The Most Commonly Mixed-Up Security Terms: Learn the Differences Between Asset, Threat, Vulnerability, and Risk

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The cybersecurity landscape is complex enough without the lack of a common vocabulary.

But, often, organizations use common security terms incorrectly or interchangeably. This leads to confusion, which leads to frustration, which can lead to something much, much worse. Something like a breach.

Let’s take a moment, then, to review the four most commonly mixed-up and misused security terms in the cybersecurity world.

The Difference Between Asset, Threat, Vulnerability, and Risk

1. Asset

In the world of cybersecurity, an asset is one of three things: people, property, and/or information.

“People” assets may include your organization’s employees and customers, along with others invited into your real and digital worlds, such as contractors or guests.

“Property” assets are anything that can be assigned a value. This includes both tangible items like servers, laptops, and buildings, as well as intangible items like proprietary information and your reputation.

“Information” assets include things like databases, software code, and critical company records.

In short, an asset is anything you want to protect.

2. Vulnerability

A weakness or gap in a security program that can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to an asset is known as a vulnerability.

Where a vulnerability exists, there is a weakness or missing piece in our protection efforts.

3. Threat

When it comes to your security system, a threat is anything that can exploit a vulnerability, whether intentionally or accidentally, and obtain, damage, or destroy an asset.

If an asset is what you want to protect, a threat is what you want to protect against.

4. Risk

The potential for loss, damage, or destruction is risk. It’s what you get when a threat exploits a vulnerability and compromises an asset.

Understanding the difference between these four key cybersecurity terms is an essential first step toward understanding the true risk in your security environment.

But it’s only the first step.

If you’re looking for help with the rest, Arctic Wolf can guide you through a vulnerability management process that will help you discover and assess your risk, as well as harden your security posture over time so you can end cyber risk for your organization.

Managed Risk

Delivered by security experts; the Arctic Wolf® Managed Risk solution enables you to define and contextualize your attack surface coverage across your networks, endpoints, and cloud environments; provides you with the risk priorities in your environment; and advises you on your remediation actions to ensure that you are benchmarking against configuration best practices and continually hardening your security posture.

Learn more about Managed Risk.

Picture of Sule Tatar

Sule Tatar

Sule Tatar is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Arctic Wolf, where she does research on security trends and brings groundbreaking cybersecurity products and services to market. She has extensive experience in the B2B cybersecurity space and holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering and an MBA.
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