Cybersecurity Glossary

Cyber Risk Assessment

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What Is a Cyber Risk Assessment?  

A cyber risk assessment (also known as a cybersecurity assessment) is a key component of a risk management program. It considers your people, processes, and technology to rank your organization’s risk based on likelihood and impact. Because risk management is an ongoing process, you should set up a manageable and realistic cadence for ongoing risk assessments as well, especially as your organization grows and you add new people, processes, and technology. 

There are risk assessment frameworks and risk assessment tools to help your organization conduct a risk assessment and better manage risk, including those offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Center for Internet Security (CIS). 

Why Conduct a Cyber Risk Assessment? 

Cyber risk assessments help decision makers at organizations prioritize elements of their risk management program by helping them identify:  

  • Relevant threats they face 
  • Existing internal and external vulnerabilities 
  • The potential organizational impact from threat actors exploiting those vulnerabilities 
  • The likelihood that exploitation will occur  

Additionally, a risk assessment can influence which tools and solutions are added to an organization’s tech stack, what amount of budget is allocated for IT staff, and the implementation of security policies and procedures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and Zero Trust. 

How Do You Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment? 

There are two major ways to conduct a cyber risk assessment: through internal stakeholders, or with assistance from a third-party provider. 

If your team has the skills, experience, and availability to conduct an internal risk assessment, you’ll want to build a core team consisting of leaders in IT, Finance, HR, and the C-suite. However, this will be a time-consuming process pulling these leaders away from other high-priority projects.  

That’s why many organizations turn to a third-party for assistance in their risk assessment. These providers specialize in inventory, identification, and categorization and can help you gain a clear picture of your risk, as well as potentially assisting you with remediation and ongoing risk management. 

What Does a Cyber Risk Assessment Include? 

Cyber risk assessments are purely self-directed. While the frameworks and tools listed above provide a place to start, each organization and security environment is unique and will have different requirements for what constitutes an effective risk assessment. But, in general, the following are key steps to any risk assessment: 

Take Inventory 

For any organization looking to effectively assess risk, a thorough inventory of assets is a critical step. This means cataloging: 

  • Endpoints: Desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and servers 
  • Network devices: Routers, modems, switches, and bridges 
  • IoT devices: Anything connected to the internet, from security card readers to printers 
  • Data: All personal information, sensitive information and intellectual property stored by your organization 
  • Users: Every employee, including what they have access to, where they work, and what devices they work on 

CIS provides a free Hardware and Software Asset Tracker, which makes the inventory process even easier. This simple tool allows you to track your hardware, software, and sensitive data in a single, shareable spreadsheet. 

Cross-Reference With Risks 

Identify the threats your assets face using publicly available tools and resources like CISA’s Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog. This step of the process can be quite time-consuming, but it is crucial, as it will help you identify weaknesses in your environment, including:  

  • Computer and server vulnerabilities 
  • Firewall vulnerabilities 
  • Newly installed system components and assets 
  • Misconfigured device 
  • Unpatched software 
  • Website flaws in services like Apache and WebCalendar 
  • Exposure of sensitive files 
  • Brute force weaknesses 
  • Weak SSL/TLS configurations and self-signed certificates 

Categorize Your Risks 

Rank your risks according to both their likelihood and the impact they can have on your business. By completing this step, you will not only gain key insights into how protected or exposed your organization is, but you will also develop a prioritized action plan to mitigate your risk. 

Who Should Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment? 

Short answer: everyone. Whether you’re a small business with only a few employees and endpoints, or a large enterprise with multiple physical locations and distributed cloud networks, every organization can benefit greatly from understanding the risks they face, and the damage exploit could cause.  

In the modern threat landscape, it’s a matter of when not if an organization will experience a cyber attack. And the amount of effort put into your risk assessment will determine whether that attack is successful, and the extent of the damage it causes. 

How Arctic Wolf Can Help 

Built on the industry’s only cloud-native platform to deliver security operations as a concierge service, Arctic Wolf® Managed Risk 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 benchmark against configuration best practices and continually harden your security posture.  

Our robust risk assessment process includes: 

External Vulnerability Assessments  

Which continuously scans internet-facing assets to understand your company’s digital footprint and quantify your business’s risk exposure. Key features include:  

  • Continuous scanning of external-facing assets  
  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)  
  • Account takeover risk detection  
  • OWASP top-10 scanning  
  • Automated sub-domain detection 

Internal Vulnerability Assessments 

Which continuously scans all your internal IP-connected devices while cataloging your core infrastructure, equipment/peripherals, workstations, Internet of things (IoT) devices, and personal (e.g., tablets, cell phones) devices. Key features include: 

  • Continuous scanning of internal assets 
  • Proactive risk monitoring 
  • Dynamic asset identification and classification 
  • Stateless scanning and secure transfers 

Host-Based Vulnerability Assessments 

This capability extends visibility inside devices through continuous host-based monitoring to identify and categorize assets, as well as reveal system misconfigurations, user behaviors, and vulnerabilities that put your organization at risk. Key features include: 

  • Endpoint agents for Windows Server/workstation, MacOS, and Linux distributions 
  • Proactive endpoint risk monitoring 
  • Audit reporting 
  • Security controls benchmarking 

We then leverage all this information to quantify your cyber risk posture through a cloud-based dashboard which incorporates all meaningful cyber risk indicators from your business, identifying the highest-priority issues and alerting you to emerging risks before they escalate into real problems.  

Additional Resources 

Read how organizations around the globe are establishing priorities and addressing top security challenges in The State of Cybersecurity: 2023 Trends Report. 

Learn how to start building an effective security program in our exclusive white paper, How To Build Out Your Cybersecurity Tech Stack.  

Get forward-thinking insights along with practical guidance you can apply to protect your organization from the elite security researchers, data scientists, and security developers of Arctic Wolf Labs

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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