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Risk management in cybersecurity: What you need to know

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This guide outlines risk management in cybersecurity, detailing the biggest risk factors, how to address them, and steps to implement a cybersecurity risk management plan.

In business, risk assessment and management in relation to data breaches are critical across the board. Right now, those concepts are especially pertinent and pressing when it comes to cybersecurity, as the threat landscape grows in terms of complexity and volume.

In a general sense, risk management in cybersecurity is the process your business uses for the identification, assessment, and control of threats to your earnings and capital. Threats can come from various sources, including financial uncertainty, legal issues, natural disasters, and, as was touched on above, cybersecurity threats. Threats related to IT security and data are being prioritized as companies become increasingly digitized.

A risk management in cybersecurity plan will often, because of IT threats, include processes for identifying and controlling risks to any and all digital assets. Digital assets can consist of corporate data, intellectual property, and personally identifiable information of customers.

The following is an overview of some of the relevant things to know about risk management in cybersecurity within the context of the current business and digital environment.

Risk management in cybersecurity: biggest risk factors

If you’re a tech professional, you may have a more granular and specific view of what risk factors are in terms of digital asset security. If you’re proposing significant changes for how you do things, however, you’re going to have to think about how senior leadership sees risks.

For them, the risks that are at the top of their minds in this area include:

  • Reputation: Whenever a company faces a cybersecurity situation that brings unfavorable news, it can diminish its reputation. Your reputation is what allows you to get new investors, new customers, and keep current customers. Reputation is also critical to attracting talent.
  • Revenue loss: Every business, regardless of size, is driven by certain revenue targets. Anything that threatens digital assets or data is similarly going to be a threat to revenue. If you’re an IT or business leader, you have to be able to look ahead and see how certain predominant risks could impact your revenue, and also how tools could be used to generate revenue.
  • Customer loss: Known data exposure or breaches are a big reason for losing current customers, but there are also customer experience issues to consider in IT. For example, a slow-loading site or a complex checkout process can lead to customer loss.
  • Data breach: This is a big one here that’s top-of-mind across the board for business leaders.

Research shows gaps between IT and tech teams who are managing risk and executives and board members. The gaps tend to exist for three primary reasons.

The first is a lack of structure. Committees, board members, and company leadership may be getting dozens of reports and key risk indicators. Those reports may end up being overly technical for the audience, not well-structured, or have too much detail. IT and security teams should work on creating more digestible information to present.

A second problem that creates a gap between IT and leadership regarding risk management is a lack of clarity. A report with a lot of data doesn’t give a relatable picture of the risk levels.

The third problem often expressed is a lack of real-time data. Data and reports often have conflicting information at any given time, leaving leadership wondering what the truth is and what needs to be done.

What is a Cybersecurity Risk Management Strategy?

While above, we talked generally about risk management, what are a cybersecurity risk assessment and management strategy?

First, one thing to keep in mind is that you can’t do an initial Risk Assessment and leave it at that. Leaving it there can create a false sense of security. Instead, you have to recognize as part of your holistic risk management strategy that attack surfaces and the overall threat landscape are constantly changing. Your cybersecurity risk management strategy, as such, is to be continuous.

The regulatory environment is also often changing, which needs to be factored in as well.

There are usually four primary areas of focus to consider in a comprehensive risk management strategy. The first is mapping out your digital assets so that you can understand your attack surface. This mapping out of assets will be what you use to prioritize, and it’s going to be the foundation of every other element in your strategy.

The next consideration is monitoring. You’re constantly searching for threat references and gathering intelligence. The fourth general component of a risk management strategy is mitigation. Mitigation relies on automation to block threats and remove them if they’ve accessed your digital assets in any way. Fourth is management.

As you’re calculating risk based on your risk analysis, you can use a generalized equation. Cyber risk is calculated as the consequence of an attack multiplied by the likelihood of attack. At a minimum, once you have the strategy in place, any cybersecurity program needs the following:

  • Endpoint protection with consideration for remote workers and BYOD policies
  • Network security
  • Response planning for incidents
  • Policies and procedures for cybersecurity

Finally, as you’re mapping your assets and creating a risk management strategy, you need to consider your potential exposure because of third parties. Digital transformation is increasing reliance on cloud platforms.

Third-party vendors can and do pose a risk to your organization. Many of the most significant attacks in scale are due to third-party vulnerabilities. You’ll have to do regular audits to determine which third parties have access to sensitive data as part of a truly comprehensive risk management strategy.

Conclusion

Ultimately what all of the above could mean in terms of specific cybersecurity strategies is that many companies move toward a Zero Trust architecture, integrating conditional access policies, single sign-on, and multi-factor authentication. This type of approach is not only conducive to remote work but also offers complete visibility into all managed devices. If you haven’t revisited your cybersecurity risk management strategy, now is a critical time to do that.

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