Fasulo

Posted on Jul 31, 2019

Performing a cyber security risk analysis helps your company identify, manage, and safeguard data, information, and assets that could be vulnerable to a cyberattack. Such analysis helps you identify systems and resources, determine the risk, and create a plan for security controls that can help protect your company. 

Perhaps you don’t know your risk level and the likelihood of a cyber security attack on your business, but it’s a real threat that’s impacting more companies every day and is therefore something you need to think about. According to Cyber Defense Magazine, 43 percent of all cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses. Let’s take a look at how performing a risk assessment and analysis can be your strongest defense. 

1. Take inventory of systems and resources

Step one of performing a cyber security risk analysis is to catalog all your businesses network resources. Document every device, including computers, tablets, routers, printers, servers, and phones, on the network. 

Document how resources are used and how they connect. List data types, departments with access to systems, and vendors that touch network resources and information. Note how information and data travel through the network and what components they touch along the way. 

If you aren’t sure if a network resource is important, note it in the inventory anyway. Sometimes the most innocuous devices can be the source of a potential leak in your security infrastructure. Any piece of hardware that connects to your information or data network can potentially become the source of a cyber intrusion. 

Don’t forget to catalog network resources that are located outside of your physical location as well. Also, do you store data or information in the cloud? Do you use a customer relationship management tool? If so, take note of these as well. 

2. Identify potential weaknesses and threats

The next step is to look at areas where your company or information is most vulnerable. 

Does your business use IoT devices? Attacks on smartphones and other connected devices increased by 600 percent in 2017, and are still continuing to rise, making this one of the most significant potential weaknesses in most businesses. The other common trouble spot for companies is email. 

Knowing how and where cyberattacks can come in to your system and processes can help you better understand how to spot a potential threat before it turns into a major problem.

Potential threats include:

  • Unauthorized access to your network
  • Misuse of information or data leakage
  • Failed processes
  • Data loss 
  • Disruption of service

3. Determine the risk impact

Once you’ve collected a list of systems and resources and have a good idea of where weaknesses and threats lie, it’s important to think about the actual risk to your business. For instance, how would a cyberattack harm your business? What information is most at risk?

List all potential risks and rate them on a scale of low, medium, and high risk, with a typical classification of such risks listed below. Determining the risk to your company usually involves a ratio of how much damage a cyberattack could do if information or data was compromised to how likely it is that a certain system could be compromised. 

Low-risk items might include servers that contain public information but no private data and where such servers are connected to an in-house network.

Medium-risks items might be related to offline data storage at a specific physical location.

High-risk items might include payment or customers’ personal information stored in cloud software. 

Map the risk levels first and then conduct an analysis to determine how likely a risk scenario is to occur and what financial impact it could have on your business if it were to occur. This analysis can help prioritize what parts of your corporate and network infrastructure need to be secured first. 

You may even find that some parts of your infrastructure are so low-risk that you don’t need to do anything at all. For higher-risk items, you’ll want to ensure you have proper security controls in place. 

4. Develop and set cyber security controls

There are different ways to mitigate potential cyber security attacks before they happen. With strong security protocols in place and a plan for managing data and information, you will help your business stay safe. 

Security controls and protocols can greatly reduce risks to your business, improve compliance, and even impact performance. 

Security controls include:

  • Setting up and configuring a firewall
  • Segregating networks
  • Creating and using a password policy for all employees and devices
  • Using at-rest and in-transit encryption
  • Installing anti-malware and anti-ransomware tools
  • Using multi-factor authentication for users accessing business systems
  • Using vendor risk management software

5. Evaluate the effectiveness and repeat

Finally, any good risk analysis comes with the ability to measure the results and an opportunity to continue to improve processes. Networks are constantly changing and evolving with new technologies and devices coming on to the market, making this an imperative step that’s often forgotten. 

Work with a vendor or use software and tools that can help detect threats or changes to your cyber security protocols before a cyberattack happens. An analysis is most effective when it provides a framework for continuing to mitigate risk.

A new cyber security risk analysis should be performed at least annually to ensure that your company isn’t leaving high-risk assets vulnerable to a cyberattack. 

Individual businesses can conduct a risk analysis using some of our cyber security resources. If you need a more robust solution, SecurityScorecard can help with tools for various industries, including the financial, technology, retail, and healthcare sectors.

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