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Cybersecurity risk management: Essential best practices

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November 7, 2023

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Cybersecurity risk management: Essential best practices

Recent data reveals a disturbing upward trend in cyberattacks. In fact, a staggering 5.5 billion cases of malware attacks were registered in 2022 alone. 

Given these shocking statistics, optimizing cybersecurity risk management can't be overstated. But beyond high-tech solutions, there's another crucial aspect to risk mitigation and protecting your sensitive data that organizations must focus on: employee training. Even the most advanced security system can be compromised by human error, so a well-informed team is one of your best defenses against cyber threats. 

So, we’ve created this article outlining essential cybersecurity risk management best practices. Use this to help you make informed decisions to protect your information systems and make sure your organization’s valuable digital assets are well protected. 

What is cybersecurity risk management?

Cybersecurity risk management is the proactive approach to identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks associated with your organization's digital presence. Think of cybersecurity risk management as initiatives or guidelines that help you design, implement, and improve operating procedures that protect your company's digital assets.

Cybersecurity risk management - Definition

Overview of the cybersecurity risk assessment process

The cybersecurity risk management process follows similar principles and best practices across different organizations and companies. Basically, it comes down to a repeatable four-step process that helps you make sure your digital assets are secure and that your cybersecurity program gets regular attention and updates:

Step 1: Identifying risks

Your first task in developing a risk management program is to identify your organization's IT security risks. This includes everything from external threats like hacking attempts to internal issues such as outdated software. It's like a doctor's diagnosis; you can't begin treatment without knowing what you're up against.

Step 2: Assessing risks

After identifying information security risks, the next step is using risk assessment to evaluate them based on their likelihood and impact. This is where you categorize risks into bins like "high impact and high likelihood" or "low impact but high likelihood." It's about determining which risks could hurt your business the most and which are likely to happen.

Step 3: Prioritizing risks

Now that you've assessed the risks, it's time to prioritize them. Some risks might need immediate attention, while others can be reviewed at a later time. The goal here is to distribute your resources where they will make the most significant impact.

Step 4: Monitoring controls

Lastly, it's crucial to monitor the controls you've put in place continuously. Think of this step as your ongoing 'health check.' Make sure your security measures are doing their job and adapt them as new risks come up.

Types of cybersecurity risks

In 2022, cyber incidents increased by an alarming 32%, costing global businesses upwards of $1 trillion. That’s why when it comes to cybersecurity, ignorance is not bliss.

Cybersecurity risk management - Types of cybersecurity risks

Knowing the different types of risks out there is important. These fall into three main categories: threats, vulnerabilities, and risks. For example, a threat could be a hacker attempting to infiltrate your network.

Vulnerabilities might include weak passwords or outdated software. Risks are the intersection of these threats and vulnerabilities, representing the potential for actual harm to happen. To manage cybersecurity effectively, understanding these terms and their implications is non-negotiable.

Understanding critical assets and digital assets

In cybersecurity risk management, we talk a lot about critical assets and digital assets. Critical assets are what make your organization work—think customer databases with credit card information, or proprietary software. These are the high-risk targets that cybercriminals love to go after. 

Digital assets are similar but expand to include anything online that contains sensitive, valuable information. These can range from company fees to employee and customer identity and banking information, through to social media and internal messages.  

Identifying residual risks

Even after setting up robust security measures, some risks may remain; these are known as residual risks. It's essential to revisit your risk register regularly to assess the current risk levels post-mitigation. Consult with stakeholders and security experts to get a well-rounded view of your security situation. 

When assessing residual risks, keep an eye on several factors, including the date of risk identification, current security controls in place, progress status, and the individual or team responsible for the risk.

Assessing the level of risk

So, how do you figure out how risky a potential threat is? The assessment is usually done through scoring based on probability and impact. The higher the score, the higher the risk. Your risk tolerance level is the result of multiplying these two factors. Based on this, you can choose different risk response options, such as avoiding, accepting, transferring, or reducing the risk.

Analyzing potential threats and security gaps

Lastly, it's important to keep a keen eye on the evolving threat landscape. From phishing scams to ransomware attacks, hackers are always finding creative cybersecurity threats to exploit security gaps. Your organization isn't just at risk from external threats. 

Internal factors like employee inexperience, policy laxness, and unpatched software also pose a risk. A comprehensive risk management strategy includes identifying these potential threats and security gaps to secure the safety of both customer and employee data.

By understanding and navigating these facets of cybersecurity risk management, you'll be better equipped to protect what matters most to your organization. And once you've identified and understood the risks, the next logical step is to develop a comprehensive plan to manage them. This involves multiple layers, from team formation to implementing compliance requirements.

Developing a comprehensive risk management framework

When it comes to cybersecurity risk management, knowing the risks is only half the battle. The other half is devising an actionable, comprehensive security strategy to mitigate these risks. This is where your security team, compliance measures, and external partnerships all play crucial roles.

Cybersecurity risk management - Developing a comprehensive risk management framework

Establishing a security team and defining responsibilities

You need a dedicated team to handle cybersecurity as well as cyber resilience. This isn't a one-person job. It's a concerted effort that needs various skills and areas of expertise. Importantly, someone should be in charge of deciding which cybersecurity training courses to offer so your team is always up-to-date with cybersecurity risk management best practices. 

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the security team are needed for effective risk management. As well as to define authorization rights, as unauthorized access to certain assets is a common issue leading to compromised security policies.

Creating a cybersecurity framework for the organization

Building on a solid team foundation, you'll need a comprehensive cybersecurity framework. 

There are several globally recognized frameworks to consider, such as PCI DSS for payment card security, ISO 27001 for information security management, CIS Critical Security Controls for foundational cyber defense, and NIST CSF for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity. 

The framework you choose should align with your industry's specific standards or regulatory requirements. For instance, it’s a good idea to acquire your 27001 certification if you occupy a sector in which there is a need for especially high levels of data protection and privacy, such as finance or healthcare.

Implementing compliance requirements

Different industries have unique regulations. For example, healthcare organizations need to familiarize and abide by HIPAA guidelines. However, general data protection laws like GDPR apply across most sectors. 

To maintain compliance, employ strict security protocols. These can include:

  • Intelligent and managed Web Application Firewalls
  • Automated patching systems
  • Robust authentication policies
  • Comprehensive device security
  • Consolidating systems and data for easier management

Evaluating third-party vendor risk and partnerships

Last but certainly not least, let's talk about third-party vendors and providers. 

Your security is only as strong as the weakest link in your supply chain. Therefore, a risk analysis of the cybersecurity measures of your third-party and even fourth-party vendors is crucial. 

This kind of extended risk management helps mitigate risks throughout your entire operational system. Be vigilant for potential risks and security gaps arising from these external relationships.

For example, when selecting a VoIP phone service, it’s essential to evaluate the provider’s security protocols. Make sure they follow industry standards and apply robust encryption and authentication measures to safeguard data and privacy. This evaluation is crucial in mitigating risks associated with third-party services and ensuring the integrity of your organization’s communication systems.

By developing a detailed and multi-faceted security strategy, you set your organization on the path toward a safer, more secure operational environment.

Implementing a robust employee and staff training culture

You can't afford to overlook the importance of training your employees in cybersecurity best practices. Even the most secure firewall can't stop an uninformed team member from clicking a malicious link in real-time, and that single click could jeopardize your data and reputation, costing you more than you can imagine - but it can be avoided with Cyber Security Awareness Training.

Cybersecurity risk management - SC Training (formerly EdApp)'s Cyber Security Awareness training course

With regular training sessions that cover everything from recognizing synthetic identity fraud attacks and malware to proper password management and secure data handling, keeping awareness regarding cybersecurity as a main priority will help reduce the potential impact of many potentially crippling incidents. 

Don't just stop at theoretical knowledge. Test your team's preparedness with simulated cyber attacks. How well they respond will tell you a lot about the effectiveness of your training programs. Conduct internal assessments to measure progress and set performance metrics that aim for continuous improvement.

At the end of the day, your goal is a proactive security culture. Your employees should be your first line of defense, not the weakest link in your security chain.

Documenting and monitoring the program

Building a solid cybersecurity strategy is important, but maintaining its effectiveness over time requires a well-documented and constantly monitored program. This is where developing robust policies and procedures comes into play, serving as your guidebook for how to manage risks and respond to incidents. Let's explore what this involves.

Cybersecurity risk management - Documenting and monitoring the program

Developing policies and procedures

When you're setting out to create cybersecurity policies and procedures, compliance with relevant regulations like HIPAA or GDPR is your starting point. However, the unique business needs must also inform your strategy - such as incident response protocols and your tailored cybersecurity risk management strategy.

Your policy should outline how you’ll assess risks, manage incidents, and how you’ll monitor these processes over time. - essentially, these policies are the framework that guides every cybersecurity action within your organization.

That’s why it's crucial to keep these policies updated and integrated into your ongoing risk management strategy. An effective policy is a dynamic one, adapting as your organization and the broader threat landscape evolve.

Conclusion

The importance of a well-structured cybersecurity risk management plan should be obvious. From understanding risks to developing a comprehensive security strategy, each component plays a crucial role in preventing data breaches and keeping up your data security. By aligning your policies with both regulatory standards and the needs of your organization, you strengthen your cybersecurity stance.

In an ever-changing digital environment, vigilance and adaptability are key. Continually iterate on your approach and stay ahead of potential risks to protect your organization's most valuable assets.

Author

Guest Author Irina Maltseva

Irina Maltseva is a Growth Lead at Aura and a Founder at ONSAAS. For the last seven years, she has been helping SaaS companies to grow their revenue with inbound marketing. At her previous company, Hunter, Irina helped 3M marketers to build business connections that matter. Now, at Aura, Irina is working on her mission to create a safer internet for everyone.

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