Constructing and effectively using a cyber risk assessment questionnaire is one of the cornerstones of a security leader’s job to successfully evaluate risk. A risk assessment is a thorough look at everything that can impact the security of your organization. When done correctly, it can shed light on any potential risks and their respective priority.
Cybersecurity has become a key aspect of modern business and having a reliable risk assessment process is fundamental. An effective cyber risk assessment process should be scalable, thorough, continuous, and provide an accurate view of the organization’s security posture.
Getting the Board on Board
The responsibility of cybersecurity lies with top-level leadership who need to manage the business risks. The challenge is that many C-suite leaders are far removed from daily tasks such as monitoring, detecting, and responding to threats.
An effective cyber risk assessment questionnaire gives you an accurate view of your security posture and associated gaps. The next step is to implement process and policy improvements to affect real change within the organization. And to do that, we must get the board on board.
Here are 5 must-ask questions to determine what priority top-level leadership has given to cybersecurity:
- Do we have an effective cyber risk program that details an escalation framework and aligns with our risk appetite and reporting thresholds?
- Do we have clear ownership and effective management of our cyber risk program?
- How does our cyber risk program align with industry best practices? Are we leading in comparison to our key competitors?
- When malicious activity enters our environment, are we able to rapidly contain damages and mobilize a response? Have we effectively stress-tested our processes against real-world threats?
- Are we focused on, and investing in, the right people, technology, and processes? How do we evaluate and measure the results of our decisions?
To have any measurable change within an organization, you need to get buy-in from the board and top leadership. Once you have established the need and priority for cybersecurity, you can look at creating a maturity framework that details the organization’s security posture in comparison to industry standards.
A Maturity Gap Analysis
A maturity gap analysis helps you determine your organization’s cyber risk readiness in comparison to industry standards, and any gaps that need to be closed to meet your risk appetite.
An effective cyber risk assessment questionnaire feeds into your maturity model and guides your decision-making on which gaps to close to improve your cyber resilience. The questionnaire should help you assess the organization’s cyber posture, challenge security teams to ask the right questions, and provide critical insight to improving your cyber resilience.
Within each element of your cybersecurity framework, you need to determine the impact and maturity level. For instance, what is the maturity of your EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response):
- What is the impact of your EDR solution on your organization?
Most likely quite high.
- What is the current maturity of your EDR solution?
Let’s assume your response is moderate.
Once you’ve answered these two questions across your security infrastructure, you can create a maturity matrix (as shown below) and determine your highest priority vulnerability.
From the above maturity matrix, it is clear to see that DMARC and EDR are two elements of your security posture that require more attention than your firewall solution. The output of an effective maturity gap analysis is to determine which areas of your organization need the most attention.
You need to assign a maturity level to each area of your security framework. The below table defines 3 basic levels of maturity.
|High maturity||Elements with a high maturity level indicate a strong security posture. There have likely been numerous penetration tests and most gaps have been closed. This level should be associated with your organization’s most high-value assets and data sets.|
|Elements with a moderate maturity level indicate a decent security posture. Certain risk measures have been put in place, but much work remains. This level should be associated with your non-critical assets and data sets.|
|Elements with a low maturity level indicate a minimal security posture. Little to no risk measures have been put in place. This level should only be associated with your assets and data sets that have little to no value if they are exposed.|
Not every low maturity element within your environment must be secured. With each element, you need to determine the impact level and corresponding resilience score to determine if it is an asset that needs more attention.
In cybersecurity, it’s not about protecting your entire environment equally, but rather finding the highest priority items and protecting them first. Then filtering your security budget among your environment for maximum benefit.
5 Principles of An Effective Cyber Risk Assessment Questionnaire
A risk assessment is a thorough and impartial review of your processes and security protocols. The outcome of the assessment is to identify any risks within your process, people, or technology and determine the risk priority. To construct a risk assessment questionnaire, you need to cover these 5 fundamental principles.
A good risk assessment questionnaire should determine your organization’s ability to scale their security processes. For instance, if your organization can easily spin up more cloud instances, how will your security protocols adapt? Can your security process scale as your business does?
- Risk visibility
The assessment should provide you with a comprehensive view of the risk within your current environment. It should be clear and accessible to all teams involved in securing your digital landscape. If the assessment doesn’t give clarity on prioritized vulnerabilities, then it’s an ineffective approach.
- Customizable and unique
The assessment should be able to quickly pinpoint cyber gaps within different areas of your business. The questionnaire should be customizable and unique to different nuances within your organization. Can your questionnaire be adapted to the vulnerabilities of your finance team as well as your legal team?
- Reporting and dashboards
The risk assessment output should enable you to discover, remediate, and monitor granular risks in a single, easy-to-use dashboard while engaging with the first line of your business to keep risk data current and context-rich with real-time and relevant information.
- Continuous improvement
No questionnaire is perfect and will continuously need to be improved to stay relevant. As your organization grows, your questionnaire will need to adapt. Your questionnaire should provide an accurate view of your current cybersecurity posture as well as provide indications of possible future vulnerabilities. The assessment will need to evolve as your business does.
The right risk assessment questionnaire can enable your organization to respond to proactively using real-time information. The security of your organization will be based on the success of the questionnaire. By applying an agile, process-driven approach your organization can successfully scale its security posture to meet future vulnerabilities.
Sample Risk Assessment Questions
When constructing a risk assessment questionnaire, you need to ensure you are covering all aspects of your digital estate, while giving priority to high-value assets. The below 5 questions, although not an exhaustive list, will give you a sense of how to create a questionnaire that will uncover the true state of your security posture. Once gaps have been identified and prioritized, you need a remediation process to close the highest priority gaps.
- Penetration testing
- What is your penetration testing policy?
- Do you conduct regular penetration tests?
- Are they performed by a qualified third-party vendor?
- What has your most recent penetration test result shown and what have you done to close the vulnerabilities?
Penetration testing is a great way of determining the security of your environment and to know where your weaknesses are so they can be closed.
- Training and awareness
- Does your organization have a cybersecurity training program?
- Are employees, consultants, and contractors required to attend?
- What have been the results of your most recent training program and what initiatives have you put in place to increase the awareness around security best practice?
Human error accounts for more than 90% of email breaches. Providing effective security awareness training is critical in limiting human error.
- Due diligence
- When bringing in a new contractor, employee, or vendor, what due diligence process is followed to determine their risk to the organization?
- When new traffic enters your environment, what due diligence is conducted on the contents, source IP, and malicious activity?
Completing effective due diligence is critical especially if they have access to your data. To keep your information safe, you need to ensure that anyone who has access to your data has been vetted.
- Incident management
- How does your organization respond to and recover from incidents?
- Do you have a formal incident handling process in place?
- How often is that process reviewed and updated for current threats?
Without an effective incident management process, you are unable to identify and prioritize threats and therefore unable to take an appropriate course of action to remedy the issue.
- Security technology
- What security solutions does your organization currently have in place and are they effective?
- What firewalls, anti-virus, intrusion detection, and prevention systems do you have in place? Are they the best of breed?
Utilizing various security tools allows you to proactively secure your environment from unauthorized access. If any of these solutions are proving to be ineffective, when will the organization have the budget to upgrade the solutions to meet current vulnerabilities? Without effective tools, you become like a woodchopper with a blunt ax.
- Data protection
- How is your data encrypted or protected in transit and at rest?
- When emails flow internally between staff or externally with clients and vendors, what security protocols are in place to protect the data from unauthorized access?
- How is your organization’s data protected on servers and backup media?
- Protection of data is one of the most important and if mismanaged, costly areas of your security posture.
Constructing an effective cyber risk assessment questionnaire can give your organization a competitive edge. By thoroughly reviewing everything that impacts your organization’s security, prioritizing the gaps, and effectively remediating any severe vulnerability, you can protect against most threat actors.
The process of evaluating your current security posture is a difficult task. Many organizations choose to outsource this process to an impartial and credible third-party. At RSI Security, we provide consulting services to help organizations accurately determine the best questions and highest priority gaps within their security posture. If you would like to know more, click here.
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