What is a Cybersecurity Assessment? (Definition & Types)

By Miryam Meir

Posted on Jan 19, 2021

The cyber threat landscape is continuously evolving, which is why routine cybersecurity assessments are a crucial component of a holistic risk management program. Your organization must keep an eye on the cyber hygiene of its entire ecosystem, including third- and fourth-party vendors, at all times. A cybersecurity risk assessment allows you to do this by identifying the cyber risks that affect your security posture, leading to more informed decision-making on how best to allocate funds to implement controls and protect the network.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular cybersecurity assessment frameworks and the steps your organization can take to conduct an effective assessment:

What is a cybersecurity assessment?

A cybersecurity assessment analyzes your organization’s cybersecurity controls and their ability to remediate vulnerabilities. These risk assessments should be conducted within the context of your organization’s business objectives, rather than in the form of a checklist as you would for a cybersecurity audit. This allows you to gain a high-level analysis of your network’s weaknesses so security teams can begin implementing security controls to mitigate them.

Why perform a cybersecurity assessment?

A comprehensive cybersecurity assessment is critical for determining whether or not your organization is properly prepared to defend against a range of threats. The goal of an assessment is to identify vulnerabilities and minimize gaps in security. It also aims to keep key stakeholders and board members in-the-know on the organization’s cybersecurity posture, making it possible to make more informed decisions about how security strategies can be implemented into day-to-day operations.

What are the different types of cybersecurity risk assessment frameworks?

There is a wide range of cybersecurity frameworks available depending on your industry or region. Two of the broader frameworks include the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and the ISO 27000 standards:

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework was developed in collaboration with government agencies and the private sector, and is most commonly used by companies in the U.S. The NIST framework is designed to address the essential components of cybersecurity including: identification, detection, protection, response, and recovery. While it was originally intended to help organizations dealing with critical infrastructure, many enterprise-level companies utilize and apply the comprehensive guidelines to their own cybersecurity efforts as well.

ISO 27000

A popular framework among international organizations is the ISO 27000, which is part of a larger growing family of Information Security Management Systems standards. This framework was developed by The International Organizations for Standards, and covers not only a corporation’s internal information, but that of third-party vendors as well. As a living document, it continuously evolves to keep up with new information needs and provides ongoing guidance.

Examples of more specialized cybersecurity frameworks include:

  • GDPR - The General Data Protection Regulation is an EU law that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of sensitive data from users who live in the European Union.
  • HIPAA - The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a set of rules that defines uniform standards for transferring healthcare information among healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses.
  • PCI-DSS - The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is designed to ensure all companies that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure network environment.
  • CMMC - The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, and requires defense contractors to undergo a cybersecurity assessment in order to certify the necessary level of cyber maturity.
  • FERPA - The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

How do you conduct a cybersecurity assessment?

An effective cybersecurity assessment may vary from one organization to the next given their industry or the regulatory requirements specific to their geographic location, but the foundation remains the same. Follow these key guidelines when conducting a cybersecurity assessment:

1. Evaluate the scope of the assessment

Identify all assets that will be evaluated in order to determine the full scope of the cybersecurity assessment. It may be beneficial to start by limiting your scope to one type of asset at a time rather than all at once. Once you’ve chosen an asset type, determine any other assets, devices, or information that it touches. This will ensure you’re getting a comprehensive look at your entire network.

2. Determine each asset’s value

Once you’ve identified what assets will be included in the assessment, you must determine the value of each asset. It’s important to consider that the true value of an asset may extend beyond its cost. During the assessment process, your team needs to consider intangible factors and the qualitative risks associated with each asset.

3. Identify cybersecurity risks

The next step in a cybersecurity assessment is to identify cybersecurity risks so you can calculate the likelihood of various loss scenarios for future decision-making. Consider situations where the asset could be exploited, the likelihood of exploitation, and the total impact that exploit could have on your organization. This is a critical step in ensuring that your organization is successfully meeting any cybersecurity compliance requirements required of your industry.

4. Compare the value of the asset with the cost of prevention

After the value of an asset has been determined, you must compare it with the cost of protecting it. Identify various loss scenarios to determine if the cost of preventing such incidents is more than the asset is worth, then it’s likely worth it to consider an alternative control or prevention method that makes more financial sense.

5. Establish and continuously monitor security controls

Once your organization has identified and analyzed critical assets and vulnerabilities within its network, the next step is to implement security measures that can continuously monitor its cybersecurity. This will ensure that the controls that have been put in place are meeting organizational requirements and protecting important information on an ongoing basis.

How SecurityScorecard can help

With SecurityScorecard, you’re equipped with the tools needed to monitor and improve the cybersecurity posture of your organization as well as that of your vendors. Organizations can gain complete and continuous visibility into the cyber hygiene of their entire ecosystem with Security Ratings, which provide A-F ratings across ten different groups of risk factors. This creates an opportunity for more objective, data-driven decision-making about threat mitigation.

It’s important to remember that the level of risk facing your assets and the threat landscape as a whole is constantly evolving. A routine cybersecurity assessment can help your organization ensure that its security controls are keeping up with emerging threats and continuously providing the best protection possible for your most important assets.

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