Technology risk management is crucial to optimizing your organization’s security posture and safeguarding sensitive data. It involves evaluating risks to assets across your digital real estate, which enables successful risk management and the implementation of appropriate risk mitigation approaches. Read on to learn how it works.
Your Guide to Technology Risk Management Using Assessments
As your technology infrastructure grows, you may face various risks that threaten data privacy and security. Understanding how to manage information technology risks in such scenarios will be helpful, especially when using robust and tested assessment tools.
In this blog, we’ll cover crucial aspects of technology risk management, such as:
- Defining assessments from a technology risk management standpoint
- Understanding how different risk assessments work
- Optimizing information technology risk management
Risk assessments will help safeguard your IT infrastructure from cybersecurity threats, regardless of your experience with technology risk management. And partnering with a cyber risk management services provider will help streamline the entire process.
What is Risk Assessment?
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines a risk assessment as “the process of identifying risks to organizational operations (including mission, functions, image, reputation), organizational assets, individuals, other organizations, and the Nation, resulting from the operation of an information system.”
In essence, risk assessments are critical to protecting your assets, operations, and sensitive data from information security risks.
By conducting these assessments, organizations can identify the most pressing risks to their core business objectives and missions. Regardless of industry, it is incredibly challenging to manage technology risks without knowing what they are and how they can impact your organization.
How Do Assessments Guide Risk Management?
To understand how risk assessments guide risk management, let’s review the NIST’s assessment methodology outlined in Special Publication 800-30.
Broadly speaking, this standardized approach to technology risk management involves:
- Framing risk – The process of framing technology risks enables organizations to develop a risk management strategy, which then drives the processes used to assess, respond to, and monitor risk. Framing risks comprehensively will help guide resource allocation toward risk assessments and technology risk management as a whole.
- Assessing risk – Based on an established risk framework, your organization can conduct risk assessments to identify threat risks, their sources, and their potential impact on your security posture.
- Responding to risk – The findings from a risk assessment help organizations develop risk responses, which prevent the risks from developing into threats. This process minimizes the overall impact of risks on assets across your IT infrastructure.
- Monitoring risk – Since risk management is an ongoing process, you must continuously monitor components of your technology infrastructure for potential risks. An essential aspect of risk monitoring is ensuring that the systems in place can effectively address risks upon discovery.
Since risk assessments are a subset of risk management, any organization that develops robust processes for managing risk significantly reduces its chances of being impacted by a cyberattack.
The NIST’s cybersecurity risk management framework serves as a reliable baseline for framing, assessing, responding to, and monitoring risks. But, for these processes to work effectively, your organization must have an existing information technology risk management framework.
Ultimately, the best way to identify and understand the risks across your organization’s unique assets is to conduct risk assessments. A standardized framework for these assessments, such as the NIST 800-30, is a great starting point because it provides essential guidance for risk assessments that can be tailored to any organization or infrastructure.
Types of Risk Assessments
Before diving into the types of risk assessments you can conduct, it helps to know how each assessment type can impact risk management—and your overall security posture.
Besides helping to identify risks to your digital assets, risk assessments are also crucial to guiding risk management decision-making.
Implementation of technology risk management will likely depend on factors like the:
- Impact of risks to specific assets within your infrastructure
- Vulnerabilities present in some assets over others
- Potential for certain asset types to withstand cybersecurity threats
Depending on the specific use case, some types of risk assessments will be more effective than others. It all comes down to the unique technology risks your organization faces.
Let’s explore the various types of risk assessments:
Generalized Risk Assessments
Generalized risk assessments use standardized methodologies to identify potential cybersecurity risks. These assessments are typically conducted routinely and proactively to identify risks before they can develop into full-blown threats.
For instance, threat and vulnerability assessment tools enable organizations to discover unknown vulnerabilities that put their assets at risk for cyberattacks. These tools may be simple scanners managed by your internal security team but can also be full-fledged, externally managed threat and vulnerability detection infrastructure.
Threat and vulnerability assessment tools include:
- Vulnerability scanners – By routinely scanning assets in your IT infrastructure, these scanners swiftly detect vulnerabilities in:
- Web applications (e.g., malicious links, broken access control)
- Security protocols (e.g., rogue networks and IP addresses)
- Networks (e.g., hidden networked devices)
- Threat monitors – Using threat intelligence (open-source or otherwise), these tools can monitor assets for threat patterns similar to those identified and documented in internal or external threat databases.
- Penetration testing – By simulating cyberattack scenarios, penetration testing helps organizations identify gaps in their security controls and is instrumental to:
- Categorizing assets as low-, medium-, or high-risk
- Identifying all possible cyberattack vectors
- Evaluating the effectiveness of security tools
Generalized risk assessments are more likely to be effective when using tools that meet widely-recognized risk management standards or those specific to your industry. In most cases, compliance with regulatory frameworks will require organizations to use these tools during certification assessments.
When preparing for compliance audits, readiness assessments will help you self-evaluate the effectiveness of the controls you implement and your security posture.
For organizations within and adjacent to healthcare, the HITRUST CSF’s readiness assessment is one of the most robust risk assessments available. It helps these companies prepare for HITRUST CSF certification independently before they can invite a HITRUST CSF Assessor to audit their controls.
So, how does the HITRUST readiness assessment streamline technology risk management?
HITRUST’s readiness assessment methodology provides:
- Standardized risk assessments – Compliance with the latest version of the HITRUST CSF, v.11, requires healthcare and healthcare-adjacent organizations to evaluate their security posture using one of three similar readiness assessments:
- Low assurance HITRUST Essentials, 1-year (e1) assessment
- Moderate assurance HITRUST Implemented 1-year (i1) assessment
- High assurance HITRUST Risk-based 2-year (r2) assessment
- Customized readiness assessments – Technology risk management works best if organizations can customize readiness assessments to the unique sets of controls they implement and the corresponding scale of implementation. Using HITRUST’s MyCSF platform, you can customize readiness assessments by:
- Choosing which regulatory factors uniquely apply to your organization
- Tracking assessments from submission to HITRUST assessor review
- Streamlining reporting on regulatory frameworks like HIPAA
Before starting a HITRUST readiness assessment, your company must be prepared with the right sets of data and tools to streamline the entire risk assessment process.
Optimizing technology risk management using a readiness assessment like HITRUST’s will likely require the guidance of a trusted HITRUST CSF advisor.
Organizations can also achieve technology risk management with the help of compliance audits. These audits help evaluate the effectiveness of security controls based on regulatory requirements.
Preparation for compliance audits will vary by the regulatory framework to which they apply. By implementing the controls recommended by these frameworks, you effectively minimize risks to your IT ecosystem.
Examples of regulatory frameworks for which compliance audits can help manage risks include:
- PCI DSS – Compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) is required for organizations that handle cardholder data (CHD). Preparation for PCI DSS compliance audits involves:
- Identifying which assets are in or out of scope for the PCI DSS assessments
- Reporting on compliance at the appropriate PCI Level (determined by the Security Standards Council (SSC))
- Completing an Attestation of Compliance (AoC) (required for service providers and merchants)
- Working with an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV) to scan your PCI data environments for vulnerabilities and risks
- Remediating any vulnerabilities identified during vulnerability scans
- HIPAA – Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is required for any organization that handles protected health information (PHI). Although certification is not a requirement for HIPAA compliance, risk assessments can help:
- Identify categories of PHI subject to the Privacy Rule.
- Discover gaps in the administrative, technical, and physical safeguards required by the Security Rule.
- Determine readiness for a potential data breach and mechanisms for notifying affected parties per the Breach Notification Rule.
- NYDFS – Financial services companies operating in the State of New York must comply with the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) regulations to mitigate risks to customers’ sensitive data. NYDFS risk assessment involves:
- Categorizing cybersecurity risks by threat impact
- Evaluating the effectiveness of security controls
- Outlining risk mitigation or acceptance criteria
- Identifying tools to address risks
Most of these compliance audits derive their guidelines from the NIST risk assessment methodology and can be mapped to it. At a rudimentary level, compliance-based risk assessments are designed to identify cybersecurity risks early in their lifecycle, preventing them from developing into serious threats.
Regardless of the risk assessment methodology you choose to adopt, evaluating risks across your digital environment is critical to mitigating cybersecurity threats.
How to Optimize Technology Risk Management
For technology risk management to remain effective in the short and long term, companies must optimize the processes involved in framing, assessing, responding to, and monitoring risk.
As your digital ecosystem grows and evolves, you may have to develop or implement new methodologies or processes for conducting generalized assessments, readiness assessments, or compliance audits.
Since technology risk management depends on risk assessments, your company should have some awareness of the various types of risks identifiable during a risk assessment. Understanding which categories of risk impact your organization helps you prepare to manage these risks more effectively.
Common risk categories include:
- Strategic risks – Any decision that your organization makes regarding technology processes will likely carry some risk. These risks tend to be high-level but they can have a significant impact on your security posture. For instance, a poor password use policy or lack of security awareness training can contribute to access control vulnerabilities.
- Operational risks – As your organization implements day-to-day processes, some activities may contribute to security gaps and vulnerabilities. For example, unsecured access to physical environments containing sensitive healthcare data can contribute to data privacy risks and unauthorized data disclosures.
- Transactional risks – For organizations that collect, store, or transmit sensitive data, each transaction is at risk because cybercriminals are constantly searching for security gaps and vulnerabilities to exploit. For instance, unaddressed web application vulnerabilities such as broken access controls provide avenues for perpetrators to act.
- Technical risks – Some risks are technical in nature in that assets are at risk of being compromised by virtue of being active within an organization. Technical risk examples include:
- Phishing, where a cybercriminal manipulates victims into divulging sensitive information via email, phone calls, or text messages
- Malicious software (malware) attacks, where perpetrators embed compromised links into emails or websites
One of the best ways to optimize risk assessments—and, broadly, risk management—is to implement enterprise risk management technology. This technology prepares your company to address risks affecting your digital environment, even as your IT infrastructure evolves.
When implemented within an information technology risk management framework, this technology will help guide the development of a risk management methodology, plan risk assessments, and conduct ongoing risk monitoring.
At every stage of managing risks, you must understand which tools and processes work best. Partnering with a trusted MSSP enables you to find the right enterprise risk management technology that best suits your organization’s needs.
Effectively Manage Technology Risks
Organizations that implement robust technology risk management are far more successful at mitigating high-impact cybersecurity threats from compromising their digital assets. Working with an experienced MSSP like RSI Security provides your organization with access to up-to-date insights on best practices for risk assessments.
Contact RSI Security today to learn more about risk assessments!