What's involved in the risk assessment process?
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We assess risks all the time in our daily lives. Is that knife sharp enough to cut me? Is my child safe with the babysitter? Are there cars coming, or can I cross the street? Most of these decisions can be made automatically, instinctually without too much conscious thought going into them. And yet, our brains are going through a methodical process, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Things like cybersecurity aren’t quite so intuitive. That’s why experts have a conscious, methodical framework – or a kind of protocol if you’d prefer – for how to go about risk assessment in cyberspace. The goal is to come out the other end of risk assessment with a clear map that highlights the most likely incoming threats, who and/or what they might target and how best to counter them. Here’s how it works:

1. Defining the scope of the project

First things first, and the first thing in risk assessment is to get the lay of the land. Risk assessment experts need to get to know your business and what’s most important to you while laying the groundwork for the rest of their work. Someone has to draw a map first before it can be used.

This process begins with interviewing key personnel including your chief information security officer (if you have one) and department managers if necessary. Next up is defining critical assets, or establishing which networks, processes or databases are most important to your security and stability. Budget may affect the number of assets you’re able to target, but regardless, setting clear priorities will help clarify the process and keep everyone on track. A similar set of priorities are then given to critical business processes as well.

2. Identifying threats and vulnerabilities

Next, experts consider what threats and vulnerabilities might be putting the identified critical assets at risk. Again, key members of your team are interviewed to get a more in-depth understanding of the security issues surrounding the assets. Then the maps come out. Threats and vulnerabilities are mapped out for a comprehensive overview of the existing security situation.

Then any existing security controls are accounted for and threats then deemed to be irrelevant are removed from the map.

3. Analyzing current controls

Experts then take a closer look at those same security controls in an effort to understand the safeguards you have in place. But that’s not all. The second part of analyzing established controls is analyzing the potential consequences in a situation in which they fail.

This careful thought process is important to calculate risk and understand what’s at stake. Experts look at figures like asset value and the impact on your business of the processes that need to be protected while considering potential scenarios in which damage could be caused.

4. Calculate the risks and report

Finally, it’s time to take everything that’s been learned and calculate the real risk to the assets defined in step 1. What are the worst scenarios that absolutely must be prevented? How likely are those scenarios to occur? But most importantly, this phase answers the crucial question: How can that likelihood be decreased? What steps can be taken to grant a greater level of security?

Critically, this is all gathered in a final report that sums up the findings and records the situation for future reference. But the process doesn’t end here. Risk assessment only give experts a roadmap to move forward with to provide you with comprehensive security.

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