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How to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment in Simple Steps

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The bad guys are always on the hunt for vulnerabilities, so knowing your cyber risks and addressing them head-on can save you a lot of grief down the road. However, cybersecurity risk assessments are sometimes a tricky matter in the way they're performed. 

While many guidelines exist on how to do them, it can still be hard to determine which ones should be followed and in what order they need to be done. In this post, we'll try to make the whole process a lot more accessible by walking you through the basics of performing a cybersecurity risk assessment.

What is cyber risk?

Cyber risk refers to the potential harm that can result from security incidents or breaches in digital systems, networks, or technology-dependent organizations. It encompasses a wide range of threats, such as hacking, data theft, malware infections, phishing scams, and other malicious activities that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of sensitive information, disrupt business operations, cause financial losses, or harm an organization's reputation.

In today's increasingly connected world, cyber risk is a growing concern for both businesses and individuals, and it's essential to have proper security measures in place to protect against these threats.

What is a cyber risk assessment?

A cyber risk assessment is the process of evaluating and analyzing the potential risks and vulnerabilities to a company's information systems and sensitive data. This assessment involves identifying and evaluating the assets, technologies, and processes that make up the company's information technology (IT) environment and then determining the potential impacts of a data breach or cyber attack. 

"The knock-on effect of a data breach can be devastating for a company. When customers start taking their business—and their money—elsewhere, that can be a real body blow." – Christopher Graham.

The goal of a cyber risk assessment is to identify the most significant security threats facing an organization and develop a plan to mitigate or prevent those risks, so the company can minimize damage and maintain business operations in the event of a security incident. A comprehensive cyber risk assessment considers a wide range of factors, including technology infrastructure, organizational policies, employee training and awareness, physical security, and third-party risks.

Why perform a cybersecurity risk assessment?

By conducting a risk assessment, organizations can gain a clear understanding of their current security posture, identify areas of vulnerability and implement appropriate measures to mitigate any potential risks.

Who should carry out a cybersecurity risk assessment?

A cybersecurity risk assessment should be conducted by a team of professionals with expertise in cybersecurity, network security, and information technology. This can include:

  • In-house IT personnel
  • Security consultants
  • Or a combination of both. 

The team should be well-versed in the latest security technologies, best practices, and regulations in order to provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the organization's cybersecurity posture. The size and complexity of the organization, as well as the level of risk involved, will determine the number of individuals required to carry out the assessment.

How to perform a cyber risk assessment

1. Define objectives and scope

Before beginning the assessment, it's important to define the objectives and scope of the assessment. This includes identifying which assets you want to protect, the types of threats you want to assess, and the desired outcome of the assessment. This step is crucial as it sets the foundation for the rest of the assessment process.

For example, let's say you are a small business owner, and you want to assess the cybersecurity risks associated with your network and data. In this scenario, you would define the following objectives and scope:

Objectives:

  1. Identify potential vulnerabilities in your network and systems
  2. Evaluate the potential impact of a cyber attack on your business
  3. Determine the necessary measures to minimize the risk

Scope:

  1. Assessment of all hardware and software in use within the network
  2. Evaluation of the security measures currently in place, such as firewalls, antivirus software, and password policies
  3. Identification of potential threats such as malware, phishing, and data breaches

By clearly defining the objectives and scope, you can ensure that your assessment is thorough, focused, and effective in mitigating the risk. This will also help you stay organized and on track as you conduct the assessment.

Bonus: Prior to performing a cyber risk assessment, it's worth reviewing compliance standards and frameworks like NIST SP 800-37 and ISO/IEC TS 27110 as they can help you assess your information security in a structured manner.

free guide on top compliance standards for SaaS companies

2. Define Your Network Infrastructure

In this step, you'll want to create a clear and detailed map of your organization's network infrastructure. This includes an inventory of all hardware and software, network diagrams, and data flow diagrams. This information will help you identify the potential entry points for cyber attacks and prioritize which areas of your network to focus on during the assessment.

Identify all devices and systems within the network

Create a comprehensive list of all the devices and systems that make up your network. This includes servers, desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and any other hardware connected to your network. This information is crucial in determining the potential entry points for cyber threats and helps you to prioritize which areas of your network to focus on during the assessment.

Determine the level of access and control of each device

It's important to understand who has access to each device and what level of access they have. This information will help you identify any potential vulnerabilities in your network and determine what measures need to be put in place to minimize the risk. 

For example, if an employee has administrator-level access to a critical system, you'll want to assess the risk associated with that access and determine if any controls need to be implemented to mitigate that risk. Tip: Resmo's free SaaS Discovery tool can help you discover employee access levels to company-wide SaaS.

Assess the security measures in place for each device

Assess the security measures that are in place for each device. This includes evaluating the type of antivirus software installed, the use of firewalls, and the strength of passwords. By assessing the security measures in place for each device, you'll be able to determine what additional measures need to be put in place to minimize the risk of a cyber attack. 

For example, if a device does not have a firewall in place, you should prioritize the implementation of a firewall to protect that device from network-based attacks.

3. Gather information

This step is all about getting to know your network inside and out. You'll want to create a clear and detailed map of your organization's network infrastructure, including an inventory of all hardware and software, network diagrams, and data flow diagrams. By having an accurate understanding of your network and systems, you'll be able to identify potential vulnerabilities and assess the impact of a potential breach. 

Think of it like a treasure hunt; you're searching for all the hidden gems in your network so you can protect them.

For example, if you are the IT manager for a small business, you would start by creating a list of all the devices and systems used in your network, such as computers, servers, routers, switches, firewalls, and software applications. You would then create network diagrams that show the connections between these devices and data flow diagrams that show the flow of information within your network.

This information will help you to identify potential vulnerabilities in your network, such as weak passwords, unpatched software, or the lack of encryption.

4. Identify potential threats

This step involves identifying potential threats to your organization. This includes common types of cyber attacks such as malware, phishing, and data breaches. It's important to stay up-to-date with the latest threats and trends in cybersecurity to ensure that your assessment covers all relevant risks.

For example, let's say your organization is a retail company with an e-commerce platform. During the identification of potential threats step, you might evaluate how the platform could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This might include considering potential weaknesses in the platform's security measures, such as unpatched software or weak passwords, and researching common attack methods used against e-commerce platforms, such as fraud and data breaches.

With this information, you can then create a comprehensive list of all the potential threats that your organization faces and prioritize them based on their likelihood and impact. This information will serve as the foundation for the rest of the assessment, as it will help you evaluate and prioritize vulnerabilities, develop a risk mitigation plan, and monitor and update your cybersecurity measures over time.

5. Evaluate Your Current Threats

evaluate current cyber risks

In this step, you'll evaluate the current threats to your organization, including those you have identified in step 4. This includes determining the likelihood of an attack, the potential consequences of a breach, and the potential financial impact. For example, if a data breach occurs, you'll want to assess the potential impact on your reputation, customer trust, and financial stability.

Conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis

Perform a SWOT analysis of your organization's cybersecurity to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis is a useful tool for understanding the current state of your organization's cybersecurity and helps you prioritize your risk mitigation efforts.

Identify current and potential security threats

Identify both current and potential security threats to your organization. This includes common types of cyber attacks such as malware, phishing, and data breaches, as well as new and emerging threats. Staying informed about the latest trends in cybersecurity is essential to ensure that your threat identification efforts are comprehensive.

Determine the likelihood and potential impact of each threat

Once you have identified the potential security threats to your organization, you'll want to assess their likelihood of occurrence and the potential impact of each threat. This information will help you prioritize your risk mitigation efforts and allocate resources appropriately. For example, if your organization has a high likelihood of being targeted by phishing attacks, you'll want to prioritize employee training on how to identify and avoid these types of attacks.

6. Evaluate the impact of threats

In this step, you'll evaluate the potential impact of each identified threat. This includes determining the likelihood of an attack, the potential consequences of a breach, and the potential financial impact. This is an important step in a cybersecurity risk assessment that involves evaluating the value of the information being protected and the potential impact of its loss or compromise. This step helps organizations prioritize their efforts and resources to ensure that the most critical information is protected.

Questions you can ask yourself to determine the information value include:

  • Are there any financial or legal consequences for revealing or misplacing this data?
  • How important would this information be to rival companies?
  • In the event of losing this information, could it be regenerated, and what would be the expenses and time required for this?
  • Will losing this information affect the company's earnings or overall financial performance?
  • In the event of data loss, will it hinder the normal functioning of the business and the ability of the employees to work effectively?
  • What kind of reputation harm could the company face if this information was leaked to the public?

Example:

Consider a healthcare organization that holds patient health information (PHI). This information is considered confidential and has high information value, as it can be used for malicious purposes such as identity theft or insurance fraud if it falls into the wrong hands. Therefore, the organization must understand the value of PHI and prioritize protecting this information over other less sensitive information. The organization may implement additional security measures, such as encryption and access controls, to ensure that the PHI remains secure and confidential. 

7. Prioritize risks

In this step, prioritize the risks based on their impact and likelihood, focusing on the risks with the highest priority first. For example, if your organization has a high likelihood of being targeted by phishing attacks, you'll want to prioritize training for your employees on how to identify and avoid these types of attacks.

8. Develop a risk mitigation plan

Based on the risk levels determined in step 6, develop a risk mitigation plan that includes implementing the necessary controls to minimize the risk. This may include updating software, implementing encryption, and providing staff training. The mitigation plan should also include a timeline for implementation and regular review to ensure its effectiveness.

9. Implement the mitigation plan

Once the mitigation plan is in place, implement the necessary changes to minimize the risk. This includes updating software, implementing encryption, and providing staff training. It's essential to regularly monitor the implementation of the mitigation plan to ensure that it is being executed effectively and that the risk levels remain low.

10. Regularly Monitor and Update Your Cybersecurity Measures

Regularly monitor and review your systems and processes to ensure that the mitigation plan is effective and that the risk levels remain low. This includes regularly conducting vulnerability scans and updating your risk assessment to ensure that your organization stays protected against evolving cyber threats. The monitoring and review process should also include regular testing of the mitigation plan to ensure its effectiveness.

monitoring cyberseurity measures

Schedule regular assessments and audits

Regular assessments and audits help ensure the security of your network and systems by identifying and fixing potential vulnerabilities. This should be done at regular intervals, such as monthly, quarterly, or annually, to keep up with the ever-evolving security landscape.

Example: To ensure the security of your systems, schedule a yearly audit with a trusted third-party security firm. This will give you an outside perspective on your network's strengths and weaknesses and help you identify areas for improvement.

Monitor activity and detect any unusual activity

Monitoring activity helps you detect any potential threats and suspicious behavior. This includes monitoring logs, alerts, and network traffic to identify any unauthorized access attempts or data breaches.

Example: By using a security information and event management (SIEM) solution, you can monitor your network in real-time and detect any unusual activity, such as multiple failed login attempts or data exfiltration. This will give you the opportunity to respond quickly and prevent any potential damage.

Continuously update and improve your security measures

To stay ahead of the constantly evolving security landscape, it's important to continuously update and improve your security measures. This includes updating software and systems, regularly patching vulnerabilities, and adopting new technologies that enhance security.

Example: By implementing a software-defined perimeter (SDP) solution, you can protect your systems from both internal and external threats by creating an invisible layer of security around your network. This will help you stay ahead of the curve and minimize the risk of a data breach.

Automate your cyber risk assessments

automated cybersecurity risk assessment

Keeping your company safe and sound from cyber threats takes a considerable amount of effort; that's a no-brainer. But you can render your cyber risk assessment process easier and more efficient by using a cyber asset security solution like Resmo. Here's how to perform a cybersecurity risk assessment using Resmo in 3 simple steps:

Step 1. Sign up to Resmo for free

Resmo registration screen

Resmo offers a free trial and a free plan, making it straightforward to try out the platform. To explore the full extent of it, you can start a free trial.

Step 2. Integrate your cloud and SaaS

integrations for cloud and SaaS security

Once you sign up, the next step is to connect your existing cloud services and SaaS apps so that Resmo can start collecting your cyber assets in a single inventory. This enables you to monitor what assets you own, understand, and secure them. See available 70+ native integrations.

After completing the integration process, security rules also begin your automated cybersecurity risk assessment. Rules are a set of security policies that evaluate your assets at regular intervals. When they don't match the set security standard, they pass into a warning state, making your security team's job easier and more efficient.

Step 3. Set up notification rules

notification channels

Now that you've integrated your tools with Resmo, the next step is to set up notification rules to get alerts when there is a security rule breach. But before that, you need to configure channels such as:

  • Slack
  • Email
  • Webhook
  • PagerDuty
  • OpsGenie

You can set up different notification channels for different notification rules. I.e., Email for low to medium-severity rules and Slack for high-severity alerts.

Apart from these, you can use Resmo for many use cases, including the following:

Get started for free to conduct a cyber risk assessment.

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