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Cyber Risk Assessment: What It Is and Why It’s Necessary

March 22, 2023

Cyber Risk Assessment: What It Is and Why It’s Necessary

What is Cyber Risk Assessment? 

Cyber risk assessment is the process of evaluating an organization’s threat landscape, the vulnerabilities, and cyber gaps in its domains that pose a risk to the company’s assets. A cyber risk assessment allows companies to get a clear view of what they are up against in the cyber threat landscape, and is part of an integrated risk management approach that looks at cybersecurity as a layered, multi-step operation. It is a crucial first step in the formation of a security plan designed to keep an organization, its digital assets, IT services, and human capital safe from cyber threats.  

“Cyber risk assessments are used to identify, estimate, and prioritize cyber risk to organizational operations, assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation, resulting from the operation and use of information systems.” (NIST Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments)

Cyber risk relates to the loss of safety, confidentiality, integrity, or availability of information, data, or systems, and reflects the potential adverse impacts these may have on an organization. Malicious actors try to exploit cyber threats, primarily for financial gain and bragging rights.  

Why are Cyber Risk Assessment Services Necessary in the Digital Age? 

The digital transformation has brought with it an array of risks created by the technologies organizations have adopted. These include third-party applications, big data, IoT, cloud services, social media assets, and mobile applications. The further along companies are in their usage of digital services, the higher their risk of exposure to cyber threats, and the greater their need for cyber risk assessment services.  

Cyber Risk Assessment: What It Is and Why It’s Necessary

Why Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment? 

A cyber risk assessment allows companies to get a clear view of what they are up against in the cyber threat landscape. A well-rounded risk assessment will cover the two kinds of cyber threats organizations face: 

External threats 

These are caused by malicious actors outside the organization who use one or more of these hacking tactics: phishing, malware, and ransomware. These attacks may be on any security domain of the organization including remote access, security policies, and procedures, network level, data management, server level, endpoint, supply chain, or cloud security.  

Internal threats  

These are caused by people inside the organization or with approved access to it, such as employees and third-party suppliers. These threats are the result of poor security protocols and insufficient security training, and are carried out either by employees who wish to harm the organization or who merely serve as an access point into the company without knowing the harm they are indirectly causing. 

Why is Cyber Risk Assessment a Necessary First Step?  

CRA identifies the external and internal cyber threats a company faces. Only once a company can fully see its threat landscape can it devise a security plan to treat it. A comprehensive cyber risk assessment does more than outline the cyber risk a company faces, it also allows security teams to prioritize risks by order of severity, enabling them to direct their focus and resources to the most pressing threats first.  

When to Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment 

Cyber risk assessments are not one-time projects that can be put away once done. If companies are to maintain the security improvements they achieved after a first CRA, they will need to regularly perform these assessments to see what has changed in the threat landscape and amend their security plans accordingly.  

“Risk assessment and risk management are not single shots but rather are continuous processes repeated as a cycle of identifying risks, creating plans to address those risks, acting on those plans, and monitoring the results of the actions.” (SANS Institute white paper: Security Program Management and Risk) 

Who Performs a Cyber Risk Assessment? 

Security providers may offer different ways to conduct a cyber risk assessment, with approaches varying from a focus on attack vectors to threat modeling. Whatever approach a security team takes, a cyber risk assessment should ultimately cover the organization’s entire attack surface.  

CRA can be performed by security teams in-house or it may be outsourced to third-party security providers. This will depend on the size of the organization, the size of its security team, its level of expertise,  its budget, and regulatory considerations such as being required to perform a CRA by an external party.  

Cyber Risk Assessment: What It Is and Why It’s Necessary

The 5 Steps to a Comprehensive Cyber Risk Assessment  

We believe in the detailed increment approach that offers the greatest level of visibility and monitoring. Based on such an approach, a cyber risk assessment can be broadly broken down into five steps: 

1. Understanding the organization’s existing security plan 

Through a process of questionnaires and interviews with IT and management, the assessment team will get an understanding of the company’s business critical assets which must be protected, and the security measures, processes, procedures, and compliance requirements it currently uses to protect its confidential data, intellectual property, domain, and premises.    

2. Defining the company’s threats 

In this stage, the assessment team will gather information about the company’s threat landscape and estimate the probability of these threats affecting the organization. To get a full and complete inventory of the threats the company faces, the assessment team will look into all threat actors that may want to attack the company, including state-sponsored actors, ransomware gangs, criminals after payment information, and competitors out to steal intellectual property.  

3. Identifying the company’s vulnerabilities and attack routes 

In this stage of the assessment, the team will combine the knowledge it has gained about the assets the company must secure, with the vulnerabilities it has found, and determine how each vulnerability can lead an attacker into the organization and through its systems to reach the business-critical assets. The assessment team will then suggest mapping out these attack routes so that the organization can clearly see how each vulnerability may affect each critical asset, and how blocking each attack route will help secure these assets. 

When choosing a cyber risk assessment provider, companies should ask about the providers’ mapping solutions to ensure this visualization process is part of the assessment.

4. Visualizing the consequences of an attack 

After the organization’s threat landscape has been mapped out and the assessment team has gained a clear understanding of the company’s security plan, it is time to put the two together to estimate how the company will handle an attack. This is a crucial part of the assessment because it gives security leaders and management as accurate of a look as possible at the effectiveness of their existing security plan, and the potential consequences of an attack (including loss of revenue, damage to ongoing business, reputational damage, loss of private data, loss of intellectual property). 

5. Deciding on a mitigation plan 

We discussed how a cyber risk assessment can hone in on the most relevant threats based on their relation to the organization’s most prized assets and their likelihood of being attacked. However, the security team still needs to know what to mitigate and which threats to attend to first.  

At this stage, a prioritization process is utilized to help the security team flesh out a mitigation plan that tends to the most critical vulnerabilities first according to severity.  

Assembling Your Cyber Risk Assessment Team 

A comprehensive cyber risk assessment includes multiple checks and analysis processes conducted by security specialists trained in locating vulnerabilities and attack routes. A winning cyber risk assessment team will include red teams and blue teams, cyber threat intelligence analysts, threat hunters, and vulnerability checkers, as well as analysts that can take this data and work it into quantifiable metrics.  

The results of a cyber risk assessment should provide the framework upon which a company can advance to a cyber risk quantification process, in which the risks found are correlated with business metrics to assign a monetary value to the risks.  

What Can Be Done with a Cyber Risk Assessment? 

A cyber risk assessment can uncover a vast array of vulnerabilities and cyber gaps, in different parts of the organization, across multiple security domains, and with varying degrees of severity.  

When choosing a cyber risk assessment provider, it is important to consider multiple factors including: 

  • Visualization and presentation 
  • Mitigation planning and tracking 
  • Cost-sensitive remediation planning  
  • Risk quantification capabilities 
  • Dynamic and adjustable to the changing threat landscape  
  • Agility and scalability potential 


Cyber Risk Assessment: What It Is and Why It’s Necessary

The Future of Cyber Risk Assessment 

According to the latest Gartner report on IT and Cybersecurity, by 2025, over 60% of organizations in regulated industries will employ dedicated security risk management of which cyber risk assessment as a first step.  

We have publicized our tips on how to perform a cyber risk assessment in 2023, and will continue to update these tips as the security landscape changes and new threats come on the market. Whatever new players enter the arena and whatever threats they bring with them, the risk assessment process will continue to locate and prioritize the risks organizations face.  

Cyber Risk Assessment with CYE 

Hyver is CYE’s cloud-based cyber risk optimization system. This unique platform combines innovative technology, domain expertise, and field knowledge to document threat sources including vulnerabilities and cyber gaps, suggest remediation plans, and track their progress. 

Hyver’s graph modeling of an organization’s threat landscape is one of its foremost features. The platform also uniquely combines a feature that takes mitigation costs into account, proposing the most cost-effective remediation plans. Hyver’s ability to change and adjust its remediation suggestions based on new data inputs and the changing threat landscape makes it particularly agile and scalable.    

How CYE Can Help  

CYE is the leading provider of technology and services for cyber risk assessment and cyber risk quantification featuring attack route analysis. With the help of experienced red teams performing real attacks, we map attack routes to business assets across all environments to deliver a detailed contextual assessment of organizational security. As a result, you receive full visibility into true cyber risk, the business assets that are impacted, and the effectiveness of security protection and detection solutions. 

Want to learn more about how to assess your cyber risk? Contact us