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Cybersecurity Intelligence

What You Should Know About Cybersecurity Risk Assessments

At a Glance

Main Takeaway

A common expression in cybersecurity is, “There is no such thing as zero risk.” One of the primary reasons behind this statement is the ever-changing nature of cybersecurity risks. Every day, malicious actors develop new threats and attack methods targeting businesses and organizations of all sizes, costing over $6 trillion in damages annually, with a predicted cost of $10.5 trillion by 2025.

Next Step

Comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessments are the best method to prevent costly data breaches. Understand what they are, how they work, and how they help protect businesses from cyber threats.

What Are Cybersecurity Risk Assessments?

A cybersecurity risk assessment is a critical cybersecurity service. It comprises a set of processes and evaluations designed to evaluate what cyber threats and risks a particular business or organization may face.

These processes evaluate the risks to every aspect of an organization’s IT environment, including:

  • Devices and hardware
  • Applications and other software
  • Customer data
  • Business data, such as intellectual property

One of the primary outcomes of a cybersecurity risk assessment is establishing a list of all known and potential threats and ranking them in a risk assessment matrix. Each threat is given a score based on its likelihood to occur and how much damage the organization faces if the threat is successful.

The results of a cybersecurity risk assessment and the contents of the assessment matrix allow organizations to understand what they are most likely to face and where they need to focus their cybersecurity resources.


Why Are Cybersecurity Risk Assessments Necessary?

Cyber risk assessments help businesses and organizations understand what data and assets are the most at risk, what cybersecurity vulnerabilities exist within the organization’s networks, and determine the severity of these risks.

In addition to identifying and categorizing cyber threats, conducting a thorough cybersecurity risk assessment helps organizations assign the right resources to address each risk.

Another benefit of cybersecurity assessments is ensuring your organization meets all compliance regulations relevant to its sector, industries, and areas of geographic operation.

Examples include HIPAA for the healthcare industry, PCI-DSS for any organization that processes credit card data, and data privacy acts such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) or the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Cybersecurity Assessment Frameworks

Although building a custom set of processes is an option chosen by select organizations, most adopt industry-standard assessment frameworks. Some frameworks are industry-agnostic and applicable in various organizations, while others are specialized and intended for particular sectors.

Commonly used frameworks include:


How Do Cybersecurity Assessments Work?

Although the specific steps and processes depend on the organization’s needs and the framework, cybersecurity assessments aim to complete five steps: scoping, identification, analysis, prioritization, and documentation.

Step 1: Risk Scoping

The first step of any cybersecurity risk assessment process is scoping, also called scope assessment. Scoping must be done before identifying risks because determining the assessment’s scope defines what parts of an organization it will analyze.

It is generally impractical for a cybersecurity risk assessment to include an entire organization within its scope, particularly if it extends beyond multiple buildings or locations. Most organizations scope their assessments around specific business units or particular elements of their IT environment, such as an application or a website.

Step 2: Risk Identification

After defining the assessment scope, the risk identification phase can begin. Cybersecurity experts conducting risk identification start this step by establishing a complete list of the organization’s assets within the established scope.

The primary purpose of this list is to build a hierarchy of each asset and determine its respective value and importance to the organization. The higher an asset is in the hierarchy, the more likely it may become the target of a cyber threat.

Once the most vital assets of an organization are known, cybersecurity experts will consult current cyber threat libraries such as the MITRE ATT&CK Knowledge Base. These resources contain the latest data information regarding known threats and what types of assets they are most likely to target.

Step 3: Risk and Impact Analysis

Identifying the most likely threats and risks to the IT environment of an organization allows a cybersecurity team to assess the potential impacts of a successful attack.

Cyber threats come in many forms, with a wide range of potential damage and varying chances of success. The standard procedure uses a risk assessment matrix, which grades all possible attacks and threats on two axes: the likelihood of success and the magnitude of harm.

A typical matrix grades threats on both axes on a scale from 1 to 5 as follows:

Likelihood score:

  • 1: Improbable
  • 2: Rare
  • 3: Occasional
  • 4: Probable
  • 5: Frequent

Impact score:

  • 1: Negligible
  • 2: Low
  • 3: Moderate
  • 4: Severe
  • 5: Catastrophic


Step 4: Risk Prioritization and Evaluation

The likelihood and impact scores for each analyzed threat are multiplied to obtain an overall risk score. On a 5-point scale, 1 represents the lowest possible risk and 25 the highest possible risk.

Risk score categories:

  • Less than 5: Low
  • 5-10: Medium
  • 11-16: High
  • Over 16: Very high

These risk scores are used to determine the organization’s tolerance level, the minimum score a specific threat must obtain for the organization to prepare a response, and the types of responses and countermeasures to deploy.

Most threat responses fall into three categories:

  • Risk mitigation: Deployment of security measures and protocols to reduce the threat’s chances of success, such as DDoS shields and backup systems.
  • Risk transfer: Usage of third-party resources to share part of the risk with other entities, such as insurance.
  • Suspending activities: If the risk of a particular threat outweighs the benefits of using the asset it targets, stopping or suspending this asset may be the only way to prevent an attack.


Step 5: Risk Documentation

The final cybersecurity assessment step is creating a risk register. Risk registers should contain information about every known threat scenario, including the date of its initial identification, its current risk score, and what security controls are in place to detect and respond to that threat.

It should also detail the treatment plan for each scenario, whether it is ready for deployment or in progress, and the level of residual risk, which is the risk score each threat scenario retains after applying that plan. Ideally, every treatment plan should bring the risk score under the organization’s risk threshold.

Each threat scenario should be continuously monitored and updated with the latest information to ensure the treatment plan remains ready and adequate.

Keep Your Systems Secure with Windes

Whether you are a newly established organization or have been working with an existing system, continuously monitoring your network and systems for vulnerabilities is critical.

Windes can help you find the gaps in your network’s defenses and provide you with the resources and guidance you need to build a safer digital environment. Contact us for more information.


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