Why Bother with Risk Assessment?
IT risk assessment is the process of identifying security risks and assessing the threat they pose. The ultimate purpose of IT risk assessment is to mitigate risks to prevent security incidents and compliance failures. However, no organization has the resources to identify and eliminate all cybersecurity risks, so IT pros need to use the security risk assessment to provide focus. The more clearly you can articulate your plan to reduce the most critical vulnerabilities across the network given your top threat sources, the better your business case and the more likely you are to get funding for an effective security program.
Components of an IT Risk Assessment
An IT risk assessment starts with risk intelligence and threat analysis. You need to make three lists:
- The IT assets in your organization and how much damage their loss or exposure would cause
- The business processes that depend on those assets
- The threat events that could impact those assets and how likely those events are
Using the information from this risk assessment process, you can determine which threats are the most important to mitigate. As you lay out your enterprise risk mitigation plan, consider how it fits into your existing security program and the various practices it already includes for reducing risks.
Top 5 Benefits of IT Risk Assessment
Regular security risk assessment and analysis offers 5 key benefits:
1. Understanding Your Risk Profile
Identifying threats and ranking risks in a systematic way based on the potential for harm is crucial to prioritizing risk management tasks and allocating resources appropriately. A risk profile describes potential risks in detail, such as:
- The source of the threat (internal or external)
- The reason for the risk (uncontrolled access permissions, trade secrets, etc.)
- The likelihood that the threat will materialize
- Impact analyses for each threat
Using this data, you can immediately attend to the high-impact, high-probability risks, and then work your way down to the threats that are less likely and would cause less damage.
2. Identifying and Remediating Vulnerabilities
A gap-focused assessment methodology can help you identify and close vulnerabilities. In these risk assessments, cybersecurity, operations and management teams collaborate to evaluate security from the perspective of a potential attacker. The process may also involve an ethical hacker, who will ensure your security controls and protocols are thoroughly tested.
By comparing your objectives and risk profile to how your IT infrastructure performs during these assessments, you can determine the best steps for improving your information security.
3. Inventorying IT and Data Assets
Unless you know what information assets you have and how important those assets are to your organization, it’s almost impossible to make strategic decisions for IT security. With a complete, up-to-date inventory from your IT risk assessment, you can determine how to protect your most critical software and data assets.
4. Mitigating Costs
Regular IT risk assessment can help your company eliminate unnecessary security spending. Estimating risk accurately enables you to balance costs against benefits: You can identify the most unacceptable risks and channel resources toward them, rather than toward less likely or less damaging risks.
5. Complying with Legal Requirements
Most organizations have to comply with the privacy and data security requirements of various regulations. Any company that does business with European residents, for example, has to regularly evaluate their risk to comply with the GDPR. Healthcare organizations have to comply with HIPAA, which requires documenting their administrative and technical safeguards for patient data and conducting regular risk assessments to ensure that those safeguards are effective.
Regular risk assessment is also important for companies that need to comply with consumer privacy standards like PCI DSS or financial disclosure regulations like SOX. Non-compliance with regulations like these can be extremely costly for an organization.
At the highest level, the purpose of IT risk assessment is to unite your IT department and organizational decision-makers in strengthening cybersecurity. With a clear assessment of your IT vulnerabilities and the value of your data assets, you can refine your security policy and practices to better defend against cyberattacks and safeguard your critical assets.