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Security Risk Assessment Overview

Security risk assessments can be a major game-changer for organizations that deal with sensitive or vulnerable personal data.
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Security Risk Assessment

Have you considered your organization’s security risk? Far too many businesses overlook just how at-risk their data actually is. Luckily, a security risk assessment can be used to identify risks and improve one’s security practices.

A security risk assessment (also known as an SRA) is intended to assist you in evaluating risk and maintaining regulatory compliance as an organization leader. Security should be a major focus in most firms that deal with sensitive data. All of your procedures, technology, and business aspects come with security concerns, and it's your job to ensure those risks are acknowledged and included in your company's operations. In certain situations, you may be compelled by law (specifically by the GDPR) to formally assess these security risks and adhere to specified criteria in order to reduce them.

In this guide, we’ll break down what a security risk assessment is, how to conduct your own IT security risk assessment, and why utilizing a company like Accountable’s security risk assessment tool can be so valuable.

What is a Security Risk Assessment? 

A security risk assessment finds, evaluates, and applies important application security measures. A security risk assessment, particularly in IT, also focuses primarily on preventing security breaches, flaws, and vulnerabilities in digital applications. A company may see its security system and overall organization holistically from the perspective of a hacker by doing a risk assessment. It aids managers in making well-informed decisions about resource allocation, tools, and security control implementation. As a result, completing an evaluation is an important aspect of a company's risk management strategy.

The depth of risk assessment models is affected by factors like size, growth rate, resources, and asset portfolio. When faced with money or time restrictions, organizations might decide to conduct generic evaluations. Generalized evaluations, however, may not always include precise mappings of assets, related threats, recognized risks, effects, and mitigation mechanisms. A more in-depth evaluation is required if the findings of the generalized assessment do not offer enough of a link between these areas.

How to Perform an IT Security Risk Assessment 

So what steps should a Security Risk Assessment follow? In general, the following steps can be used to conduct security risk assessments:

1. Map your Assets

Servers, client contact information, critical partner papers, trade secrets, and other items are examples of assets. Remember that what you consider useful as a technician may not be the most valuable for the company. As a result, you'll need to collaborate with business users and management to compile a comprehensive inventory of all important assets. Gather as much information as possible on each item. Software, hardware, overall data, users, staff, functions, regulations, architecture, and other types of data can all be included. After that, you must establish a criterion for assessing the value of each item. The asset's monetary worth, legal status, and relevance to the company are all common factors. Use the standard to categorize each asset as critical, major, or minor once it has been accepted by management and properly included in the risk assessment security policy.

2. Identify Data Security Threats and Vulnerabilities 

Anything that might hurt your business is a threat, not simply hackers and cybercriminals. Natural calamities, hardware failure, and malevolent conduct are all potential hazards. Malicious attacks are becoming more common. Data interference, data interception, and impersonation of personal data owners are the most typical sorts of harmful conduct. Due to the growing risk of data security being compromised, it is all the more important to be aware of the threats and vulnerabilities so you can prepare and train staff accordingly. 

3. Determine & Prioritize Risks 

A vulnerability is a flaw in your system that might allow a threat to harm your company. Analysis, audit reports, the NIST vulnerability database, vendor data, information security test and assessment methods, regular penetration testing, and vulnerability scanning tools can all be used to find vulnerabilities. For extra convenience, a platform like Accountable HQ may provide such features. However, don't restrict your considerations to software or network flaws. Employee abuse of information, for example, is a severe human vulnerability.

4. Analyze & Develop Security Controls

Analyze the measures in place or in the planning stages to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of a threat exploiting a vulnerability. Encryption, intrusion detection techniques, and identity and authentication solutions are examples of technical controls. Security policies, administrative measures, and physical and environmental processes are examples of non-technical controls. Controls might be viewed as either preventive or detective. Preventative controls identify and stop attacks before they happen, whereas detective controls detect and stop assaults that have already happened.

5. Document Results From Risk Assessment Report 

The results from your risk assessment should be documented and used regularly. You should also conduct a risk assessment report on a regular basis. The standard used to be once or twice a year. However, as data breaches continue to rise, organizations are encouraged to review their risk assessment reports and conduct new assessments on a more regular basis.

Keep in mind that your risk assessment report can determine how likely an incident is to occur, even if your risk assessment did not detect any current or recent security breaches. Assess the likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited, taking into consideration the kind of vulnerability, the threat source's capabilities and motive, and the presence and efficacy of your controls. Many companies utilize the categories “high, medium, and low” to estimate the chance of an attack or other unfavorable occurrence rather than a numerical score.

6. Create a Remediation Plan to Reduce Risks 

Your remediation plan is the most important part of your security risk assessment. It’s your overall plan for reducing risks that you uncover. Companies should respond to risks based on existing controls after analyzing and prioritizing them. Accepting, mitigating, transferring, and terminating risks are among treatment choices.

Accepting the risk usually entails putting in place security safeguards that decrease the possibility or effect of the danger. (We'll get into it in the next section.) Through mitigating the risk, you might accept that the risk fits within your set risk acceptance criteria or determine that it necessitates extraordinary measures. If you wish to transfer risk, you may do so by outsourcing to a partner or security company. Although your organization will almost always be affected by a breach, it can share the risk with someone who is better equipped to reduce it. Finally, you have the option of terminating the risk, where your organization can take efforts to eliminate the risk-causing behavior or event.

7. Implement Recommendations

Determine the security controls required (which we mentioned in step four) to minimize the risk using the risk level as a guide. Most businesses employ high, medium, and low risk categories as a basic guideline. Consider organizational policies, cost-benefit analysis, operational effect, feasibility, safety, and dependability as you examine procedures to limit each risk.

8. Evaluate and Repeat 

Risks will continue to appear, evolve, and fade. When revisiting the risk assessment on a frequent basis, companies should take into account all of the elements established in the first phase of a risk management strategy. The findings should be reviewed with your company's security staff or an outsourced security firm.

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Remember the Risk Equation

The Risk Equation can be used to measure risk during your assessment. The formula is as follows: “Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Asset.” This is a typical formula for describing risk. This is not meant to be considered as a mathematical formula, but rather as a model to get a ballpark idea of one’s data risk.

The one downside to using this formula is that there are no concrete measurable units for measuring things like risk, threats, and assets. There are a few popular units for measuring vulnerability, however, they are either environment-dependent or subjective to people who apply the formula.

Who Should Perform the Security Risk Assessment?

For identifying all areas of cyber vulnerability, a thorough methodology is required. A complete risk assessment should include representatives from all departments where vulnerabilities can be found and contained, rather than depending on a few IT team members. Look for those who are familiar with the company's data usage. Depending on the size of your company, putting together a full IT risk assessment team might be tough. While bigger firms may prefer to have their own IT staff lead the effort, businesses without an IT department may need to outsource the process to an IT risk assessment provider.

Why are Security Risk Assessments Important? 

In order to defend your firm from security threats, you must conduct a security risk assessment. Imagine being given the duty of renovating a home without first learning what's wrong with it. A security risk assessment offers you a blueprint of the hazards that exist in your environment, as well as important information on the severity of each issue. Knowing where to start when it comes to upgrading your security helps you to get the most out of your IT budget and resources, saving you time and money. It's also critical to undertake frequent security risk assessments throughout the year, rather than just once.

Common Mistakes Made While Performing Risk Assessments

Unfortunately, there are a lot of roadblocks one can run into when performing a security risk assessment.

To begin with, many businesses perform security risk assessments only for compliance or regulatory reasons. However, the main reason for doing risk assessments is that they are an important instrument in managing safety; without assessments, you would not be able to appropriately control the risks. Those that are forced to do risk assessments do so rarely, while they should be done on a regular basis. Consider security risk assessments as an investment in the health of your company rather than a legal duty.

Similarly, some businesses undertake risk assessments without adopting a management strategy. What usually happens is that individual risk evaluations are conducted without regard for the overall picture. What you truly need as a result of your risk assessments is a list of activities, arranged in descending order of risk, so you can start with the most serious concerns. As a result, your risk management strategy should prioritize the highest-scoring risks and seek to move them toward the lowest level of risk. 

Some businesses have a tendency to oversimplify risk evaluations. Risk is complicated, and evaluations can be somewhat specialized. The risk to the organization is usually far greater than it appears at first look. Always take a second look.

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