Risk Prioritization To Align With Your Organization’s Risk Appetite

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Cyber threats can be overwhelming for organizations, especially if risks haven’t yet been evaluated in a formal way. The daily headlines remind you how threat actors are active, and you no longer know where to start as cyber incident victims are piling up. 

Risk prioritization is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity for organizations of all sizes. While many organizations may not have dedicated in-house security teams, they can still take steps to manage and prioritize risks effectively.

Quick Wins to Buy You Time for this Process

Risk prioritization can be a tedious and fairly long task; therefore, it’s sometimes advised to get covered for the obvious risks to better address the key pillars of cyber security.

Managed security services will help you catch the low-hanging fruits, as the most common risks are very similar across organizations. When you deploy managed security services, you’ll get a lot of risks and their impact covered quickly. This is important as the sooner you take action, the less time your organization remains exposed.

Some key security solutions to consider as a baseline: 

  • Managed XDR on all endpoints (with automated detection and response)
  • Advanced email protection
  • Automated patch management

These quick wins are standard controls that each and every organization should have in place and will help reduce your risk and exposure to common threats immediately. 

Other controls to consider would be having backups of all your sensitive data, if not all your data, and a cyber security awareness program aligned with your policies.

Defining Risk 

Before moving into techniques for risk prioritization, it’s important that organizations define what risk means to them. The temptation to run a vulnerability assessment and try to fix everything can be exhausting and unproductive. Vulnerability doesn’t always mean risk. The risk only exists if your assets are exposed to the following elements: 

  • A threat against the said asset.
  • A vulnerability on this asset that can be exploited by the threat.

Quantitative and Qualitative Risk Assessment Techniques

To better define risk, these higher-level risk assessment techniques are a good place to start:  

  • A qualitative risk assessment is a subjective approach to evaluating risks based on qualitative factors. It involves assessing risks based on their impact and likelihood without assigning specific numerical values (low, medium, high).
  • A quantitative risk assessment involves assigning numerical values to risks and analyzing them using mathematical models. It relies on data and calculations to quantify risks. 

Both qualitative and quantitative risk assessments have their merits and are often used together to provide a comprehensive view of an organization’s risk landscape. Qualitative assessments offer a quick and subjective understanding of risks, while quantitative assessments provide a more precise and data-driven analysis. The choice between the two approaches depends on the organization’s specific needs, available resources, and the level of accuracy and detail required for decision-making.

Your Quick Guide to Risk Analysis

Before rushing into deploying specific security controls or patches, a risk analysis is required to comprehend the nature of risks and their characteristics. This will help you better prioritize the risks and, sometimes, accept the risk depending on your organization’s risk appetite. In the end, it’s a business decision. It wouldn’t make sense to spend a million dollars to protect $100k worth of assets.

1. Identify Critical Assets: 

The first step is always inventory. What are your assets? Which ones are critical? 

Begin by identifying the organization’s critical assets, such as sensitive data, intellectual property, customer information, or financial records. Understanding what is most valuable and vulnerable will help prioritize risks accordingly. This will be your inventory; know what you have.

2. Conduct Risk Assessment: 

Collaborate with the outsourced IT and security service provider to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. This evaluation should include identifying potential threats/vulnerabilities and the potential impact of an incident on the organization’s operations and reputation. Very often, this exercise is called a Business Impact Analyst (BIA). 

3. Establish Risk Criteria: 

Define risk criteria based on factors such as likelihood, impact, and regulatory compliance. This framework will aid in the consistent evaluation and comparison of risks, allowing you to prioritize more effectively. 

When building your risk register, a list of each identified risk, you’ll use these criteria to give each risk a defined level.

Once you define each level of risk, it will make it easier for you to focus on the risk levels that align with your organization’s risk appetite.

4. Evaluate Third-Party Providers: 

Assess the security capabilities and track record of your outsourced service providers. Look for certifications, industry standards compliance, and established security protocols to ensure they meet your organization’s risk tolerance levels.

5. Implement Security Controls: 

Work with your service providers to implement appropriate security controls based on identified risks. This may include measures such as access controls, encryption, regular patch management, network monitoring, and incident response planning.

6. Incident Response Planning: 

Develop an incident response plan in collaboration with your service provider. Clearly define roles and responsibilities, establish communication channels, and practice incident response drills periodically to ensure preparedness.

7. Regular Monitoring and Reporting: 

Implement ongoing monitoring and reporting mechanisms to stay informed about security incidents and emerging threats. This can be achieved through periodic vulnerability assessments, security audits, and incident tracking.

8. Regular Review and Updates: 

Continuously reassess your risk landscape as new technologies, threats, and business requirements emerge. Regularly review your risk prioritization approach and adjust it as needed to address evolving risks effectively.

A Matter of Collaboration and Communication

Remember that effective risk prioritization requires collaboration and open communication with your outsourced service providers. By establishing clear expectations, regularly monitoring security measures, and staying proactive, organizations can strengthen their cybersecurity posture even without dedicated internal IT or security teams.

Conclusion 

Risk prioritization will help your organization focus on the protection of critical assets and take quick actions where it matters the most. 

This approach will avoid leading your teams to burnout, reduce your costs, and have a more measured approach with your security providers.

Risk management is a continuous process that must be integrated into the change management workflows of the organization. Any change in the infrastructure or processes will impact the results of your risk assessment and the task of risk prioritization. 

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