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Do You need to Conduct a Cyber Security Risk Assessment

by Cyberguy | Last Updated | January 10, 2022
CyberSecurity - SMB

Rapid technology shifts bring new risks. Small businesses experience cyber security risks in varying forms and sophistication every day. Being complacent about the risks and ignoring the importance of a cybersecurity risk assessment can damage the health of their businesses. 

A cybersecurity risk assessment is not a top priority for many small business owners. Some claim it’s too complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. Others allege it’s just for compliance or show. Still, many others feel they are not prime targets of cyberattacks.

Numbers don’t lie

Cyber Security risks are real, and this is proven survey after survey. The statistics on cybersecurity are a bit intimidating and certainly not comforting, but knowing them might help you save your business.

Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet and financial resource to small businesses, has put together shocking figures that should open your eyes to the dire state of cyber security in 2020.

If you’re scared of the numbers, so are we. These figures show the sad reality of the cybersecurity landscape, but it’s not hopeless. A purposeful cyber security risk assessment can mitigate the risk to your business from the increasing threats that now permeate the cyber world.

What is cybersecurity risk assessment?

A cyber security risk assessment identifies and analyzes the security risks a company might face to determine the likelihood of attacks and the impact on their reputation, finances, and overall business well-being. 

3 Pillars of Cyber Security

Assessing the risks includes a careful analysis of all potential threats, vulnerabilities, and vectors in the IT system on an ongoing basis, not a one-off affair. IT experts recommend an assessment every two years and more often as new threats develop. The idea here is to thwart new risks that come with emerging technologies.

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Why small businesses need to conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment

Conducting a proper cybersecurity risk assessment isn’t inexpensive and can take time. But the money and time you invest are worth it if only to save your business from future cyber threats. 

Why SMBs should take Cyber Security Seriously

How do small businesses benefit from a cyber security risk assessment?

Increased awareness of cyber threat preparedness

Awareness of cyber threats lets you know what to do to avert those threats. But, as some people would say, it’s always better to be on the side of caution than to be sorry when it’s too late. In short, a cyber security risk assessment highlights a company’s preparedness to combat cyberattacks and ability to recover from such attacks if they were to occur.

Cyber Security Awareness

In a worst-case scenario, your first lines of defense fail, and you fall victim to some kind of cyber security attack. If you go back to your cyber security risk assessment, you can review what went wrong, adjust your risk assessment and modify your preventative measures. You can also immediately mitigate the impact of the damage and take steps to patch the vulnerability to make sure the incident doesn’t happen again.

Discovery of hidden threats

You can’t fight an enemy you can’t see. Cyber security risk assessments give business leaders the data and resources they need to identify potential risks that they may have missed in the past. Hidden threats exist in social media, public computers like those found in computer cafes, outdated software, and public Wi-fi networks.

Mitigation of future risks

Conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment will help your business mitigate future hacks and breaches. Being prepared will save time, money, and resources for your company. Security assessments also help your company prepare for the worse, even if the worse never comes. 

Existing assessments can serve as templates for future assessments. Consider Cyber Security assessments as recurring maintenance for your business. 

It helps business leaders make more informed decisions

A cyber security risk assessment produces quantifiable data that helps in the decision-making process regarding cyber security infrastructure.

It eliminates the need to review misleading threats based on non-quantifiable data or misinformation.

Components of a cyber security risk assessment

More comprehensive cyber security risk assessment guides include long lists of details. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) endorses various assessment templates. Offering these templates as part of a cyber security ecosystem that offers robust guidance and supporting documents.   

For small businesses, they can tailor their cybersecurity risk assessment program according to their needs based on the following common elements of a risk assessment:

1. Company risk profile

To understand what threats are worth assessing, you need to develop a profile of your business type, operations, and priorities. For example, a financial company will have different security priorities from a non-profit organization. Or, a company with remote workers will have different needs from companies that require their employees to work in their offices. Once you have a solid foundation of your company’s mission, you can craft a cybersecurity risk assessment that fits your business.

2. Technology assessment

Technology resources include both hardware and software. They make up the core digital infrastructure of most small businesses. Sadly, many SMBs can’t bankroll a comprehensive cyber security technology risk assessment. The IT team is more concerned with day-to-day operations, often relegating security to the back burner. In-house security experts are lacking. Hiring third-party risk assessors are expensive and sometimes risky if not properly vetted.

Whether you decide on an in-house team or an outsourced partner, you should sit down with them and ask the following questions:

Are all devices and software properly configured and regularly updated? Unfortunately, not all devices and software are perfect. However, responsible vendors monitor products they roll out and implement updates to patch vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit through zero-day attacks. Zero-day exploits are malicious attempts by hackers to exploit vulnerabilities that the vendor has not identified. New product or version rollouts are particularly vulnerable. 

Are all antivirus and antimalware programs updated? IT teams should update their antivirus and antimalware software quickly because viruses and malware evolve daily. Unfortunately, employees may not be able to implement updates expeditiously because they lack the administrative privileges to apply updates. Implementing a centralized updating system is a more effective way of making sure all antivirus and antimalware updates are pushed to all machines as soon as they are released.

Is your Intrusion Detection System (IDS) deployed across your network? An IDS has the crucial role of acting as the last line of defense when all the first lines fail. For example, an attacker may successfully gain an admin password through phishing. His next attempt would be to access a secure server from an unrecognized IP address. If your IDS is working, it should be able to detect this next move and thwart the attack.

Are all incoming and outgoing information traffic secured? This traffic includes all information coming in and out through emails, websites, and virtual private networks (VPNs). Since most malware comes through emails, securing emails with encryption and spam filters is the best way to block malicious attempts. A centralized spam filter helps sift poisoned communication before they reach employee mailboxes.

Do you implement a layered approach to cybersecurity? A segmented security approach helps prevent the possibility of total security failure due to a single vulnerability. Essential layers to consider are:

Cyber Security Assessment Steps

3. Governance practices assessment

Governance practices include guidelines, procedures, and other acts performed to implement policies by the organization. Your assessment should include:

Access control practices. Limit physical, administrative, and remote access to only people who need them in doing their jobs. 

Implement policies that ban weak passwords, restrict password sharing, prevent access from unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi and prohibit the use of unauthorized devices to access work.

Supply chain endpoint management. Small businesses normally do business with outside vendors and third-party partners for products and services they need to operate their businesses. They use mobile devices, computers, laptops, tablets, and other networked devices in the process. These endpoints are potential vulnerability points. Your risk assessment should consider a provision for endpoint security using an automated security integration tool that secures all endpoints under a unified dashboard. Devices not enrolled in the system cannot be used in any transaction.

Bring your own device (BYOD) assessment. BYOD is commonplace in many small businesses. However, devices owned by employees and not managed by the company are more likely to be infected with malware. Connecting employee devices to company networks makes it easier for malware to hop to secure corporate servers and other company endpoints.

Cyber Security Governance

Implement BYOD security management practices just like you do for supply chain endpoints to mitigate this risk.

4. Assessment of people

The enemy from within is often more dangerous than a hacker from outside. They can do it on purpose or by mistake. Employees have access to systems and know their way around the network. A thorough assessment of your people should include the following:

Implementation of incident reporting. Every employee should be encouraged or even obligated to report perceived anomalous practices of people or abnormal behavior of equipment. Not all employees can identify viruses, but they can report unauthorized access, use of unsecured BYOD, password sharing, and other restricted activities.

Full-scale end user and cyber security training. Some employees think that such trainings are repetitive, boring or obvious. But they should be made aware that cyber threats are always evolving, and you never know when the next attack will happen. Vigilance is key to preventing potential threats from becoming successful attacks.

Experience is one of the best teachers. Try running a phishing vulnerability test using an online phishing simulator. You can send phishing emails to email inboxes anonymously and see how your employees respond. The results will help you measure your employees’ level of awareness of cybersecurity threat attempts and implement better practices to avoid such attacks.

Our final thoughts. Protecting your small business’ network is paramount for business continuity, or at least survival in the increasingly chaotic cyberspace. Your company data and, by extension, your customers’ data are highly valuable.

Cybersecurity risk assessments do more than just identify and analyze threats. They help small businesses proactively counteract threats before compromising their IT security systems. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your security program enables you to create a more resilient cybersecurity plan for your company.

It’s a good first step to do your own cyber security risk assessment to familiarize yourself with how your network works, particularly the state of your cyber security system. However, you may consider partnering with a trusted cyber security professional to provide you with a quantitative assessment to help you make more informed decisions on how to secure your network.

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