In today's digital age, cybersecurity risks are a major concern for businesses of all sizes. With cyber attacks becoming more sophisticated and frequent, it is important for businesses to assess their cybersecurity risk, prioritize them, and take measures to mitigate them.
When you are an executive, you need to optimize decision-making based on the strategic goals of the organization, while simultaneously ensuring that day-to-day operations run smoothly. Having roamed the globe in my role of Field CTO across several different organizations, I’ve spoken to many C-level executives over the last couple of years. What has become clear from those conversations is that besides the strategic company goals, there are 3 factors that must be considered when confronted with this decision:
- Does this contribute to the bottom line of my organization?
- Does this increase our efficiency, so it saves money for the organization?
- Does it reduce risk so I can continue to operate freely?
Think about the duties of the Board and its executives in terms of risk management. The time when cybersecurity and compliance were considered the sole responsibility of the IT department or an outsourced IT vendor is behind us. Either through common sense or increased regulations, like the proposed SEC regulations, companies will more openly disclose their cybersecurity governance capabilities, including the board’s oversight of cyber risk.
One of the greatest risks businesses face today is a cyber incident. This requires the focus of those at the top to make informed decisions to protect all organization's stakeholders. Additionally, according to research from Rubrik Zero Labs in their State of Data Security, The Human Impact of Cybercrime report, 36% of organizations dealt with a leadership change in the last year due to a cyberattack and its follow-on response. You can find the full report here.
The risk decision is therefore prevalent in dealing with cybersecurity. When determining risk from a cybersecurity perspective, the framework I tend to use is:
- What is the likelihood that this will happen?
- What would the impact be if it happened?
Likelihood x Risk
For example, if you think about the way breaches to an organization initially happen, it is usually one of these 5 categories:
- Unpatched vulnerabilities.
- Security misconfigurations.
- Weak, leaked, or stolen passwords.
- Social engineering.
- Insider threats.
If you assign a likelihood and impact to each of these, you have a pathway to understanding your risk profile. One of the more hidden risk factors these days are APIs, they are what make modern applications possible and provide the connective tissue to tie our digitized world together. This has made them an attractive attack vector for malicious users.
Using our risk framework from before, we can determine that the likelihood of an API breach is high. Just do a Google News search on “API breach” for many recent examples, secondly the impact is very large, the same Google search will also confirm that.
So the ultimate risk of API breaches is very real and really current. The potential impact could be devastating to any business. From a cybersecurity leadership point of view, you can assess your cybersecurity risk using this 5 step process:
Step 1: Identify assets and potential threats
The first step in assessing cybersecurity risk is to identify the assets that need to be protected and the potential threats that could compromise them. This includes identifying all hardware, software, data, and networks critical to the business. Once the assets are identified, businesses need to consider the potential threats to those assets, including malware, phishing attacks, hacking, insider threats, and physical theft.
Step 2: Evaluate vulnerabilities
The next step is to evaluate the vulnerabilities of the assets. Vulnerabilities are weaknesses or gaps in security measures that can be exploited by attackers. Vulnerabilities can be found in hardware, software, network infrastructure, or even in the employees. A vulnerability assessment will help businesses identify and prioritize the vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.
Step 3: Determine the likelihood of an attack
The next step is to determine the likelihood of an attack. This involves considering the motivation and capability of potential attackers. Businesses need to consider whether they are a high-value target, the sophistication of the attackers, and the potential impact of an attack. This step helps businesses prioritize the security measures that need to be implemented.
Step 4: Assess the potential impact
The next step is to assess the potential impact of a cyber attack. This includes considering the financial impact, reputational damage, and legal consequences. By assessing the potential impact, businesses can determine the level of risk they are willing to tolerate and the resources they are willing to dedicate to cybersecurity.
Step 5: Develop a risk mitigation plan
The final step is to develop a risk mitigation plan. This includes implementing the necessary security measures to address the vulnerabilities and reduce the likelihood of an attack. This could involve implementing API security platforms, web application firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion detection systems, employee training, and physical security measures. Businesses should also develop a response plan for when the inevitable attack occurs.
This process should not be considered a point in time exercise, but a continuous process where the team is regularly updating the assessment to reflect the evolving environment. Changes to business models, entering new marketings, or new threat vectors require teams to keep this a living document.
In conclusion, assessing cybersecurity risk is an essential process for businesses to protect their assets and organization from cyber threats. By following these steps, businesses can identify and prioritize vulnerabilities, determine the likelihood of an attack, assess the potential impact, and develop a risk mitigation plan. With the increasing frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks, businesses cannot afford to ignore cybersecurity risk assessment.