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Data is a valuable commodity in today's world. Data breaches, alongside other cracks in digital infrastructure, directly impact an organisation’s bottom line. Breaches cost money to repair, but also damage customer and stakeholder relationships.
In 2022, Singapore ranked 6th globally for having the most number of exposed databases. With cyber attacks increasing in recent times, it is imperative that organisations take preparatory steps to evaluative their network security.
IT security risk assessments are a means of analysing potential threats to your organisation’s existing digital infrastructure.
What does an IT security risk assessment involve?
An IT security risk assessment involves multiple components that will strengthen your organisation upon carrying out a risk analysis. There are 4 main components to an IT security risk assessment:
- Threat - any incident that can cost the organisation money or damage its reputation
- Vulnerability - cracks and weak links in your IT infrastructure that, when not reinforced or attended to, can become threats
- Impact - a measurement highlighting the amount of damage an organisation would undergo in the event that a potential vulnerability became a threat
- Likelihood - the probability that a certain security risk will actually occur.
Most guides that cover IT security risk assessments, will quote the risk equation.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, it is:
Cyber Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Asset (or Information Value)
In other words, risk operates similar to a mass balance — tweaking any value on the right of the equation can result in low, medium, or high risk. For example, a high threat value, combined with a high vulnerability level and a low asset price results in a low risk, since the cost of the risk is minimal.
Questions to ask before carrying out an IT security risk assessment
Elements to consider before conducting an IT risk assessment include:
- What are our prime assets?
- Can all potential threats and vulnerabilities be identified?
- To what level or extent?
- What data breach would impact our organisation the most (and how does it play into the risk equation)?
- And most importantly, what level of risk is suited to our organisation?
Not all organisations have the same cyber-security priorities or risk tolerance, so this is something you might want to periodically reevaluate.
How to prepare and conduct an IT security risk assessment
An IT security risk assessment can be broken into 7 stages, which can be outlined as follows:
Catalogue and classify all assets
Make a comprehensive list of all your information assets, across departments, and ensure each list is sourced from multiple employees across departments. Classify assets by sensitivity, threat levels and value.
From hackers and insider threats to natural disasters and power outages, potential threats are extensive. Additionally, they’re likely unique to your organisation and other factors such as size and location.
Are you firewalls strong? Do you need to upgrade your security or install security patches on existing software? Consider using a vulnerability audit tool to identify potential weaknesses within your cyber framework.
Again, the likelihood of certain incidents occurring are unique to your organisation (and additional factors such as size and location). Power outages, for instance, are a rarity in Singapore. So, while an outage is a threat, it is unlikely, or low risk.
Identify and assess potential impact
What does happen if your database is compromised? Does it impact your relationship with stakeholders? How much do you stand to lose from it? Carry out a full impact analysis for each threat and vulnerability identified.
Develop risk management plan
Based on your findings thus far, develop a comprehensive risk management plan. Using the example in 5 (above), in case your database is compromised, perhaps a database breach will require you to re-secure your systems, create a communications plan, and, depending on the nature of the breach, notify the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of Singapore.
Mitigate risk, and review assessment
Lastly, it is important to constantly review, reassess, and revise your plan. Technology is ever-evolving, and as our potential threats, and vulnerabilities change, so does our response to them.
An IT security risk assessment is crucial in maximising understanding and control of cyber risk while minimising potential threats. While it’s impossible to account for everything, adequate planning and mitigation can allow for a robust bottom line and a good relationship with your customers and stakeholders alike.
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