In cybersecurity, a risk assessment is a comprehensive analysis of an organization to identify vulnerabilities and threats. The goal of a risk assessment is to identify an organization’s risks and make recommendations for mitigating those risks. Risk assessments may be requested after a specific trigger, to complete an assessment before moving forward as part of larger governance and risk processes, or to assess a portfolio periodically as part of meeting an enterprise risk management or compliance objective.
Two popular risk assessment frameworks are the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework and the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO)/IEC) 27001:2022 standard.
Risk assessments may be based on different methodologies: qualitative, quantitative, or a hybrid of the two. A quantitative assessment provides concrete data that includes the probability and potential impact of a threat based on data collection and statistical analysis. A qualitative assessment provides a more subjective, generalized view and what would happen to operations and productivity for different internal teams if one of the risks occurred.
A risk assessment should include an up-to-date inventory of the systems, vendors, and applications in scope for the assessment. This information helps security risk management leaders understand the risk associated with:
- The technology in use
- How business processes are dependent on those assets
- What business value they provide
A single risk assessment provides a point in time snapshot of the current risks present and how to mitigate them. Ongoing or continuous risk assessments provide a more holistic view into the shifting risk landscape that exists in most organizations.
Risk assessments also help organizations assess and prioritize the risks to their information, including their data and their information systems. An assessment also helps security and technology leaders communicate risks in business terms to internal stakeholders, specifically the executive team and the board of directors. This information helps them make educated decisions about which areas of the cybersecurity program need to be prioritized and how to allocate resources in alignment with business goals.
The growth of digital business and related assets require better management of complex technology environments, which today include:
- The Internet of Things (IoT)
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Machine learning (ML)
- Cloud delivery models
- As-a-service offerings
>It also creates a growing volume of data, types of data, and technology assets. A comprehensive risk assessment should include these assets, allowing an organization to gain visibility into all its data, provide insight into whether any of that data is exposed, and identify any serious security issues. A data risk assessment can help an organization secure and minimize exposure of sensitive data by providing a holistic view of sensitive data, identifying overly permissive access, and discovering stale and ghost data.