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Conducting a Successful Security Risk Assessment

Assessing your organization's security risk is a vital step in improving your security strategy. Organizations that are subject to the HIPAA law must make risk assessment a priority to ensure compliance and to protect patient health information. This guide will show you how to conduct security risk assessments and manage those risks.

Why Are Security Risk Assessments Important?

importance of security risk assessment

Security risk assessments involve the act of identifying and evaluating risks. Every organization is exposed to risks; the difference lies in the nature and the extent of those risks. Risks can also be internal and external.

A risk assessment is an essential step in managing an organization to ensure compliance and avoid those risks from threatening the organization's overall integrity. It is also the first step in taking proactive measures to improve your operations and maintain risk tolerance.

Before you conduct a risk assessment, you must address three critical questions:

  • What are your assets?

  • What are the critical business processes that rely on these assets?

  • What are the threats that risk derailing your business operations?

Assessment of security risks help identify gaps in security at every level of your business operation. It also makes you realize that no threat is ever too small. When it comes to threats and attacks on your business security, it's ideal to dedicate your time and resources to implementing security controls than reverse the damage caused by these security threats.

Here are some additional benefits of conducting security risk assessments:

  • Helps plan your future security initiatives

  • Protects against security breaches

  • Minimizes security control costs

  • Promotes security awareness among employees

Essential Components of Security Risk Assessment

A security risk assessment includes four primary components. Each of these components will determine the right approach for your assessment strategy and identify the priority level for identified risks.

Threat

A threat could be an event or activity that can put your assets or organization at risk. For example, cybersecurity attacks are a leading threat to IT security.

Vulnerability

Vulnerabilities refer to the potential weak points of an organization that attackers will target to inflict damage. For example, outdated antivirus software is a vulnerability that attackers can exploit to cause harm to an organization or IT security system.

Impact

The impact refers to the extent of the damage an organization might experience due to the threat.

Likelihood

This refers to the likelihood that the threat could act upon an organization's vulnerabilities. Some threats have a higher probability of occurring than other types of threats. It would be best if you detailed this distinction in the security risk assessment report.

Steps to Conducting a Successful Security Risk Assessment

Steps to Conducting a Successful Security Risk Assessment

It's essential to walk through the process of conducting security risk assessments.

1. Identify Your Assets

The first step of risk assessment is to map out your organizational assets. Without this knowledge, your security efforts won't be enough to secure them all.

Use a centralized database to map out assets of all kinds - from hardware to applications or software programs. A centralized database is recommended so that you can easily update the system. If possible, build a data flow diagram so you can visualize where the potential weak points are.

Some examples of organizational assets are:

  • Hardware

  • Software

  • Data

  • Users

  • Interfaces

  • Network topology

  • IT infrastructure

  • Security architecture

  • Security policies

  • Information flow

  • Support personnel

2. Identify Threats

As defined above, a threat is anything that harms your organization and its assets. Threats can come in various forms, such as natural disasters, hardware failure, outdated IT infrastructure, and malicious behavior (data theft and interference are some examples).

By identifying threats, you may also assess your susceptibility to these threats.

3. Know Your Vulnerability Level

Not all threats will make your organization vulnerable. It is essential to know how vulnerable your organization is to specific threats so you can prioritize your preventive security measures. This is a practical approach to mitigating risks, mainly when you have limited resources available.

4. Develop Controls

The next step is to analyze the existing control measures against threats and vulnerabilities and develop one where needed. Some examples of security controls include data encryption, authentication, and intrusion detection. You can also set up non-technical controls such as enhanced security policies and access control to sensitive data.

5. Assess Likelihood

The likelihood is the rate at which the identified vulnerabilities will follow through. How likely is it that a threat will take action on your vulnerabilities? What is the motivation for the threat to take action?

Your organization must identify threats and vulnerabilities to prioritize your response.

6. Build a Remediation Plan

Once you have identified the risks and the order in which you will address them, you can map out your plan to take action. You should start with basic steps and gradually improve on the high-level action steps.

Make sure to detail the associated costs for each step as part of the cost-benefit analysis. It is a must to compare the cost of remediation against the potential losses your organization could suffer in an attack.

7. Implement Your Plan

This step is where you put your plan into action. A team should be designated to implement your remediation plan, and you have to set a specific time frame for its completion.

8. Evaluate and Improve

A security risk assessment is not a one-time solution. Therefore, you must conduct an assessment periodically to give you time to evaluate your existing security measures. You can prevent threats from infiltrating your organization by assessing your security measures and identifying gaps. Based on your current results, you can devise ways to improve your risk remediation plan to prepare you for high-level attacks.

Conclusion

Risk assessment is different from risk management. The former precedes the latter; you can only manage risks once you identify what you are dealing with. However, a robust risk assessment and management strategy must go together to ensure that any threat won't succeed in derailing your critical business processes.