4-Step cybersecurity risk assessment

Posted on August 24, 2021

Security is a business problem. With security threats on the rise today, executive leadership teams are looking to better understand the likelihood of a cyber incident occurring and the impact of a data breach, including potential consequences for both the company’s bottom line and the brand. As a result, more IT leaders are faced with questions like, “How will a breach impact our ability to produce and sell products or services in the event of a serious attack?”

IT leaders must be able to answer these questions, educating executives and helping them accurately quantify security risks and prioritize where to focus their efforts in order to improve the overall security posture of the business. IBM’s 2020-2021 Data Breach Report can help, as it reveals which trends escalate risk and which techniques can actually reduce the cost of a breach.

Remote Work Creates More Risk and Bigger Data Breach Costs

  • When a remote worker was a factor in causing the breach, the company cost was $1.07M more than breaches without remote workers as a factor
  • When 50% of organizations had their users working remotely, it took 58 days longer to identify and contain a breach when compared to companies with < 50% of employees working remote
  • 287: The average number of days it takes an organization to identify and contain a breach — the longer it took, the more costly the breach

AI and Zero Trust Lower Your Breach Costs

  • $4.24M was the average cost of a data breach
    • $2.9M for those with AI-based security technologies deployed
    • $6.7M for those without AI-based security deployed
    • $5M for those without Zero Trust deployed

Data Breach Causes and Revenue Impacts

  • 20% of breaches were initially caused by compromised credentials, such as credential-stuffing attacks (compromised passwords)
  • Lost business and lost revenue represented 38% of breach costs

Performing a cybersecurity risk assessment: 4 steps for success

When IT leaders become data breach educators, it doesn’t take long for all executives to get on the same page: You can’t afford a data breach. That’s when IT leaders should guide executive teams in understanding the company’s largest security gaps with a prioritized list of investments and next steps. But how do IT leaders make that evaluation and design a strategic plan? Where do you start? Use the following four steps to help identify where you are today and what you should consider doing next to improve your security posture.

Step 1: Identify critical assets and resources

It’s important to understand what is critical to your organization’s success. Simply create a list of what would be most critical to the company’s day-to-day operations should a cybersecurity incident occur. This could include a variety of asset types such as critical server infrastructure (file servers, web servers, active directory, financial info, billing systems, etc.) as well as other corporate assets such as intellectual property, HR records, and more.

  • Where does customer information reside (ie physical servers, cloud based storage, etc)?
  • Where do company executives’ data reside?
  • Are cloud-based (SaaS, PaaS, etc) resources important to the company?
  • Are there any critical SCADA environments?

Step 2: Understand and map how these critical assets are accessed, monitored, and controlled

Next up is to establish a basic understanding of how these critical assets are accessed. Start by asking yourself simple questions such as:

  • How are users gaining access to this information via entry points into the network?
  • Are users accessing network resources from home, hotels, BYOD, and etc?
  • Is remote user access critical?
  • How is access to company assets controlled?
  • Do endpoints with remote access have security monitoring installed?
  • Is user access to any cloud-based environments monitored and controlled?
  • How are these assets and resources connected together? Having a network architecture diagram is a great way to visualize interconnectivity between all assets in and out of the network.

Your network users, any remote access to company resources and cloud based environments are the current top cyber attack entry points and should all be treated as a critical attack vector that needs constant security visibility.

Putting this information together will make the often overwhelming task of “where to start” much easier.

Step 3: Tabletop security exercise – Analyze risk and prioritize assets by potential business impact

Once you establish which assets are critical and how they are accessed, you must ask yourself the basic question: What if a ransomware attack or data breach affected any of these assets?

Tabletop exercises are designed to help companies play “what if,” considering different risk scenarios to help prepare for cyber attacks and most importantly prioritize your list of assets according to business impact. This step should help you force rank resources into categories such as essential, critical, and optional and understand how lateral movement may affect essential or critical assets.

  • Will day-to-day operations be negatively impacted by a security event of this nature? If so, how?
  • What information is most needed, and how could you access essential and critical resources if you were locked out of your network?
  • If user credentials are compromised, what impact would that have on the company?
  • Do you have an incident response plan in the event of data breach or ransomware attack?
  • Is the company prepared to respond in a timely manner and mitigate accordingly?

Understanding how disruptive a security incident might be and its potential impact to the company’s bottom line and overall brand is the basis for where you can prioritize high risk assets, which leads to the final step of the assessment.

Step 4: Evaluate security effectiveness and consider expanded capabilities

Putting everything together from steps 1 (critical assets), step 2 (mapping access to critical assets) and step 3 (prioritizing assets by business impact) helps companies establish a prioritized roadmap of where they need to focus cybersecurity efforts. Each area that poses a top security risk should be assessed based on what level of protection is acceptable given today’s environment of elevated attacks and what security approach for these assets makes the most sense for the business.

Here at Masergy, when I step clients through the process outlined above, I find that the following strategies, technologies, and services are delivering the most value for businesses today:

  • Managed endpoint detection and response services, addressing security for remote user devices, as well as IoT, and the ever-expanding network edge.
  • Zero Trust approaches that shift security strategies away from data centers, locations, perimeters and instead toward users, identities, and devices.
  • SIEM solutions for log monitoring, event aggregation and analyzes from multiple resources across the infrastructure cloud and on prem.
  • CASB solutions for SaaS protection, providing a simplified approach for secure access to a sprawling number of cloud applications.
  • Unified Threat Management platforms provide a single point of protection against common attack types in and out of the core network entry points.
  • SOAR platforms help security analysts reduce the time to detect and respond to an incident.
  • Managed SOC Services work as a virtual extension of IT teams with certified security experts for 24/7 coverage acting in response to alerts, threats, and overall support of incident response.

Conclusion

This security assessment approach aligns with the goals of the NIST Cybersecurity framework that every organization should be striving for as a best security practice. Following it will help guide both internal and external stakeholders in managing and reducing cybersecurity risk.

In doing so, it’s easy for IT leaders to quickly get overwhelmed by all the layers of security that must be established today, whether it be network security, cloud security, endpoint security, or just basic user security. Remember that the corporate network holds the ground truth for your security posture and nearly all cyber threats will generate observable network communications, and today’s leading security technologies are designed to monitor those threats and disrupt them from being successful.

No system or IT environment will ever be 100% secure, but proven best practices significantly reduce risk:

  • Mitigate. Deploy security controls to limit the likelihood of attack, decrease the business impact, and therefore reduce the risk level.
  • Transfer. Share a portion of the risk with your partners, outsourcing certain operations to trusted third parties.
  • Avoid. If the risk outweighs the benefits, discontinuing the activity may be the best course of action.

The key is to properly implement technologies and back them with security professionals, as technology alone is not enough.

Trevor Parks

Trevor Parks is the director for security solutions at Masergy. He is responsible for guiding the development, evolution and implementation of Masergy's Unified Enterprise Security services platform. Trevor contributed to the development of the patented Network Behavioral Analysis technology at the core of the Masergy’s security solutions aimed at detecting APTs and other advanced threats effecting customer networks.

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