How to successfully implement cybersecurity risk assessments

A cybersecurity risk assessment is an essential way to protect your assets, identify potential vulnerabilities, and ensure the reliability and consistency of your services.

Risk assessments are designed to be protective and will inform your system design and structure in a way that will not only minimise the risks of potential threats but also minimise potential damage if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality.

We’re here to give you expert insight into the associated methodologies of cybersecurity risk assessments, that way they can benefit any organisation, and give you a rundown of the procedure.

In this blog, we'll cover:

When should I assess my cybersecurity risks?

A risk assessment is most useful if done as often as necessary. This is a Goldilocks conundrum, as too often and you will feel the sting of costs and restructuring involved, and not often enough, and you will leave yourself open to threats. 

It should always be done yearly so you can stay up to date with the latest in cybersecurity, but you should also conduct another assessment when new security systems are put into place and whenever the technology that your business uses is changed to assess its implementation and scan for any potential backdoors or holes in your security.

Additionally, consider including an email security assessment as part of your regular assessments to ensure the safety of your communication channels and email systems.

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What are the benefits of regular risk assessments?

These days, cyber risks are one of the main ways a business can be damaged, so these assessments are the best way to stay prepared for cost and data protection.
A risk assessment can also help enhance knowledge and communication within your company. The better that risks and solutions are communicated, the better for everyone. 

This could even be enhanced with the use of cloud phone system features, like an intuitive admin portal, to help workers communicate more easily and better manage their calls throughout an assessment. Here are some of the main benefits of regular risk assessments.

  1. Protect your data

    Whatever your data warehouse architecture, an assessment can help identify any areas in your organisation that could be vulnerable to exploitation. The aim is to prevent theft or loss of sensitive personal data, system information, or passwords that could damage your business.  
  2. Ensure system functionality to benefit users and workers

    The next main risk of a cyberattack is that it could prevent you from actively engaging in business. If, say, your call tracking systems are damaged or go down, and both clients and staff are unable to access sales information or complete vital tasks, then there is a steep potential for losing profit.
  3. Adhere to regulations

    Keeping everything above board in your local area involves identifying the essential elements of a risk assessment, which will ensure that you are fulfilling your legal responsibilities. These regulations also protect you in terms of ensuring that services that you work with are also guarding themselves.
  4.  Long-term cost-effectiveness

    Mitigating the risks associated with any threat you identify through a risk assessment is invaluable. You will never know how much money you have saved by guarding your back from cyber attacks.
  5.  Assess potential vulnerabilities

    Finally, the bread and butter of risk assessments. The entire goal is to go through all of your systems and technologies to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited to the detriment of your organisation. 
    This will not only protect you but also provide you with an in-depth knowledge of the way that your systems function and inform you of any changes you may need to make. 
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What are the forms of risk assessment?

There are essentially two ways of going about risk assessment testing. Depending on funding, it may be simpler to go with one or the other, but it is often advisable to conduct a test both within your company and using an external body. 
These can be done in conjunction with government-led procedures at the National Cyber Security Centre. It’s especially important to help you understand how security programs function both outwith and within your organisation. Follow this link to read more
This will protect you from internal and external threats and benefit your liability.
  • Internal

 Any business should have a team of trained personnel and IT experts who are capable of running their own risk assessment. As they would already be members of your staff, this is the most cost-effective way to run them regularly, however, smaller businesses may not have the resources for this. 
One pro here is that if you have integrated specific programs into your systems, like the online phone service, Vonage, an in-house team will be much more familiar with how all data storage and software interact.
  • External

Whether you simply want a second opinion or are incapable of maintaining an IT department in your organisation, an external body may be the best way to conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment. 
This could also be beneficial as an outsider looking in can view your organisation differently and may identify threats that would not have occurred to internal teams.
Considering these two assessment forms, the importance of a vulnerability assessment becomes evident. This specialised examination focuses on identifying weaknesses in your systems that could be exploited, providing a crucial foundation for safeguarding your organisation against potential threats.

What potential risks can the assessments identify?

There are three main categories of risk that a cybersecurity risk assessment will be able to identify.  
  1. Vulnerabilities

    First, a vulnerability means any weakness in your systems that could be used to access your data or steal your assets. Vulnerabilities are ranked on how probable each one could be used and how much damage could be incurred because of it, and then steps will be taken to mitigate those risks.  

    It's important to note that cybersecurity risk assessments should also consider specific threats like malware, cyber attacks, phishing, insiders, or ransomware. Moreover, assessing potential vulnerabilities, including areas where SS7 vulnerabilities may exist, is essential for safeguarding your organisation against potential threats.

  2. Threats

    This amounts to any of the potential threats that are specific to your organisation. This can include but is not limited to malware, cyber attacks, phishing, insiders, or ransomware. 
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  3. Assets  

    Finally, the assessment will measure the need to guard or account for each asset. By asset, we mean anything that has value to your company, including employees or managers, products, resources, systems such as remote outbound call centre software, or even ethics.

    Assets can have literal value or represent an advantage in the industry, so it is vital to identify them, assess how essential they are and then protect them accordingly.

How to perform a risk assessment? 

When performing a cybersecurity risk assessment in any organisation, an expert hand must be on the wheel. Here are the eight steps that will make up any cybersecurity risk assessment:
  1.  Determine data value

    First, time and money need to be saved by identifying the most valuable elements of your data and then putting the most time and financial incentive into protecting those assets. Protecting everything is often financially impossible, so this step is about limiting the scope. 

    If you are using call tracking systems, you need to determine how much of the collected lead data is worth. Both vital factors here are how much you have invested and are projected to earn from this data. 
  2.  Rank assets

    The next step will take the list of assets you valued in the first step and rank them based on which will be included in the assessment and to what degree.
    Work out which employees, locations, equipment, systems, and other assets require assessment. This comes hand in hand with identifying critical vulnerabilities and risks and then focusing efforts on them.
  3.  Threat identification

    That brings us to threat ID. Knowing your potential list of threats will inform you of any changes you need to make in your security systems and procedures, so this step cannot be understated.

    Threats could include human error, system failures, criminal threats – including those related to the dark web, misuse of information, data, service disruption, or even damage from natural disasters. These will then be ranked based on the scope of the potential damage from each one. 
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  4.  Vulnerability ranking

    Threat identification is all about working out everything that could happen, and then the next step is narrowing that scope even further to work out what is likely to happen. Compared with the ranking of potential damage, this will then help you decide where the protective budget should go. 

  5.  Control analysis

    Next, we need to take all the information we’ve gathered and then work out what controls can be implemented to circumvent any risks. This could mean new authentication procedures, personnel training, security sensors in buildings, physical locks, or software solutions. This will help to narrow the list of potential risks even further.

  6.  Probability and impact of potential threats

    Once more, your list of threats needs to be refined based on the impact of any threat. Say there is a data breach, what procedures does your organisation have in place for such eventualities? 

    This could mean insurance and budget allowances to cover costs, or help you determine how much money you should spend on preventative security measures.
  7.  Risk prioritisation based on cost and value

    The level of risk of each potential threat or vulnerability, once ranked, should then be passed on to responsible members of the organisation to mitigate each risk. Corrective actions should be taken for each one, prioritised by the level of risk.

    In simpler terms, you have to identify an asset’s value (both fiscally and reputationally) and then determine the cost to protect it. If the cost is less than its value, then action should be taken. 
  8. Create a report

    The final step of any risk assessment is to generate an exhaustive report including the information and rankings gathered throughout the process. It will cover the risks, vulnerabilities, and value assessments and will also include any recommended options in terms of controls. 

    Consider involving your cloud provider in steps related to control analysis and risk prioritization to ensure that cloud-specific security measures and best practices are integrated into your cybersecurity risk assessment.

Final thoughts about risk assessments

Conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment isn’t just some slog that is being imposed by the legal powers in your area, they are vital to the protection of any business. 

Without identifying and guarding against the biggest risks that your organisation could face, you could potentially lose everything. It’s all about regularly ranking, addressing, and mitigating based on value and costs.

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