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Cybersecurity Risk Assessment: What You Need to Know

Cybersecurity is a critical issue for businesses of all sizes. In this article, we will provide an overview of the cybersecurity risk assessment process and discuss the key elements of a comprehensive cyber security plan.

A cybersecurity risk assessment is a tool that businesses can use to identify and mitigate potential cyber threats. A risk assessment typically begins with an assessment of the organization’s current state and then identifies potential risks.

The risks are then evaluated and ranked according to their severity. Finally, mitigation measures are developed to address the highest-risk risks.

A cybersecurity risk assessment can be helpful in several ways. First, it can help identify vulnerabilities in the organization’s systems and network infrastructure. Second, it can help identify possible targets for hackers.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting computer networks and other digital systems from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.

Cybersecurity includes protecting data, systems, and networks from attack, as well as mitigating the effects of an attack when it does occur. Cybersecurity also includes maintaining an incident response plan in case of a cyberattack.

Why Is Cybersecurity Important?

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Cyber security is important because it protects businesses and individuals from cyberattacks. A cyberattack is when someone tries to access your computer or other electronic devices without your permission, usually by using malicious software. Cybersecurity risks can include:

• Identity theft: If you’re the victim of a cyberattack, your personal information—including your name, address, and credit card numbers—could be stolen.

• Damage to your computer: A cyberattack could damage your computer so badly that you can’t use it or you have to spend money to fix it.

• Loss of business: A cyberattack that causes loss of business could lead to financial problems for the company involved.

What Are the Key Elements of a Comprehensive Cyber Security Plan?

A comprehensive cybersecurity plan should include measures to prevent unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of information; detection and response capabilities to prevent or mitigate attacks; and identification and assessment of vulnerabilities.

The plan should also include a strategy for protecting intellectual property, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and other sensitive data.

How to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

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A cyber security risk assessment is a process that helps organizations identify and assess the potential threats posed by cyber attacks. It can help identify vulnerabilities and protect systems from potential attacks.

The goal of a cyber security risk assessment is to determine the level of risk posed by specific threats, and to develop a plan to mitigate that risk.

To perform a cybersecurity risk assessment, first you need to understand your organization’s vulnerability profile. This includes information about your systems and how they’re connected, as well as the types of data they contain.

Then you need to assess the risks posed by known threats. This includes understanding how attackers might exploit your systems, as well as identifying new or unknown threats. Finally, you need to develop a plan to mitigate

Step 1: Determine the Scope of the Risk Assessment 

A risk assessment begins by defining the assessment’s scope. It could be the entire organization, but that is usually too large a task, so it is more likely to be a specific business unit, location, or aspect of the business, such as payment processing or a web application.

It is critical to have the full support of all stakeholders whose activities are covered by the assessment, as their input will be critical in determining the most critical assets and processes, identifying risks, assessing impacts, and defining risk tolerance levels.

A third-party risk assessment specialist may be required to assist them with this resource-intensive exercise.

Everyone involved should be familiar with risk assessment terminology such as likelihood and impact in order to have a shared understanding of how the risk is framed.

Prior to conducting a risk assessment, it is prudent to review standards such as ISO/IEC 27001 and frameworks such as NIST SP 800-37, which can assist organizations in conducting a structured risk assessment and ensuring that mitigating controls are appropriate and effective.

Numerous standards and laws, including HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and PCI DSS, require organizations to conduct formalized risk assessments and frequently include guidelines and recommendations on how to do so.

Avoid, however, a compliance-driven, checklist approach when conducting an assessment, as simply meeting compliance requirements does not mean an organization is risk-free.

Step 2: Identifying Cybersecurity Threats

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2.1 Recognize Assets

Because you cannot protect what you do not know, the next task is to identify and create an inventory of all physical and logical assets included in the risk assessment’s scope.

When identifying assets, it is critical to identify not only those that are considered the organization’s crown jewels — those that are critical to the business and are almost certainly the primary target of attackers — but also those that attackers would like to take control of, such as an Active Directory server or image archive and communications systems, in order to use as a pivot point for expanding an attack.

Creating a network architecture diagram from the asset inventory list is an excellent way to visualize the interconnection and communication paths between assets and processes, as well as the network’s entry points, which simplifies the subsequent task of identifying threats.

2.2 Recognize Dangers

Threats are the threat actors’ tactics, techniques, and methods that have the potential to harm an organization’s assets.

To assist in identifying potential threats to each asset, utilize a threat library such as the MITRE ATT&CK Knowledge Base and consider the asset’s position in the Lockheed Martin cyber kill chain; this will help determine the type of protection required. The cyber kill chain illustrates the stages and goals of a typical real-world attack.

2.3 Identify Potential Sources of Error

This task entails specifying the consequences of an identified threat exploiting a vulnerability to attack an asset that is within the scope of the task. For instance:

  • An attacker performs a SQL injection on a victim’s computer.
  • Unpatched vulnerability
  • Web server is an asset.
  • As a result, customers’ private information is stolen.

By summarizing this information in simple scenarios, all stakeholders can better understand the risks they face in relation to critical business objectives, and security teams can identify appropriate mitigation measures and best practices to address the risk.

Step 3: Evaluate Risks and Their Potential Consequences

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Now is the time to assess the likelihood of the risk scenarios documented in Step 2 actually occurring, as well as the resulting impact on the organization. Risk likelihood – the probability that a given threat will be able to exploit a given vulnerability – should be determined in a cybersecurity risk assessment based on the discoverability, exploitability, and reproducibility of threats and vulnerabilities, rather than on historical occurrences.

This is because the dynamic nature of cybersecurity threats means that their likelihood is not directly related to the frequency of previous occurrences such as flooding and earthquakes.

Ranking likelihood on a scale of 1: Infrequent to 5: “Highly Likely,” and impact on a scale of 1: Insignificant to 5: “Very Severe,” simplifies the process of creating the risk matrix depicted in Step 4.

The term “impact” refers to the magnitude of harm caused to an organization as a result of a threat exploiting a vulnerability.

Each scenario should be evaluated for its impact on confidentiality, integrity, and availability, with the scenario with the greatest impact receiving the highest score. This is a subjective aspect of the assessment, which is why input from stakeholders and security experts is critical.

Using the SQL injection example above, the impact on confidentiality is almost certainly “Very Severe.”

Step 4: Determine and Prioritize Cybersecurity Risks

Each risk scenario can be classified using a risk matrix similar to the one below, where the risk level is “Likelihood times Impact.” If the risk of a SQL injection attack is classified as “Likely” or “Highly Likely,” then our example risk scenario is classified as “Very High.”

Any scenario that exceeds the agreed-upon tolerance level should be prioritized for treatment in order to bring it within the risk tolerance level of the organization. There are three methods for accomplishing this:

Avoid. If the risk outweighs the benefit, discontinuing an activity may be the best course of action to avoid exposure.

Transfer. By purchasing cyber insurance or outsourcing certain operations to third parties, you can transfer a portion of the risk.

Mitigate. Implement security controls and other controls to mitigate the Likelihood and/or Impact, and thus the risk level.

However, no system or environment can be guaranteed to be completely secure, and thus some risk will always remain. This is referred to as residual risk, and senior stakeholders must formally accept it as part of the organization’s cybersecurity strategy.

Step 5: Create a Cybersecurity Risk Register

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It is critical to keep track of all risk scenarios identified in a risk register. This should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis to ensure that management is always aware of the organization’s cybersecurity risks. It should include the following:

  • Scenario of danger
  • Date of identification
  • Existing security safeguards
  • Risk level at the moment
  • Treatment strategy – the activities and timetable for reducing the risk to an acceptable risk tolerance level.
  • Progress status – the stage at which the treatment plan is being implemented.
  • Residual risk — the risk level that exists following the implementation of the treatment plan.
  • Risk owner — the individual or group in charge of ensuring that residual risks remain within the acceptable level of risk.

A cybersecurity risk assessment is a lengthy and ongoing process that requires time and resources if it is to improve the organization’s future security.

It will need to be repeated as new threats emerge and new systems or activities are implemented, but if done correctly the first time, it will establish a repeatable process and template for future assessments while decreasing the likelihood of a cyber-attack negatively affecting business objectives.


A cyber security risk assessment is an important step in developing a comprehensive cyber security plan. By understanding your business vulnerabilities and threats, you can develop strategies to protect your data and assets.

A risk assessment can help identify areas of your business where cyber security measures are needed, as well as help prioritize those measures. It can also help identify any gaps in your current cyber security strategy.


Cobb, M. (2021, July). How to Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment in 5 Steps. SearchSecurity; www.techtarget.com. https://www.techtarget.com/searchsecurity/tip/How-to-perform-a-cybersecurity-risk-assessment-step-by-step

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