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What is a Security Risk Assessment & Why is it Important?

When it comes to security risk assessments, it’s often unclear what you’ll really receive. Providers use meaningless and misused buzzwords, and there are a lot of vague or confusing definitions out there.

The problem is: you likely need a risk assessment for compliance. PCI DSS, SOC2, ISO 27001, NIST, HIPAA, and other standards require a risk assessment as a fundamental part of a strong security program— and they’re right to make these important analyses a requirement. 

A proper risk assessment is a foundational building block for any company’s information security program, and here's why. 

What Exactly is a Risk Assessment?

If you Google search the phrase “what is a risk assessment?,” Google’s answer box will serve you a dictionary definition. 

It’ll say that a risk assessment is “a systematic process of evaluating the potential risks that may be involved in a projected activity or undertaking.”

While this definition is accurate, this formal and technical language can be unhelpful. In simplest terms, a risk assessment is a way to calculate the “bad things that could happen to your business." 

It outlines the probability of these potential risks occurring so that you can make informed decisions about mitigating their likelihood of happening in the future. The risk assessment empowers smarter judgment calls by outlining each potential threat against a vulnerability and calculating the probability of the risk occurring. 

Let’s dive deeper into what exactly this means, and how a risk assessment works. 

What is Reviewed During a Risk Assessment?

Here’s a quick overview of our risk assessment process at Truvantis:

Step 1: Gather all assets. Anything that’s valuable is compiled for review, such as your current systems, your sensitive data, etc.

Step 2: Assess your vulnerabilities. Our team looks for any way your assets could be exploited. We outline any vulnerabilities and potential threats to the security of each.

Step 3: Match threats to vulnerabilities. Every vulnerable asset is matched with its potential threat to form what is called a “risk scenario.” For instance, a flaw in your website’s code is your vulnerability, and the threat: a hacker.

Step 4: Forecast probability. Next, we look at how likely it is that this threat could happen? We’ll assess how many times of the year could it happen, and project the impact of the exploitation.

Step 5: Outline a treatment program. All this information is then put into a matrix, which is referred to as a “risk register.” This risk register has a “treatment program,” detailing how we could help to mitigate, avoid, transfer or accept your risks. It ranks all the threats and vulnerabilities compiled on your risk scenario by severity, budget requirements, expertise needed (like internal vs external consultation), etc. to help you prioritize how/when to address each issue.

Why is Performing a Risk Assessment Important? 

There are a lot of myths about risk assessments, many used as justification not to get one. Some people assume that these analyses are too time-consuming, that they’ll tell you things you already know, or that they’re a waste of time if you already have “good security.”

In fact, all of the assumptions we discussed in the linked article above are untrue— and risk assessments are critically important!

Why? Here are three big reasons to invest in a risk assessment.

  • Risk assessments help to protect you against breaches. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons companies choose to assess their risk is to protect them against costly and disruptive breaches. Risk treatments can be ways to protect your business from cyberattacks and to better improve protection of private data.
  • Risk assessments give you data to prioritize improvements to your security. It’s difficult (sometimes impossible) to make dozens of changes to your cybersecurity at once for technical, operational and budget reasons. A risk assessment makes it so you don’t have to. The assessment will help you to justify which areas need better protection, prioritize which critical matters need attention first, as well as help you to determine which risks you’re willing to live with.
  • Risk assessments help to guide your security investment. It may be hard to see the value in investing thousands of dollars into improving its cybersecurity program. A detailed risk analysis will map out exactly which vulnerabilities take priority and why— outlining the impact each may have on your business if neglected. Once your stakeholders and investors see how much not making the changes could cost them, they may cast a more favorable eye on allocating the budget to risk treatments.

You Could Be At Risk

A risk assessment offers solutions to protect your information systems and empowers you to mitigate risks, smarter. 

Now that you understand the importance of performing a risk assessment, your next step is to be sure you get the most out of your investment. Check out our article on properly preparing for a risk assessment to learn more

While doing research beforehand is certainly helpful, you don’t have to do all the hard work alone. Our team at Truvantis® is here to take care of the entire process, so you can focus on what’s most important to your business. 

We can even help you get the most out of your risk assessments after they happen. To learn how, click the button below to get the free whitepaper, 6 Steps to Get Real Value out of Your Security Risk Assessment

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