Glossary

IT Risk Assessment

What is an IT Risk Assessment?

An IT security risk assessment is the process of assessing the risks facing your organization’s assets, data and information systems, as well as evaluating the possible implications should they be compromised. The ultimate goal of an IT risk assessment is to reduce the identified risks in order to avoid security incidents and compliance violations. 

Any decent risk management system must include security risk assessments. These assessments give your team the ability to identify the ever-evolving organizational vulnerabilities and threats, allowing them to implement appropriate security mechanisms and to handle risks appropriately. 

IT risk evaluation should be performed on a regular basis and whenever significant changes occur within your organization or new threats in the cyber world emerge.

What are the benefits of an IT Risk Assessment?

For some companies, particularly SMBs, it might seem like a huge effort to establish a team dedicated to managing and implementing cyber security practices, but IT risk analysis is something you simply can’t afford to overlook. Risk assessments provide many positive outcomes, some of which include:

Compliance: Not only are IT security risk assessments crucial for protecting your company, but they may also be required. Most organizations must comply with a slew of privacy and security rules and regulations. Many of these regulations, including GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, SOX and CMMC mandate evaluating risks regularly and require updated risk assessments. Non-compliance can cause reputational damage, heavy fines, and loss of potential or existing customers.

Efficiency and Proactiveness: If you conduct risk assessments on a regular basis, your information security team will know where to focus their efforts, enabling them to utilize their time more productively. Instead of waiting until it’s too late and then scrambling to repair exploited vulnerabilities, you can spend the time now proactively mitigating vulnerabilities in your systems, thus preventing security incidents from happening in the first place. IT system risk assessments also direct you to the more urgent risks, allowing you to divert more attention to those. 

Identifying and Remediating Vulnerabilities: One of the greatest benefits of an IT security risk analysis is the discovery of vulnerabilities. This enables the company to mitigate those vulnerabilities and improve their risk posture. Organizations can understand which parts of their security measures are not up to par and which areas are at risk of potential attacks, and put the necessary safeguards in place. 

Mitigating Costs: Risk assessments can also reduce your organization’s costs. Assessing your risk allows you to accurately complete a cost-benefit analysis: You can prioritize the critical and high-level risks and channel resources toward them instead of towards the more unlikely threats. When it comes to preventing security incidents, you’re far better off investing now than dealing with significant repercussions and costs later on.

IT Risk Assessment methodologies

There are two types of risk assessments, but the most successful method is to implement elements from both. The two methodologies are quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Quantivate Risk Assessment: A risk assessment method based on statistical probability and monetized loss or gain valuation. This approach assigns numerical values to both impact and likelihood. It utilizes mathematical formulas, based on the asset valuation, the probability of associated loss and the frequency of risk occurrence.

Qualitative Risk Assessment: This method relies on opinions. It employs a judgment system to classify risks based on probability and impact, and utilizes a rating scale to categorize risks as low, medium or high.

How to get started on a Risk Assessment?

Now that we know what a risk assessment is and why it’s so crucial, how do we actually go about implementing one?

Most risk assessments follow a similar structure. Here are the steps organizations should begin with to actualize a risk assessment: 

  1. Build a comprehensive list of your information assets
  2. Identify the threats you face
  3. Determine vulnerabilities 
  4. Evaluate already implemented controls
  5. Determine the impact a threat would have
  6. Assess the likelihood that an incident will occur
  7. Prioritize the vulnerability mitigations 

Using the information gathered from this IT risk assessment process, you should be able to identify which threats are the most important to mitigate, enabling you to fine-tune your security processes to better defend against cyberattacks and protect your key assets.

Popular Risk Frameworks

There are a number of frameworks that can assist you with the IT risk assessment process. These frameworks were, in part or in full, designed to guide organizations in creating a risk management program tailored to their specific use case, which always includes a thorough risk assessment.

Frameworks such as the NIST Cyber Security Framework, NIST SP 800-53, ISO 27001, CIS Controls and COBIT all incprotate risk assessment guidance and enable organizations to ensure they have a robust IT risk assessment process in place.

Ultimately, creating a risk assessment is a journey, not a destination. It needs to be reviewed and updated constantly, all the while ensuring that the risks discovered are actually being taken care of. The goal is to create a dynamic risk assessment that can survive in the ever-changing risk landscape.

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