Why carry out a cybersecurity risk assessment?

Risk assessment – the process of identifying, analyzing, and evaluating risk – is the only way to ensure that the cybersecurity controls you choose are appropriate to the risks your organization faces.

Without a risk assessment to inform your cybersecurity choices, you could waste time, effort and resources – there is, after all, little point implementing measures to defend against events that are unlikely to occur or won’t have much material impact on your organization.

Likewise, it is possible that you will underestimate or overlook risks that could cause significant damage to your organization.

What does a cybersecurity risk assessment include?

A cybersecurity risk assessment identifies the various information assets that could be affected by a cyber attack (such as hardware, systems, laptops, customer data, and intellectual property), and then identifies the various risks that could affect those assets.

A risk estimation and evaluation is usually performed, followed by the selection of controls to treat the identified risks. It is important to continually monitor and review the risk environment to detect any changes in the context of the organization, and to maintain an overview of the complete risk management process.

ISO 27001 and cyber risks

The international standard ISO/IEC 27001:2013 (ISO 27001) provides the specifications of a best-practice ISMS (information security management system) – a risk-based approach to corporate information security risk management that addresses people, processes and technology.

Clause 6.1.2 of the standard sets out the requirements of the information security risk assessment process.

Organizations must:

  • Establish and maintain certain information security risk criteria
  • Ensure that repeated risk assessments “produce consistent, valid and comparable results”
  • Identify “risks associated with the loss of confidentiality, integrity and availability for information within the scope of the information security management system”, and identify the owners of those risks
  • Analyze and evaluate information security risks, according to the criteria established earlier

It is important that organizations “retain documented information about the information security risk assessment process” so that they can demonstrate that they comply with these requirements.

They will also need to follow a number of steps – and create relevant documentation – as part of the information security risk treatment process.

ISO 27005 provides guidelines for information security risk assessments and is designed to assist with the implementation of a risk-based ISMS (information security management system).