How to Create a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Template? [Guide]
Safeguarding your company's information security is a pressing matter, especially with the number of data breaches rising almost every year.
The Identity Theft Resource Center reported 1,852 data breaches in 2021, beating the previous record of 1,506 breaches in 2017.
These numbers shouldn't come as a surprise though. With more people and businesses storing information on the cloud, more people working from home or in a hybrid setting, not to mention millions of online financial transactions, there’s a lot to entice hackers.
Data by IBM puts the average cost of a data breach at $4.24 million in 2021, up from $3.86 million in 2020.
A goldmine for hackers, breaches of personal information are the largest area for breaches, having reached 58% in 2020. (Verizon)
It's no surprise either that healthcare and government agencies are among the most vulnerable industries to cyberattacks. Others include small and medium-sized businesses, energy firms, and higher education facilities. (CDNetworks)
In this guide, we'll help you understand what a cybersecurity risk assessment is, its benefits, and how to conduct one. We'll also cover the top cybersecurity frameworks used and help you create a cybersecurity risk assessment template that you can use to secure your startup or organization and mitigate future risks and hacks.
What is a Cybersecurity Risk?
Cybersecurity risk is the likelihood of an organization suffering a cyberattack, which in turn results in the exposure or loss of sensitive information and assets. The company's or organization's reputation may also be harmed significantly because of the cyberattack.
Take Canva, for example. In 2019, Canva suffered a data breach that exposed 139 million accounts to hackers.
But that wasn't the worst. The worst was Yahoo's data breach in 2014, which exposed 500 million user accounts.
Before we delve deeper into cybersecurity risks and their types, it's important to distinguish between seemingly close terms.
In addition to cybersecurity risk, there are cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities.
A cybersecurity threat is a "negative event," whereas a vulnerability is the "weakness that exposes you to threats." (Kenna's Security)
This means that if your systems and data are vulnerable, you have a higher probability for cybersecurity risks and accordingly threats.
Common Types of Cybersecurity Risks
There are many forms of cybersecurity risks, which can further vary from one industry to another. Not to mention, risks, and subsequently threats, are constantly evolving.
To help you get a clearer picture, let's look at the common types of cybersecurity risks.
1. Insider Threats (Employees and Contractors)
Possibly the most common type of cybersecurity risk comes from within the organization. From its employees. Though often unintentionally.
Employees and contractors that have access to a company's network are often the cause of vulnerabilities. That's why it's important for businesses of all sizes to provide cybersecurity training and awareness for employees and contractors alike to reduce the risk of threats.
With the proper training, employees would be able to identify risks and act when they discover such risks and threats.
2. Third-Party Vendors
Companies often outsource work to improve their operating efficiency and reduce costs. However, this process of outsourcing to people and businesses outside the network means these external sources may get insider access to the firm's sensitive information.
However, organizations that use third-party risk management can ensure a safer network and environment, while reducing the risk of vendors compromising security.
3. Lack of Compliance
There's no shortage of compliance measures. Think GDPR, PCI, and HIPAA. But not all companies are in strict compliance with these measures.
Not to mention, that compliance with these measures doesn't necessarily mean that the organization will be secure against cyberattacks and threats.
4. Lack of Secure Sensitive Information
Many businesses across various industries gather customer data to enhance customer experiences and boost retention. And while that's great for the company, it means that these firms have lots of information that needs to be protected against cyberattacks.
Imagine what would happen if a bank or a fintech startup's customer data were to be hacked. All the information including bank and credit card details would be available to people and organizations whose intention is to do harm.
Unfortunately, few organizations are able to secure their data and ensure it's safeguarded against hackers and cyberattacks.
Companies along with government entities should look at industry data protection standards and regulations to safely secure the information customers have provided them with.
So how can your company or organization protect itself against cybersecurity threats and reduce the number of potential risks?
What your company needs is a cybersecurity risk assessment.
What is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?
A cybersecurity risk assessment is the basis of your risk management strategy. It helps you understand where your organization is at in terms of security and vulnerability, potential risks you may be subject to, and how to prioritize and address those risks.
Moreover, a cybersecurity assessment "analyzes your organization’s cybersecurity controls and their ability to remediate vulnerabilities." If you're looking to conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment, think of it as "building a complete picture of the threat environment for particular business objectives." (Security Scorecard)
It's worth noting that while there are cybersecurity risk assessment templates, you should conduct your risk assessment based on your business needs, objectives, and available budget.
For an organization or startup to conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment, they'll need to highlight their business objectives and their information and technology assets.
Once you have prepared this information, you can begin to identify vulnerabilities and threats that can harm your assets.
Types of Cybersecurity Risk Assessments
To conduct a successful cybersecurity risk assessment, you first need to be aware of the different frameworks and methodologies used to conduct one.
Here are the top three most widely used cybersecurity risk frameworks:
1. NIST Cybersecurity Framework
The NIST Cybersecurity Framework was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which recommends the SP 800-30 as the risk assessment methodology for risk assessments.
One of the main benefits of using the NIST framework is that it covers security, technology, and governance. It also provides supporting documentation and guidance for companies and government agencies.
Commonly used by businesses in the United States, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework uses various international standards and practices such as the NIST 800-53 and ISO 27001.
The United States Federal Government uses the NIST cybersecurity framework to protect itself against cyberattacks and data breaches. However, the framework is applicable across industries and organizations of various sizes.
2. ISO 27000
The ISO 27001 framework is part of the Information Security Management Systems standards, making it a popular choice among international organizations.
Developed by The International Organizations for Standards, the ISO 27000 framework covers a company's internal information along with third-party vendors.
"As a living document, [the ISO 27000 risk assessment] continuously evolves to keep up with new information needs and provides ongoing guidance," notes Security Scorecard.
3. CIS Critical Security Controls Framework
Considered the "gold standard" of modern security practices, the CIS Critical Security Controls framework acts as a practical guide for businesses looking to secure their networks quickly and effectively.
This framework was originally designed as a list of technology best practices to help companies address cybersecurity vulnerabilities quickly.
4. Other Specialized Cybersecurity Frameworks
Launched in 2018, Europe's General Data Protection Regulation sets the standards and guidelines for collecting and processing sensitive information for people who live in the European Union.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is designed to help the healthcare industry maintain and secure information.
It includes a set of rules and standards for the transfer of healthcare information among healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard helps companies that "accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure network environment." (Security Scorecard)
Developed by the US Department of Defense, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification ensures that defense contractors have adequate cybersecurity. To earn the CMMS, defense contractors have to conduct a cybersecurity assessment.
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act is a US Federal law that protects student education records and ensures that they remain private.
The FERPA gives parents and eligible students "more control over their educational records, and it prohibits educational institutions from disclosing “personally identifiable information in education records” without the written consent of an eligible student, or if the student is a minor, the student’s parents. (The CDC)
Who Should Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment?
Now that we've clarified the main details surrounding the cyber risk assessment, we have one important question to answer: Who is responsible for conducting cyber risk assessments within an organization?
Depending on the size of the company, organization, or agency, the person or team in charge of performing this task may differ.
Cyber risk management, including cybersecurity risk assessments, is often handled by an entity's board of directors and the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).
In smaller companies and startups, it's unlikely that you'll find an entire dedicated cybersecurity team but you may have or find an IT team.
Often, this IT team comprises members who are familiar with network infrastructure and are able to secure the startup's network.
In some startups, cybersecurity is the responsibility of the chief technology officer (CTO), whereas others use cybersecurity software or outsource their cybersecurity operations, including risk assessments, to more specialized companies.
What does a CISO do?
A CISO's job is a far-ranging one. They're in charge of the organization's security as a whole, making them an integral part of any organization.
A CISO's responsibilities include ensuring that the company's networks and customer data and other information assets are protected against cybersecurity attacks.
But that's not their only role. The CISO is also responsible for recruiting qualified cybersecurity professionals and retaining them.
Other CISO responsibilities include carrying out security measures, training, testing, and procedures as well as monitoring all security needs such as having up-to-date security software, using data encryption when necessary, and securing vulnerable patches.
Moreover, CISOs are in charge of preventing fraud and deploying data protection and loss prevention systems.
How to Create a Cyber Security Risk Assessment Template?
Now let's look at what a cybersecurity risk assessment template looks like.
As mentioned, it's best not to follow a single template but to tailor that template to your organization's needs and situation.
Moreover, depending on your industry and the country or region you're operating in, you may have to include other requirements that are specific to your region or regulatory bodies within it.
To conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment, we recommend following these five steps.
1. Evaluate the Scope for the Risk Assessment
The first step in conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment is to identify your scope. This means you'll need to determine the assets, physical or otherwise, that need to be evaluated.
Will the security assessment cover the entire organization or just a small part of it?
We recommend starting with one asset type, business unit, or simply something specific in your company. This can be a certain web application or business unit like payment processing.
You'll need to include information and devices before expanding to your other assets.
Part of identifying the scope is to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are on board, are aware of the security assessment, and are familiar with the cybersecurity terms used.
2. Look at your Assets' Value
After you've determined which assets you'll include in your assessment, you want to note the value of each asset, which may not necessarily be cost-related.
Create an inventory of all your assets that may be subject to data breaches or cybersecurity attacks and then determine their importance within your organization.
Based on that, you'll be able to see which assets have more value to potential hackers than others.
3. Identify Cybersecurity Risks and Threats
Now it's time to identify the risks to your organization and assets. In this step, you'll also need to consider various scenarios and the kinds of threats that can affect your business.
Create scenarios as to how each asset can be exploited, the probability that it would get exploited, and the impact an exploited asset will have on your business.
This step is critical to your cybersecurity assessment because it will help you ensure "your organization is successfully meeting any cybersecurity compliance requirements required of your industry." (Security Scorecard)
It will also help you make better future decisions and enhance your organization's overall cybersecurity situation.
4. Compare Asset Value to Prevent Costs
Once you've examined potential cybersecurity risks, you'll need to compare the value of the asset in question to the cost of protecting it against cyberattacks and breaches.
You'll need to, once again, consider scenarios to see if the value of protecting the asset costs more than the value of the asset itself.
If the cost of protecting the asset is higher than the asset value, you may want to look at less-costly alternatives.
5. Monitor Security Controls Regularly
Now that you have identified potential risks to your organization, looked at exploitation scenarios, and methods and costs to protect your assets, it's time to execute security measures that will constantly monitor your assets.
"This will ensure that the controls that have been put in place are meeting organizational requirements and protecting important information on an ongoing basis," notes Security Scorecard.
Why is it Important to Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment?
By now, you should have an idea why performing a cyber risk assessment is important. Here are a few more reasons.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center's January 2022 report:
“There is no reason to believe the level of data compromises will suddenly decline in 2022. As organizations of all sizes struggle to defend the data they hold, it is essential that everyone practice good cyber-hygiene to protect themselves and their loved ones from these crimes."
To create a cybersecurity risk assessment, you need to be aware of the four levels of risk. These are zero, low, moderate, and high. It's worth noting that there are very few zero-level risks.
"The goal of an assessment is to identify vulnerabilities and minimize gaps in security," notes Security Scorecard.
As mentioned, a cybersecurity assessment will help you understand the level of vulnerability, threats, and risks your organization is up against.
You'll also be able to prioritize those risks based on a degree from the highest-level risks to the lowest-level risks and threats.
A risk assessment will also enable board members and top stakeholders to be aware of the entity's cybersecurity position and risk mitigation.
This, in turn, can translate into better-informed security strategy decisions and how you can integrate some of them into your business's everyday operations.
Businesses regardless of size and industry are becoming more vulnerable than ever. And cyberattacks and data breaches aren't expected to go down any time soon.
Want proof? Data by SonicWall Research indicates that ransomware attacks around the world surged 105% to 623 million in 2021 from the previous year.
Ransomware attacks in the United States alone jumped 98%, whereas in the UK these attacks skyrocketed by 227%.
That's why businesses and organizations, large and small, need to build better awareness amongst their employees and vendors about the importance of cybersecurity and how to maintain a secure network.
In addition, CISOs and other security and technology officers need to focus on conducting regular security checks and cybersecurity risk assessments to ensure that their organizations are safe against hackers.
CyberTalents provides cybersecurity risk assessments for companies to help secure their business. Start Now.