Why is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Vital in Today's Threat Landscape?

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FortinetBroad. Integrated. Automated. Security.

Friday, July 30, 2021

From startups and SMBs to corporations and enterprises, continually assessing potential cybersecurity risks is now a must for businesses of all sizes.

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Why is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Vital in Today's Threat Landscape?
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Businesses of all sizes now face a massive range of cybersecurity threats. As most executives and technology teams are focused on meeting business objectives, it can be easy to assume that their existing protection software is keeping them safe, or that their cloud providers are responsible for securing their data. However, a regular cybersecurity risk assessment is vital to understand how best to protect data and workers from IT threats, no matter what industry your business operates in or what level of IT resources it has.

Change is a constant among businesses, with many firms migrating from on-premises and desktop services to the cloud or moving work from corporate laptops to a range of personal phones, tablets and other devices. Others adopt a growing range of cloud services, all being used by workers with varying levels of technical understanding in ever-changing roles.

Most breaches are the result of misconfigured services or user mistakes, and each and every change at the technical and personnel level created another element of risk for a business.  Many users and managers are simply unaware of this, and popular reports like “11 Biggest Cyber Security Threats in 2021” highlight the leading risks but fail to provide explanations of how to prevent them.

Cybersecurity risk assessments should be a regular feature of business operations, mandated by CIOs and IT leaders to ensure that data and services are protected and users are aware of the digital risks facing all businesses.

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What is a cyber risk assessment?

Just as with office buildings, vital infrastructure and equipment, digital business services need to be checked to ensure they’re secure and used properly. A cyber risk assessment helps determine weaknesses within the IT systems and can highlight the likelihood of an attack or weakness in operations that could make a company’s data and services more vulnerable to an attack.

As more workers become responsible for digital services and technology, and those services continually change and evolve with new features, integrations and collaborations, businesses should regularly run cyber risk assessments annually to ensure that their digital footprint is protected.

Risk assessments use smart technology, security IT experience and other elements to scan the company’s digital footprint and identify weaknesses across its servers, cloud and applications. Weaknesses can be misconfigured settings, weak passwords, insecure databases, existing malware and unpatched applications.

These can lead to the risk of data leaks, ransomware being installed on systems, phishing attacks and insider threats. Few of these are aimed specifically at any one business, except for key targets, but are often automated attacks, with millions launched daily by hackers looking for anything of value.

Not only does a cyber risk assessment improve security and better prepare the business for future threats, it helps monitor and provide visibility into user behaviour and productivity, including websites and apps that may compromise security or impact efficiency.

Also, insights into network performance can show where the business needs to deploy resources to boost productivity or investigate why some areas of the business are over-using network resources.

What is at risk?

If any business carries on long enough without a cyber risk assessment, it will find its data exposed, either due to a user error or a data breach. That could lead to the business losing access to its data and services and not being able to operate until after a lengthy restoration process.

Financial and reputational damage can occur if a breach or leak happens, and in the long term, damage to trust can see the company lose customers. If an issue is bad enough, the company might simply never recover and have to close.

Undertaking a regular risk assessment using third-party services to deliver cybersecurity expertise will help companies avoid data breaches, reduce the risk of downtime, learn how to recover data with progressive backup systems and become a safer business when it comes to avoiding user errors and people falling for phishing or other attacks.

Cybersecurity risk assessments in action

While every business is unique and its digital services and data footprint might be simple or incredibly complex, risk assessments check core elements and common features like network connections, devices, service settings, security features and control, along with how users work with these systems to identify weak points.

They can also identify where data is at risk in the cloud, perhaps where the company thinks that the cloud provider is responsible for data security, when in reality their security features only provide a basic level of cover.

Automated tools can scan network ports, application and storage access rights, determining what threats can take advantage of them and helping the business close those weak points and vulnerabilities.

Applications can be checked to ensure they’re running the latest versions, systems can be tested for access security with common passwords and users can be assessed to see how susceptible they are to falling for phishing scams or giving away information that they shouldn’t.

Based on that research, the risk assessment report can highlight urgent areas that need to be resolved immediately, such as unpatched applications and out of data security tools, along with medium and low-risk areas that should be addressed.

Choosing the right risk assessment for your company

There are many firms offering risk assessment services. As with any other business engagement, find a company with plenty of experience, preferably one that offers some manual inspection and oversight, rather than a firm that simply runs an automated script and based on those results provides some broad guidelines for your own IT team to follow.

A good assessment service should provide insights that predict the impact of threats should they occur and provide a range of threat recovery options to help the business survive should the worst happen. Given this advice and the implemented security features that could save a company from catastrophe, a small investment in a cyber risk assessment can provide outsize ROI and value, especially for firms without IT security specialists on their team.

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