What Are IT Risk Assessments and Security Risk Assessments?
Security risk assessment is the process of identifying vulnerabilities in the IT ecosystem and understanding the impact they pose to the institution, from downtime, legal costs and compliance penalties. A careful and thorough risk assessment will help accurately prioritize NOC’s security efforts as part of our broader cybersecurity program.
IT risk assessments are not just threats to cybersecurity but a host of cyber risks. The Institute of Risk Management defines cyber risk as “Any risk of financial loss, disruption or damage to the reputation of an organization from some sort of failure of its information technology systems.” Similarly, Gartner defines cyber risk as follows: “The potential for an unplanned, negative business outcome involving the failure or misuse of IT.”
Examples of cyber risks include but not limited to:
- Exfiltration of sensitive or important data
- Compromised credentials
- Phishing attacks
- Denial of service (DoS) attacks
- Misconfigured settings
- Hardware failures
- Natural disasters
- Human errors
It is important to note that both types of risk assessments are not one-time events. They should be performed on a regular schedule due to the dynamic nature of both IT environments and attack methodologies.
Benefits of Risk Assessments
Risk assessments provide significant value to the organization. Key benefits include:
- Insight into where your most valuable IT assets resides — Some data stores, machines and other IT assets are more important than others. Since what IT assets NOC has and their value can change over time, it’s important to repeat the risk assessment process regularly.
- Understanding of risk — By identifying and analyzing the potential threats to NOC, we can focus first on the risks that have the highest potential impact and the highest probability.
- Vulnerability identification and remediation — A gap-focused IT risk assessment methodology can help identify and close vulnerabilities that threats can take advantage of.
- Cost mitigation — Undertaking a risk assessment not only safeguards NOC from the high cost of a data breach, but it also enables prudent use of budget for security initiatives that deliver the most value.
- Improved trust — Demonstrating a commitment to security can increase trust, which can lead to improved student and employee retention.
- Informed decision making — The detailed insight provided by a risk assessment will facilitate better decision-making regarding security and infrastructure.
Understanding Risk Profile
Identifying threats and ranking risks systematically is crucial and thus prioritizing risk management tasks and allocating resources appropriately is the foremost requirement. A risk profile describes potential risks in detail, such as:
- The source of the threat
- The reason for the risk (uncontrolled access permissions, personal information, etc.)
- The likelihood that the threat will materialize
- Impact analyses for each threat
Identifying Loopholes – A gap-focused assessment methodology can help identify and distract vulnerabilities. In these risk assessments, cybersecurity, and operations collaborate to evaluate security from the perspective of a potential attacker. The process may also involve an ethical hacker, who will ensure the institution’s security controls and protocols are thoroughly tested, penetration testing.
Mitigating Costs – Regular IT risk assessments can help the institution eliminate unnecessary security spending. Estimating risks accurately enables a balancing of costs against benefits: NOC can identify the most unacceptable risks and channel resources toward them, rather than toward less likely or less damaging risks.
Understanding Legal Requirements – Higher Education Institutions have to comply with the privacy and data security requirements of various regulations. For example, FERPA and GLBA requires documenting and conducting regular risk assessments to ensure awareness and safeguards are effective.
The purpose of the risk assessment is to mitigate risks preventing security incidents and compliance failures. Risk assessments are vital for cybersecurity and risk management in every institution today. By identifying threats to NOC’s IT systems, data and other resources and understanding their potential impacts, NOC can prioritize its mitigation efforts to avoid costly disruptions, data breaches, compliance penalties and other damage.