Risk assessments don’t just protect your company – they are also the law, in many cases
It doesn’t take long for a data breach to become a company’s worst nightmare. Besides heavy financial costs and lost business, a breach can damage your reputation so badly that it’s difficult to recover.
A cybersecurity risk assessment is key for identifying the most vulnerable parts of your business – and what you can do to plug those holes before clever hackers slip through.
In many cases, risk assessments are also the law. New York’s new cybersecurity regulations, for example, require entities supervised by the state’s Department of Financial Services to perform risk assessments that evaluate the security, integrity, and availability of their information systems.
A thorough risk assessment takes careful steps to identify which data is critical, what or who can threaten it, and how far you are willing to go to protect it from malicious users. Answering these questions will help you determine what funding and resources should be allocated to safeguard your company’s digital assets.
Follow these 8 tips to help you assess cybersecurity risk for your business:
- Understand you are a target. No business is too big – or too small – to be safe from cybercrime. In fact, 61 percent of small and mid-sized businesses suffered a breach within the past year – and half of the small businesses that experienced a significant attack were forced to close.
Every organization keeps some sort of data that’s valuable to criminals. Personal data from employees or customers like Social Security numbers, health records, credit card information, and bank account numbers are easy to monetize. Major rewards can also be realized from accessing your company’s intellectual property.
- Determine which data is mission-critical. Take time to identify and prioritize which data is vital to your business, what might be of value to someone else, and what must be protected by law.
You should also take careful note of the primary and tertiary assets within your company that handle your data like desktop PCs, servers, mobile devices and cloud services. After all, a risk to those devices is also a unique risk to your data.
- Determine the value of your data. Consider this:
- How much would a competitor pay to access your company’s data?
- How much time and money would it cost to recreate it from scratch?
- How much revenue would be lost if it is compromised?
- How would losing your data impact your operations? Would you have to shut down until it was recovered?
- How far would losing data set you back in terms of productivity?
- Do you face financial or legal penalties if your data is breached?
- How would your company’s reputation be affected?
- Pinpoint threats. While hackers and malware are the most obvious risks, they aren’t the only threat that can breach security and cause substantial harm to your company:
- Employee error. TechRepublic reports that employee negligence is the leading cause of security breaches at small businesses. It’s easy to make mistakes that lead to data loss: accidentally deleting important files, clicking on malware links, or physically damaging equipment. Regularly backing up data and carefully tracking any changes to important systems should be a basic part of your cybersecurity strategy.
- Consider who might want your data or wish to disrupt your business, and what their capabilities might be. The most likely and harmful cyber-attacks include encrypting or deleting data, holding it for ransom, stealing sensitive information, or misusing someone else’s credentials or identity to commit fraud or other crimes against your company.
- System failure. The systems you use to manage your data and conduct business are like any other equipment; prone to failure and guaranteed to cause problems as they age. It’s wise to invest in high-quality equipment to avoid this issue altogether.
- Software failure. The operating systems (OS) of the equipment you use, and the applications you employ to manage business are designed and built by people. They run well but they are not perfect and prone to “bugs” which leave gaping holes in them for hackers to penetrate and gain access or steal your data. Furthermore, when the applications or OS was programmed hackers may not have had programs to exploit certain things so programmers didn’t think to look for these holes in the programs. Today’s hackers are some of the best-of-the-best programmers in the world; any holes in systems can now be readily found by the “bots” these hackers build. Regular and routine patching of the OS’ and applications is the best defense against these threats.
- Natural disasters. Fire, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters can cause much more harm than a hacker – not only destroying valuable data but servers and appliances as well. Storing backup files offsite (typically in the cloud) and having a dedicated recovery plan in place alleviate the loss of critical data when a disaster occurs.
- Spot vulnerabilities. Penetration testing, automated vulnerability scanning, simulated phishing and social engineering attacks, audit reports – those are just a few of the many tools you can use to identify the weaknesses in your systems that a threat can exploit. A top priority should be determining who has access to your most sensitive data, and understanding how a malicious user might exploit that access.
- Analyze your controls. Take a hard look at the effectiveness of the controls your company has planned or in place to discover and prevent a cyber-attack. That should include technical controls like encryption, intrusion detection mechanisms, DLP (data loss prevention) systems, audit trails, and authentication devices, as well as nontechnical controls like security policies and administrative actions. Now is the time to determine if other actions are needed to mitigate risk.
- Define your threshold for risk. Addressing every risk and fixing every vulnerability is beyond the technical and financial resources of most companies. Think about what is and isn’t critical to your business, and how much risk you are willing to accept. For instance, if losing certain data isn’t likely to have much impact on your business or your customers, measured detection and response could be an adequate strategy for that area. Prioritizing your risk allows you to focus your resources on the most critical areas.
- Create a risk management policy. A thorough risk assessment is the foundation of your cybersecurity measures, providing valuable insight into how your company operates – and what it needs to do better. Its findings can be used to establish a policy that defines what your company must do to address and mitigate threats and vulnerabilities.
The amount of cyber risk your company faces is constantly changing, as adaptive criminals constantly develop new ways to bypass the most sophisticated security systems. Most companies don’t have the time or expertise needed to stay on top of the latest threats, spot every vulnerability, and adequately assess their security controls.
A qualified cybersecurity provider can accurately and effectively assess your risk and help you implement the best cybersecurity measures.