How to evaluate Cybersecurity through Risk and Vulnerability Assessments?

Risk and Vulnerability Assessments cybersecurity

What are risk and vulnerability assessments in cybersecurity?

Today, one of the most important factors that organizations consider is the capacity of identifying and addressing potential threats for their information and data systems and fixing the weaknesses that endanger them. This is why risks and vulnerability assessments are ever more increasing their relevancy in the landscape of cybersecurity.

These technical operations are both crucial and work in synergy to enforce cybersecurity within companies; but they’re not the same thing. First of all, we should take into account the difference between these two factors:

  • assessing risks is about individuating all the threats, external and internal, that could negatively affect an organization’s information and data assets, especially defining their likelihood and estimated impact;
  • assessing vulnerability, instead, focuses on detecting all the corporate cybersecurity weaknesses and planning actions to fix them before cyber criminals exploit them.

The Washington University in St. Louis provides another furthered interpretation:

  • a vulnerability is a flaw or weakness in asset’s design (implementation, operation or management) that could be exploited by a threat, answering the question how could harm occur?;
  • a threat is an occasion for a dangerous agent to exploit a vulnerability, answering the question who or what could cause harm?;
  • a risk is the estimated damage derived from the threat when it materially occurs, answering the question how much would harm cost?.

A performing procedure to assess cybersecurity risk and vulnerability

Evaluating cybersecurity through risk and vulnerability assessments is a key aspect to ensure and maintain a steadier and more responsive security level within an organization. Now that we know what risk and vulnerability assessments are, here’s a complete guideline to best perform such evaluations in a cybersecurity strategy:

  1. Define scope and specific goals of the assessment operation, hence clearly identify which assets need to be assessed and why;
  2. Make an inventory of all corporate assets playing a relevant role to the organization’s information systems, including hardware, software, data, and personnel;
  3. Identify potential threats to the assets, considering both internal and external dangers, and appraise each one’s likelihood and potential impact (find out more here);
  4. Detect vulnerabilities and weaknesses and estimate their potential severity;
  5. Assess the risks of all vulnerabilities, considering their exploitation likelihood and the potential damage on the organization, tangible and intangible (learn more here);
  6. Evaluate the effectiveness of the existing security measures, including firewalls, antivirus software or intrusion detection systems, and identify potential gaps;
  7. Review and update security policies to make sure they align with the current threat landscape and legal requirements;
  8. Create accurate documents and reports concerning cybersecurity, including vulnerabilities, risks, technical details and recommendations for addressing issues;
  9. Develop a security remediation plan based on the previous assessments and reports, including timelines and responsibilities (read more here);
  10. Implement monitoring processes and regularly update risk and vulnerability assessments to stay aware of new threats and check new potential vulnerabilities;
  11. Conduct regular penetration testing and simulated attacks to check the security measures effectiveness, thus assessing several cases of weaknesses, threats and risks.

If needed, consider engaging external cybersecurity experts or solutions, such as Namirial CyberExpert, for an advanced in-depth assessment of threats, risks and vulnerabilities to always be ahead of cyber attacks and cyber crime.

But nowadays organizations can also leverage a new smart, innovative and potentially game-changing force to best handle cybersecurity issues, which could be very useful for the assessment of risks and vulnerabilities: we’re talking about artificial intelligence. We’ve already covered the delicate topic of involving AI into operations directly affecting cybersecurity, considering both positive and negative aspects; you can learn more here:

The dimensions of risk and vulnerability: the 5×5 Matrix

At this point, we can consider the two main dimensions regarding risk and vulnerability in the assessment operations: likelihood and severity. These two are also the same factors which compose the so called 5×5 Matrix, a very useful and clear tool that (for what concerns cybersecurity) graphically frames the risk levels and the actual vulnerabilities elaborated in terms of likelihood (that a threat may turn into a real risk) and severity (so the potential impact that an attack towards that weakness could have).

Each dimension is divided into five levels, creating a matrix with 25 cells. The risk likelihood can be rare, unlikely, possible, likely, highly likely, whereas the vulnerabilities severity can be negligible, minor, moderate, severe, very severe.

Teams working on cybersecurity can make better decisions driven by information, data and reasoning if they use the 5×5 Matrix to:

  • categorize different potential cases, assessing risks and vulnerabilities and matching them combining likelihood and severity levels;
  • prioritize actions that need to be taken to prevent or mitigate the most dangerous and possible threats that could represent a risk, by fixing those weaknesses in the IT security systems from where vulnerabilities originated.
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