Tips for Using an Information Security Risk Assessment Template

Posted on Mar 12, 2018

Security breaches and incidents are increasing in occurrence at an alarming rate. With another company in the news for a data breach almost every week, many organizations are scrambling to right the ship when it comes to information security. For many businesses, the first step in this process is to conduct a risk assessment, and for organizations that are new to taking these steps,the first step to make progress on that goal is to reference 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 NIST  and 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

As with any venture into the world of IT security, drawing guidance from an information security risk assessment template requires the support and backing of the senior management team. Once you’ve acquired a template from a reputable source, meet with the leadership team to discuss your plans for using it and address 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 cybersecurity health. An important duty of any cybersecurity stakeholder is to perform peer review on other members’ reports and findings. While each delegate knows their area best, a fresh set of eyes will often uncover risks that were missed.

4. Understand the Limitations of a Risk Assessment Template

An information security risk assessment template may not properly address risks that are unique to your industry or business. For example, if yours is a call center business, a risk assessment template may not dive deep into customer privacy or how agents handle confidential information over the phone and in their data entry applications. For an internet service provider, it may not address requirements on Customer Proprietary Network Information which have their own specific controls. Certainly if you’re in a regulated market, you should look to your applicable regulations and guidelines to fill in the gaps from the template.

Additionally, a risk assessment template can be a good starting point to help understand and evaluate risks within your organization, but ultimately, cybersecurity risk management is an ongoing, proactive, and responsive process that needs to operate with continuous procedures. Any point in time assessment is going to have significant limitations. (Read more here.) 

For ongoing risk management, organizations may rely on more sophisticated tools that automatically monitor cyber-risks in key areas or even platforms that 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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