What is Cybersecurity Risk? Definition & Factors to Consider

By Negin Aminian

Posted on Feb 16, 2021

Cybersecurity risk has become a leading priority for organizations as they embrace digital transformation and leverage advanced technology solutions to drive business growth and optimize efficiencies. Additionally, many organizations are increasingly reliant on third-party and fourth-party vendors or programs. While these resources can unlock and drive business success, they also introduce new threats and expand your digital attack surface.

One of the most common mistakes that organizations make is not having a comprehensive understanding of the inherent risk that they take on when working with these additional resources. When everyone involved knows what to look out for and what to do should an issue arise, organizations can more proactively manage and mitigate risks before they become bigger problems.

Let’s take a look at some key cybersecurity risk factors that organizations across all industries should keep in mind as they build and refine their cybersecurity risk management

What is cybersecurity risk?

Cybersecurity risk is the probability of exposure, loss of critical assets and sensitive information, or reputational harm as a result of a cyber attack or breach within an organization’s network. Across industries, cybersecurity must remain top of mind and organizations should work to implement a cybersecurity risk management strategy to protect against constantly advancing and evolving cyber threats.

Threats vs vulnerabilities vs consequences

Cybersecurity risk is typically defined by three components - threat, vulnerability, and consequence.

  • Threat: Threats can include social engineering attacks, DDoS attacks, and advanced persistent threats, to name a few. Threat actors may be associated with nation-states, insiders, criminal enterprises, and are typically motivated by financial gain or political agendas.
  • Vulnerability: In cybersecurity, a vulnerability refers to weakness, flaw, or error that can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access. Vulnerabilities can be taken advantage of in a number of ways, which is why vulnerability management is crucial for staying ahead of criminals.
  • Consequence: The consequence is the actual harm or damages that occur as a result of a network disruption. Typically, an organization will incur both direct and indirect consequences as they work to remediate the problem. Depending on the attack, consequences may impact an organization’s finances, operations, reputation, and regulatory compliance status.

Who is responsible for cybersecurity risk in an organization?

Many organizations believe that the responsibility of cybersecurity risk management falls solely on the IT and security teams. In reality, an effective cybersecurity strategy is reliant upon organization-wide awareness. It’s also important that businesses have an established incident response plan that clearly outlines individual responsibilities, when these responsibilities should be carried out, and the specific steps that each user or department should take in the event of an attack. This plan should act as a roadmap for the entire organization on how to respond to threats. Having a thorough incident response plan in place is one of the most crucial steps to securing your network.

What are common cybersecurity risks?

Cybersecurity risks come in many forms, vary from one industry to the next, and are constantly evolving. However, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind when putting together your organization’s cybersecurity risk management program.

Below, we outline the common security risks organizations face:

Third-party vendor risk

Third and fourth-party vendors allow organizations to outsource particular business operations, helping to cut down on cost and enhance operational efficiency. These vendors often have insider access to an organization’s most sensitive data, including customers’ personal identifying information (PII).

It’s important for organizations to maintain complete and continuous visibility of all entities within their entire network. Third-party risk management enables organizations to take advantage of the benefits that vendors can provide without compromising on security.

Employees and contractors (insider threats)

As previously mentioned, insiders with access to the network, such as employees and contractors, play a big role in maintaining an organization’s cybersecurity posture. For this reason, cybersecurity awareness and social engineering training is a necessity. Insiders should be able to identify various risks and understand what should be done once they are discovered. When insiders have a complete understanding of the various risks they should be aware of, then proactive steps can be taken to mitigate risk.

Organizations should implement a Zero Trust Security model, which is a security method that operates around the belief that access should be administered based on each user or device’s specific job function. This helps to limit the number of opportunities for insiders to negligently or maliciously take advantage of their access controls.

Lacking compliance measures

As data privacy increasingly becomes a concern for customers, more regulatory compliance standards such as PCI, HIPAA, and GDPR are being put into place. While these regulations are an important point of consideration that should be followed, it’s important to understand that maintaining compliance with these standards does not guarantee an organization is secured from attackers.

Traditional point-in-time assessments are no longer sufficient as organizations can drift in and out of compliance between audits. Instead, an effective cybersecurity strategy should include the ability to continuously monitor your entire network ecosystem for non-compliance so that your organization can shift to meet evolving industry requirements.

Improperly secured intellectual property and sensitive information

In today’s digital world, companies are gathering more customer information than ever. This sensitive data allows organizations to optimize customer experiences and guide future decisions, but it also opens them up to a great deal of risk, especially if critical information or intellectual property is not properly secured. Organizations should examine their industry’s regulations regarding data protection to ensure that the proper security measures are accounted for.

How SecurityScorecard can help defend against key cybersecurity risks

Cybersecurity risks come in many forms, and most importantly, they are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. Cybersecurity risk management is a never-ending responsibility that must be maintained. Otherwise, organizations run the risk of undergoing financial or reputational harm in the event of a cyberattack or data breach.

With SecurityScorecard, organizations gain continuous, centralized visibility of their entire IT ecosystem. Security ratings allow IT teams to make data-driven decisions about how to mitigate vulnerabilities by evaluating an organization’s posture across 10 groups of risk factors. Additionally, SecurityScorecard continuous monitoring allows organizations to proactively monitor third-party vendor risk and regulatory compliance. This ensures that teams are able to keep sensitive information protected and stay one step ahead of attackers.

Despite the growing number of risk factors, SecurityScorecard provides teams with the intelligence necessary for ensuring effective cybersecurity.

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