Tips for Using an Information Security Risk Assessment Template

By Susanne Gurman

Posted on Mar 12, 2018

As security breaches and incidents increase at an alarming rate, many organizations are scrambling to right the ship when it comes to information security. Attempting to remain secure means incorporating industry standards and technology to support them. Many businesses being this process by using the regulatory and industry standard defined risk assessments that outline the controls and steps necessary  since many incorporate an information security risk assessment template.

Some IT risk assessment templates have a predefined roadmap for beginning to assess risk. In this post, we’ll discuss some tips and suggestions to keep in mind when using a security assessment template.

1. Reference templates from reliable sources

An information security risk assessment template is only as good as the person or organization who wrote it, so make sure you only reference templates from reputable sources.

Both the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)  and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) have helpful templates, and we’ve also linked a guide on performing a risk assessment, along with the value of vendor assessment templates, here on the site.

2. Get buy-in from senior management

Senior management often feels overwhelmed by the perceived “box ticking” of IT compliance audits. ,Drawing guidance from an information security risk assessment templates requires the support and backing of the senior management team, but organizations that create standards and technology that enables compliance often require additional funding.

Gaining support requires  meeting with the leadership team to discuss your plans for using the template and addressing any concerns that the team may have. Make it very clear that this won’t work without their support, and solidify their commitment to making the effort successful by driving the project from the top.

The most effective way to garner executive support is to express the risk in financial terms. Translate the risk into dollars lost, production downtime, or loss of reputation, and you’ll start speaking the same language.

3. Create a committee to divide and conquer

Unless you’re able to set all of your work aside for the next three months, it’s highly unlikely that a security manager can understand and leverage the entirety of the template alone.  

By clearly delegating risk management responsibilities, organizations are able to more easily improve cyber security health. Increased automation across the enterprise means that security no longer resides in the IT department alone. However, understanding the risks to the data environment and ecosystem means relying on industry standards and technology to provide visibility into the threats against the perimeter.

Organizations need cross-departmental communication capabilities to ensure mitigation of all risks. Functional areas use different vendors, each with their own risks. To align the risk assessment to the actual risks, everyone in the organization needs to speak the same language of security.

4. Understand the limitations of a risk assessment template

A single information security risk assessment template may not properly address risks that are unique to your industry or business. For example, if yours is a retail business, a NIST risk assessment template may not dive deeply into securing the customer data environment as required by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). For a financial institution, the NIST or ISACA standards may not address requirements aligning to the New York Department of Financial Services (NY DFS) Cybersecurity Regulation. s. Ultimately, you may need to assess a variety of risks to maintain compliance across various standards and regulations. 

A risk assessment template can be a good starting point to help understand and evaluate risks within your organization, but ultimately, cyber security risk management is an ongoing, proactive, and responsive process that needs to operate with continuous procedures.

Malicious actors continually evolve the manner through which they exploit vulnerabilities in you data security controls. A single-moment-in-time assessment provides an overview of risks that can become outdated in the blink of an eye. Thus, any point in time assessment is going to have significant limitations. (Read more here.) 

Conclusion

For ongoing risk management, organizations may rely on more sophisticated automated tools that continuously  monitor cyber-risks in key areas. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms ease the monitoring burden by automatically map findings to the template of interest. In summary, an information security risk assessment template is a valuable tool for businesses who are jumping into risk reviews for the first time, or who may just need a new perspective on existing processes. However, these should be used with an understanding of the limitations and with the ultimate goal of building.  

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