What is a cyber security risk assessment?
A cyber risk assessment is the process of identifying, analysing and evaluating risk. It helps to ensure that the cyber security controls you choose are appropriate to your organisation's level of risk.
Without a risk assessment to inform your cyber security choices, you could waste time, effort and resources. There is little point implementing measures to defend against events that are unlikely to occur or won’t impact your organisation.
Likewise, you might overlook threats and vulnerabilities risks that could cause significant damage. This is why so many best-practice frameworks, standards and laws – including the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and DPA (Data Protection Act) 2018 – require risk assessments to be conducted.
How do you conduct a cyber security risk assessment?
A cyber security risk assessment identifies the information assets that could be affected by a cyber attack (such as hardware, systems, laptops, customer data and intellectual property). It then identifies the risks that could affect those assets.
Risk estimation and evaluation are usually performed, followed by selecting controls to treat the identified risks.
It is essential to continually monitor and review the risk environment to detect any changes in the organisation's context and maintain an overview of the complete risk management process.
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ISO 27001 and cyber risks
The international standard ISO/IEC 27001:2013 (ISO 27001) provides the specifications for a best-practice ISMS (information security management system). An ISMS provides a risk-based approach to information security risk management that addresses people, processes and technology.
Clause 6.1.2 of the Standard sets out the requirements of the information security risk assessment process. Organisations must:
- Establish and maintain specific information security risk criteria;
- Ensure that repeated risk assessments “produce consistent, valid and comparable results”;
- Identify “risks associated with the loss of confidentiality, integrity and availability for information within the scope of the information security management system” and identify the owners of those risks; and
- Analyse and evaluate information security risks according to the criteria established earlier.
It is essential that organisations “retain documented information about the information security risk assessment process” to demonstrate that they comply with these requirements.
They will also need to follow several steps – and create relevant documentation – as part of the information security risk treatment process.
ISO 27005 provides guidelines for information security risk assessments. It is designed to assist with the implementation of a risk-based ISMS.