Learning Center January 3, 2024

What is a Cybersecurity Assessment?

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, which leads to more informed decision-making on how best to allocate funds, implement security controls, and protect the network.

Here, we’ll review some of the most popular cybersecurity risk assessments, as well as the steps your organization can take to conduct an effective assessment.

Threats move fast. We move faster.

What is a cybersecurity assessment?

A cybersecurity assessment, or cybersecurity risk 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.

While not necessarily part of a risk assessment, it’s still worth mentioning the value of the CIA triad–which stands for confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Organizations can use the CIA triad to form a clear and comprehensive checklist to evaluate their incident response plan in the event of a cyber breach. The CIA triad is especially important when it comes to finding out what went wrong after a network has been compromised. From there, this information can be used to resolve vulnerabilities and identify strong points.

What does a cybersecurity risk assessment include?

A cybersecurity risk assessment includes questions that help assess and evaluate an organization’s vulnerabilities and potential threats. For example, a cybersecurity risk assessment may include questions including:

  • “Is our team prepared for a cyber attack?”
  • “Do we have a formal cybersecurity incident response plan in place?”
  • “What types of credentials and authentication protocols are in place?”
  • “How do we evaluate third parties?”

Answering these questions with a cybersecurity risk assessment will help your business identify any existing weaknesses while also strengthening your defenses in the event of a cyber attack.

The 5 steps of a cybersecurity assessment

An effective cybersecurity assessment may vary from one organization to the next given the industry or the regulatory requirements specific to their geographic location. However, the foundation remains the same. 

Follow these steps when conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment:

Step 1: Evaluate the scope of the risk 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 networks, devices, or information that it touches. This will ensure you’re getting a comprehensive look at your entire digital footprint.

Step 2: Determine the value of each asset

Once you’ve identified which assets will be included in the cybersecurity 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 risk assessment process, your team needs to consider intangible factors and the qualitative risks associated with each asset.

Step 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. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to foresee certain security flaws, such as a zero-day vulnerability. Still, it’s important to 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.

Step 4: Compare the value of the asset with the cost of prevention

After the value of an asset has been determined, you must next 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.

Step 5: Establish and continuously monitor security controls

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. 

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 a cybersecurity assessment is to identify vulnerabilities and minimize gaps in security. It also aims to keep key stakeholders and board members up-to-date 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. Other reasons to perform a cybersecurity risk assessment are to maintain compliance for the following regulations:

  • GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an EU law that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of sensitive data from users who live in the European Union. There are several countries that are now making GDPR-like laws as well, indicating shifting future trends when it comes to data privacy.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a set of rules that defines uniform standards for transferring healthcare information among healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses.


The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) 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 (CMMC) 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.


The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

What are the different types of cybersecurity risk assessment frameworks?

There is a wide range of cybersecurity risk assessment frameworks available depending on your industry or region. Two of the broader frameworks include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework and the ISO 27000 standards. But there are also more specialized cybersecurity frameworks depending on your organization.

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.

Cybersecurity risk assessments with SecurityScorecard

With SecurityScorecard, you’re equipped with the cybersecurity 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.

Cybersecurity risk assessment FAQ’s

What are the types of cybersecurity risk assessments?

A cybersecurity risk assessment can take many forms depending on the needs of your organization. They include:

  • Standards-based assessment (NIST)
  • Penetration testing
  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Security audit
  • Breach and attack simulation

What does a cybersecurity risk assessment analyze?

A cybersecurity risk assessment analyzes your entire security landscape and what assets (such as computers, hardware, customer data, etc.) can be affected by a cyber attack. This includes analyzing the infrastructure effectiveness, resilience, third- and fourth-party vendors, mitigation techniques, and general risk and vulnerabilities.

Who should be involved in a cybersecurity risk assessment?

There are several key members that you will want to include on your cybersecurity risk assessment team to ensure your assessment includes the entire organization. Depending on the scope of your organization, this generally includes:

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
  • Senior management
  • Privacy officers
  • Compliance officers
  • Human resources
  • Managers from each business line 

What kind of security controls should I set up after a cybersecurity risk assessment?

After you’ve conducted a cybersecurity risk assessment, your business should have a good understanding of what vulnerabilities exist throughout your network, and therefore, how to protect them. The most common security controls to implement after a cyber risk assessment include:

Assess cyber risks and make informed decisions with confidence, every time