Cybersecurity Risk Assessments: Best Practices to Know

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When a black hat hacker exploits weaknesses in the computer systems of companies or government agencies, confidential data may become compromised and computer systems may crash. This can have dire consequences on a wide range of stakeholders. Consider, for example, the many times when ransomware has shut down the emergency response dispatch systems of cities across America. Although cybersecurity specialists are trained to address attacks as they occur, it’s always best to take a proactive approach. That’s the role of cybersecurity risk assessments—to identify risks so they can be mitigated. If you earn your Master of Science in Cybersecurity, you may one day be responsible for leading these assessments.

Understanding the System

Any application, function or process within an organization can benefit from a cybersecurity risk assessment. It’s customary for cybersecurity professionals to identify the systems that are critical to the organization’s operations and to focus their efforts on these systems. For instance, critical systems include those that store or transmit sensitive data. Risk assessment schedules should ideally prioritize those systems but not ignore non-critical systems entirely. Professionals should start by developing a thorough understanding of the system to be assessed, such as by considering the following:

  • The type of system and the type of data it uses
  • The internal and external interfaces
  • The users and vendors
  • The data flow

Identifying Potential Threats

Once the cybersecurity specialist understands the system he or she is evaluating, the potential threats can be identified. The following are some of the most common threats:

  • Loss of data: This problem may occur due to inadequate replication and back-up processes.
  • Misuse of information: Data may be subject to unapproved uses or modifications.
  • Unauthorized access: An internal threat, malware infection or direct hacking attack may result in the unauthorized access of a system.
  • Data leakage: The unauthorized distribution of data may occur intentionally or accidentally, such as by inadvertently transmitting sensitive data to the wrong recipient or by following inadequate hard copy destruction practices.
  • Disruption of service: Any disruption of service can prove costly for a company in terms of worker productivity and customer satisfaction and it is also possible for the disruption of service to lead to fatalities, as in the case of attacks on 911 dispatch systems.

Assessing the Impact of Controls and the Residual Risk

Every time a risk scenario is identified, the professional must identify all internal controls, applications and business processes that might prevent that risk scenario from happening. Some controls may not completely prevent the scenario but may limit the damage. The professional must then consider the residual risk that may remain, after accounting for the effects of the mitigating control factors. The residual risk may then be ranked on a metric that orders risks according to their likelihood and potential consequences. The likelihood of a risk scenario occurring may be ranked from low to critical and the potential impact may be ranked from negligible to catastrophic. Ranking each risk scenario allows administrators to prioritize resources accordingly to deal with the most serious risks first.

You can develop a solid framework of cybersecurity knowledge and skills when you become a graduate student at Grand Canyon University. Earn your Master of Science in Cybersecurity and emerge prepared to tackle the current and future challenges in the cybersecurity sector. Our master’s degree programs, online on GCU’s dynamic learning platform, are designed to fit around your schedule.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.


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