As a business owner or manager, the concept of risk assessment is not new to you. However, many businesses only think of risk assessment in terms of money. IT risk assessment is often overlooked probably because you think you’re a small or medium-sized business, so you’re very unlikely to suffer from a cyber attack. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many if not all of your organization’s data, employee information, operations, customer data, financial and other business operations run primarily through information systems. All these functions relate to the profitability of your business. In the case of a cyberattack, the company would lose money due to halted operations and the expenses of getting an IT support team to conduct a clean-up and recovery after the attack. An IT risk assessment is therefore important to your business.
What Is Risk Assessment in Information Technology (IT)?
Risk assessment in IT entails identifying any potential risks associated with your IT systems. The IT risk assessment process is carefully designed to identify and estimate potential IT-related threats that could affect your business. Assessments include thorough scans of your network and programs to identify any vulnerabilities.
A risk assessment will help you and your business to prioritize and mitigate the risks that relate to the operations in your organization.
Why Do You Need an IT Security Risk Assessment?
The world has gone digital, and so have businesses. Your business heavily relies on IT systems to perform a significant number of tasks, so you need to manage any potential problems that could disrupt your business. As a business, you are responsible for sensitive customer and employee data and safeguarding electronic financial transactions. IT threats result in financial loss, data loss, downtime, conflict with clients, or even legal consequences.
You need to stay ahead of potential problems, and an IT security risk assessment is key in accomplishing this goal. A security risk assessment helps you eliminate or manage the threats, create a response and recovery plan, and ensure the continuity of your business even after a crisis.
IT Security Risk Assessment Checklist
The first thing that you need to do on your risk assessment checklist is to identify all your valuable assets. Valuable assets include hardware, software, and data. This ranges from your business servers, customer data, credit card information, websites, applications, trade secrets and proprietary information, contracts, contact information, and your network. Anything whose loss or damage could lead to monetary losses or system downtime should be identified.
Since most organizations have a limited budget for risk assessment, you will likely need to limit the scope of coverage of your assets. Accordingly, first define what constitutes an important asset and how it is categorized per category (major, average or minor) by management based on its monetary value or legal standing.
To do so means limiting which assets are considered “critical” according to these criteria once they’ve been established rather than simply assessing all possible risks indiscriminately as one might otherwise take more time (and money) if given no guidelines whatsoever.
In cyber security, threats, vulnerabilities, and risks are closely related. A threat is anything that can harm your business by exploiting a vulnerability. Threats can come from:
- Malicious actions like cyberattacks. Malicious cyberattacks can have a devastating effect on businesses and individuals. One such example of how these actions could be damaging is if an attacker was able to gain access to a bank’s customer records. They would have a complete record of the customers’ personal information, earnings, loan history, investments, transactional history, and more. In the wrong hands, this information can be used to bring your customers harm, e.g, by facilitating identity theft, siphoning of their funds, credit card fraud, etc. Their private information might even end up being used against them by scammers who try to sell bogus products and offers.
- Personnel impersonification. IT risk is ramping up because of personnel impersonification. IT risks are more prevalent now than ever before. A major reason for this is the increased number of people working remotely and using their company’s network to access sensitive data such as social security numbers, bank account information, etc. Due to this factor, hackers are finding it easier to leverage poorly designed systems and networks that allow them access without proper identification checks or background investigations.
- Accidental human intrusion. A risk to IT systems in many organizations may come from accidental human intrusion, which can occur through data entry errors and improper process execution (e.g., when someone enters incorrect information such as SQL commands into a database). This type of accident leads to system vulnerability that could be exploited by attackers with or without authorization, either within or outside the organization’s borders who want access to sensitive business records and customer files for criminal purposes. In some cases, these hackers are able not only to get access but also to extract sensitive information from these secured systems.
- Your data is not safe from natural disasters! This includes tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and more. If you are considering where to house your servers for the best protection against different types of natural hazards, then think about what type of disaster might happen in your area before picking a spot that may be vulnerable to such events.
- The probability of hardware failure is hard to predict, but for newer equipment, it’s low. For older or lesser-known models, the likelihood climbs much higher, especially if you’re not careful with your electronics in general. You never know when someone might accidentally spill tea on a piece of equipment containing critical systems and data or inadvertently delete important system files, so this threat should be high up on our list no matter what industry we work within.
A vulnerability is a weakness in your cyber security that allows threats to exploit these gaps to cause harm. Vulnerabilities, just like threats, can come from physical, technical, or human factors. Having incompetent employees is a weakness that can allow a breach in your security through phishing because such employees cannot identify potential threats in emails or websites. The lack of a firewall is a technical vulnerability.
Old devices can also be a weakness that allows malicious attacks. Using weak passwords exposes you to potential threats.
You can conduct both internal and external checks every three months to identify any weaknesses in your system. Conducting an audit on your system helps you identify vulnerabilities in your assets that can easily be exploited.
Now that you know what a threat and vulnerability are, you need to identify risks. A risk is a likelihood that a threat can exploit a weakness and cause harm.
While assessing risks that come from within the organization, it’s also crucial to identify risks coming from your vendors’ network. It has become increasingly common to have security breaches coming from third-party networks.
5.Identify Potential Consequences
After you identify threats and the assets in your organization, you can now determine the potential consequences of the loss or damage of your assets. If you are an e-commerce business that has a mobile application, the downtime you could experience on the app in the event of a security breach is a consequence. Data loss and even legal implications such as fines and lawsuits are other possible consequences of a cyber security glitch.
6.Assess the Risk
Having identified your assets, vulnerabilities, threats, and consequences, you can proceed to the next step in the security risk assessment checklist, which is risk assessment. You are now in a position to determine whether the consequences of a damage or an attack on an asset fit in either the high, low, or medium risk category.
For example, if your servers are located in a room with poor air conditioning, then there is a possibility that they could overheat. Overheating would lead to a failure in your system and consequently significant downtime. During the downtime, you have no access to your website, emails, data, and other important organizational functions. This leads to financial loss and possibly even the loss of clients, so this is a high-risk situation.
After conducting the risk assessment then you can come up with measures to protect your assets. In this case, you can buy better air conditioning for your server room to prevent overheating.
While assessing your risks, you could discover that your employees lack proper training in the management of your systems. This makes it easy for hackers to access sensitive information or take control of your system. Training your staff on the safe use of email and how to respond to different IT events mitigates your risk level.
7.Create a Risk Management Strategy and Plan
Now that your assessments are done, it’s time to come up with a risk management plan. At this stage of the checklist, you’re asking yourself questions such as, what controls do you have for your system? What is your response policy in case of a ransom situation?
Conducting an audit on your entire system helps you identify which services would be affected by a range of potential threats. If the threat comes through emails, does your business have email filtering solutions? Is your anti-virus software up to date?
The risk assessment could reveal that many users have access to sensitive information. In such a case, your risk management plan could include having only a designated user with administrative access to certain data. You could also store some information in physical locations and utilize password protection to enhance security.
Part of your plan should also involve routine assessments of your vendors’ ecosystems to ensure that threats are not coming from third parties. It’s very common to only focus on assessing your company’s cyber security while overlooking that of any company that interacts with your network. The majority of assessments provide organizational data and assume that the third-party companies you transact with have secure systems. Your company needs to include a strategy to mitigate third-party risk.
This stage of the security risk assessment checklist helps you identify the necessary hardware and software to help you protect your network and create a response plan in the event of a crisis.
Why Should I Conduct Regular IT Assessments?
The key goal in running an effective IT security audit regularly, such as once every six months or year, is for the company’s personnel and management teams to be aware of any potential risks which could hurt the business’ success; this helps them address those risks earlier on than if these were only identified when it was already too late. Conducting regular IT assessments could also help organizations to:
- Get rid of security measures that do not work with the current work setup.
- Single out gaps in the IT systems and subsequently employ measures to mitigate said gaps.
- Identify and vet security firms that your organization could partner with.
- Adopt measures that help prevent the infiltration of data.
- Develop a clear outline detailing protocols and controls to help employees deal with risks.
- Conduct an audit of your compliance requirement to see if your organization is in line with industry regulations.
- Adopt a hierarchy that outlines the priority assigned to different assets based on their value and risk potential.
- Anticipate potential risk and clearly outline mitigation protocol.
Secure Your IT Technology and Systems
Your IT technology and programs ensure that your business runs effectively. The condition of your cyber security should not be left to chance. An IT crisis could lead to catastrophic losses or even threaten the continuity of your company. This cyber security risk checklist helps you identify your vulnerabilities and gives you insight into possible solutions.
Ultimately while you can avoid some risks, you cannot eliminate all risks. For some, simply managing them is enough of a solution. A checklist is a useful tool in helping you prepare and respond to information technology crisis events.
At Cloudtech24, our expert team is ready to help you with your risk aversion and mitigation strategies. We are a seasoned tech firm with a rich history of experience. Our team of engineers are certified in various fields, including cyber security, computing, networking, vendor-specific certification, and accreditations, and firewalls. As such, we guarantee to reinforce your cyber security protocol for the optimal running of your business.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD I CONDUCT AN IT RISK ASSESSMENT?
Companies should conduct regular IT risk assessments. Different organizations have different IT needs; thus, a one size fits all frequency does not exist. However, it is good practice to ensure that you conduct an audit of your systems at least once a year and every six months if your organization carries more sensitive data in the systems. Institutions like hospitals and banks could conduct IT risk assessments quarterly (or even more) due to the ultra-sensitive nature of their client’s data. It is also fundamental to conduct a risk assessment the minute your organisation falls prey to an attack or potential risks are identified.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CARRYING OUT IT RISK ASSESSMENTS?
Most large organizations have the capacity to host an in-house IT department. These individuals conduct regular risk assessments for their companies. Additionally, they are in charge of training floor members on best practices for IT risk mitigation. However, smaller organizations may not have the capital to sustain an IT development; therefore, they result in outsourcing the services of an IT risk assessment company. The outsourcing option is also available to larger companies whose IT department is either too busy or not well versed with risk assessment protocol.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT IN MY IT RISK ANALYSIS REPORT?
The following are aspects of the evaluation process:
• Quantification and valuation of the company’s information and assets
• Detailed report of possible threats and vulnerabilities in the system
• An estimate of the potential loss from a possible threat
• A clear roadmap on the protocols in place to mitigate potential risks
• A report indicating all the findings and recommendations
WHERE TO START WHEN PERFORMING A RISK ASSESSMENT
In any risk assessment, the first step involves identifying and prioritizing the assets. For an IT assessment, these would be the information assets.