5 Best Tips to Perform a Successful IT Risk Assessment

Cybersecurity has never been more critical than it is today. A new cyber attack starts every 40 seconds, and ransomware attacks are increasing at 400% per year. Additionally, 65% of organizations worldwide have had at least one cyber attack. 

The costs of a cyber attack extend beyond the immediate impact and can damage a company’s reputation. Stock prices drop by an average of 5% when a data breach is disclosed. Many CMOs and IT managers agree that brand reputation is among the top impacts of a data breach. It can be challenging to earn customers’ and clients’ trust after a significant breach. 

How can your organization protect itself against costly data breaches and cyber attacks? 

Conduct regular IT risk assessments. Learning how to conduct IT risk assessment is essential for organizations across all industries and of all sizes. A risk assessment involves categorizing all assets, understanding threats and vulnerabilities, and implementing mitigation controls to eliminate or minimize the impact of an attack. 

Today, we’ll examine the five best tips to help your organization conduct a successful IT risk assessment that has a meaningful impact on your company. We’ll begin by further defining an assessment and then dive into actionable tips that lead to a successful assessment. 

5 Best Tips to Perform a Successful IT Risk Assessment

What is an IT Risk Assessment?

An IT risk assessment identifies potential threats facing company assets, such as information systems, networks, and applications. After identified, the potential consequences of each threat are determined and quantified. 

Conducting IT risk assessments is an essential responsibility to protect your business from potential cyber attacks by anticipating them before they occur and implementing controls to mitigate them. 

Many cybersecurity frameworks and industry-specific regulations require regular risk assessments to remain compliant. Some frameworks also provide a specific IT risk assessment template or methodology to help guide the risk assessment process. 

Ultimately, an IT risk assessment will help decision-makers implement changes that protect the company against cyber attacks, data breaches, and other threats that may damage vital company assets. 

5 Tips for a Successful IT Risk Analysis

Before diving into specific tips, let’s explore a brief overview of a commonly used IT risk assessment methodology:

  • Inventory the organization’s information assets
  • Understand possible threats that may damage each asset
  • Detail specific vulnerabilities that would all allow threats to harm company assets
  • Assess the associated cost if the threat were to occur
  • Recommend and implement mitigating controls to minimize or eliminate the threat

Assessments should be conducted annually at a minimum. Additionally, a risk assessment should be conducted whenever there is a significant change to your organization, such as implementing new technologies or a company merger. 

Now, what can you do to ensure a successful risk assessment? Let’s go over five actionable tips that make sure you adequately identify and mitigate potential risks.

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1. Identify Threats and Potential Vulnerability Pairs 

A threat is anything that might harm the organization’s information assets. A vulnerability is a specific weakness that would allow the threat to occur. Generally, threats will have an associated vulnerability pair, but not always. 

Threats take many forms beyond malware and hackers. There are three categories of threats to consider:

  1. Hardware failure: All types of hardware failures can occur throughout an organization’s infrastructure. Whether servers or personal devices, old equipment is more prone to failure than newer high-quality hardware. Additionally, hardware provided by “no-name” vendors may be more prone to failure. This category also includes accidental or intentional damage to hardware, such as an IT technician spilling coffee on a server. 
  2. Malicious behavior: This category includes the threats that immediately come to mind for most cybersecurity professionals: hackers and malware. There are three subcategories of malicious behavior to be aware of:
    1. Interference: A malicious actor may delete sensitive information, launch a dedicated denial of service (DDOS) that makes your services unavailable, deploy malware, or even physically steal a computer. 
    2. Impersonation: This type of threat involves using employee credentials to access a system.
    3. Interception: Someone may intercept your data and use it for malicious purposes, such as selling it on the dark web or launching additional attacks. 
  3. Natural disasters: It’s easy for IT professionals to overlook natural disasters, but they’re still a threat that warrants consideration. First, research historic natural disasters to understand what threats the location of your data centers face, such as floods or tornados. Then, recommend mitigation strategies, which might mean putting servers on the second floor or moving the data center altogether. 

Once identified, determine the specific vulnerabilities that enable the threat. For example, password policies that allow for brute-force attacks are a specific threat/vulnerability pair. You can use the NIST vulnerability database to help discover vulnerabilities. 

2. Assess the Potential Impact of a Threat and Recommend Controls

Any IT risk assessment questionnaire will include analyzing the impact of identified threats. Understanding the real-world cost of a threat occurring helps prioritize them effectively. For example, if the threat is old hardware potentially failing, the recommended control is to replace the hardware. 

Many of the threats your organization faces will require more complex controls. Identifying the appropriate threat/vulnerability pair creates a clear roadmap to guide threat mitigation strategies. For example, if the identified threat is made possible by a known vulnerability in software widely used throughout the organization, you may need to recommend developing an in-house version or switching to a new vendor.

3. Thoroughly Document Results to Create a Benchmark

Documentation is essential to conducting a successful risk assessment. The final document should contain:

  • The specific threat 
  • The vulnerability that enables threat 
  • The asset at risk
  • The likelihood of the threat occurring
  • The impact and cost if it does occur
  • Specific control recommendations

Risk assessment documentation can be immediately handed over to decision-makers, determining which controls to implement. 

Yet, that’s not the only use of the documentation. The first assessment creates a benchmark of all the threats facing your company and which ones are likely to occur. Then, the second assessment will help IT understand if the controls that have been implemented are effectively preventing threats from occurring. This cycle continues with every new assessment; IT can compare which controls are adequate and which ones are not. 

4. Assess Inherent Risk Levels vs Residual Risk Level After Implementing Mitigating Controls

A standard IT risk assessment includes identifying a threat and recommending controls to mitigate the risk

Yet, the risk assessment is even more valuable if you go one step further and assess the risk level of the threat after a control is implemented. 

For example, if the identified threat is the potential for a brute-force attack due to weak password policies, IT would recommend stronger password policies and then assess the residual risk level of a brute-force attack. 

This added step will help decision-makers understand which controls to implement based on how effectively they lower the risk level of a specific threat.

5. Use a Cybersecurity Framework – Don’t Guess

Cybersecurity frameworks are excellent tools to guide your IT risk assessment. For instance, the ISO 27001 Information Security Management framework provides direct guidance on securing important information assets throughout an enterprise. IT won’t be left guessing which threats might be facing them or how to mitigate them; ISO and other frameworks will guide the assessment process. 

Using IT risk assessment software in conjunction with a chosen framework will significantly reduce the time involved in the assessment process. Additionally, the software will improve the assessment accuracy and help recommend adequate controls. 

Meet Centraleyes: Your Trusted IT Risk Assessment Partner

Centraleyes provides a central dashboard that orchestrates automated risk assessments and presents real-time insights into your organization’s cybersecurity posture. 

Our platform works with many different cybersecurity frameworks and will help you understand your risk and compliance status and help implement effective controls when necessary. 
Contact us today to learn more about how our platform can transform your cybersecurity.