If your organization is in the process of developing or expanding its cybersecurity program, you should consider generating a risk rating report. These reports vary widely in nature, depending on the risks specific to your organization. However, the overarching methods for interpreting and utilizing them remain consistent for all organizations. Namely, you’ll need to understand the relationships between vulnerabilities and threats, which determine how likely (and how dangerous) risks are.
How to Interpret and Act Upon a Risk Rating Report
Many risk reports are informed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-30, Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments. This guide will lean on SP 800-30’s basic definitions, but your company can modify them to fit your security needs.
In most cases, there are four critical steps to interpreting and acting upon risk review reports:
- Identifying, inventorying, and mitigating any vulnerabilities internal to your company
- Detecting, accounting for, and designing protections against external security threats
- Calculating the likelihood of and potential impacts of risks, based on the prior steps
- Strategizing and executing a plan to eliminate, mitigate, and manage all your risks
Each of these steps should be informed by up-to-date threat intelligence. Therefore, you should consider partnering with an expert cybersecurity advisor for guidance.
Step 1: Understanding Your Internal Vulnerabilities
To make sense of your risk report, you first need to understand what it tells you about your company’s weaknesses.
Vulnerabilities, according to SP 800-30, are gaps or other issues in security infrastructure. These may result from the absence of critical systems or programs, partial or incomplete protections, or out-of-date software requiring patch deployment. Any vulnerability is potentially dangerous because a threat or threat actor can exploit it.
Interpreting vulnerabilities requires identifying them, along with their causes. This information fosters better understanding (see Step #2) and informs efforts to mitigate or eliminate them (see Step #4).
Accounting for Sensitive and Confidential Information
One major factor impacting vulnerabilities is the data categories that a company creates, stores, or processes and the specific regulatory compliance requirements pertaining to them.
If your company stores personal or personally identifiable information (PII), you may have to account for complex vulnerabilities specific to HIPAA, EU GDPR, CCPA, and other regulations. Baseline protections for this data may not be enough to guarantee that data subjects’ rights are upheld.
One solution that can help, either during risk assessment or in the process of interpreting and putting its results to use, is a PII Scanner. This tool scans specifically for certain subsets of data, or content within files and their metadata, to ensure any PII you control is stored appropriately.
Step 2: Understanding Your External Threat Actors
Once your team grasps the ways and areas in which it is vulnerable, you’ll need to understand the various threats and threat actors that could exploit them. According to SP 800-30, threats include any events or circumstances that could cause adverse effects to an organization’s operations or assets. These include threats with no perpetrator, such as natural disasters, as well as those with a known or unknown threat actor (e.g., a hacker or cybercriminal).
This step boils down to identifying threats and which are most common or likely to occur.
Some of the most common threat actors are those external to your organization. One way to stay ahead of these attacks is penetration testing. Pen testing is a form of “ethical” hacking that simulates an attacker’s moves to better prepare for them in real-time. In particular, an external pen test will identify ways in which threats could first enter into and then begin disrupting systems.
Threat Hunting Benefits of Active Detection And Response
Cybercrime risks aren’t limited to external threats, as an organization’s personnel can also cause damage to systems–intentionally or unintentionally. A robust internal pen testing program can identify how the most intricate schemes would unfold when conducted by individuals with legitimate access. However, another approach to both identifying and mitigating internal threats is a managed detection and response (MDR) program.
A robust threat hunting MDR program should include the following capabilities, at a minimum:
- Initial threat detection through continuous monitoring
- Immediate, threat-informed incident response protocols
- Root Cause Analysis (RCA) for all identified threats
- Ongoing regulatory compliance and patch monitoring
These practices will help your organization identify, analyze, and ultimately mitigate all external and internal threats. Visibility is the most essential component to effective threat prevention.
Step 3: Understanding Your Risks and Risk Rankings
The two primary inputs in cyber risk calculation are vulnerabilities and threats. Risk can be understood, broadly, as the relationship between these two categories. It typically comprises both the likelihood of threats exploiting vulnerabilities and the potential impact that is likely to occur if such exploitation happens.
The way your particular risk management report presents this information may vary, depending on your organization’s size and general risk environment.
Risks can also occur independently of weaknesses in your system. For example, any potential for a lapse in regulatory compliance, such as an overdue certificate or neglected patch, may be considered a compliance risk. These can occur even in robust cyberdefense programs that have a negligible amount of internal vulnerabilities or are fully insulated from external threats.
Identifying Risks Across Your Strategic Partner Network
Another way risks can surprise even well-protected companies is through their networks of third parties, such as vendors and contractors. If these various strategic partners are integrated into your systems, they might be seen as de-facto personnel. But any vulnerabilities or threats they harbor can be especially insidious, as visibility may be limited over their devices and behaviors.
Hence the importance of a third-party risk management (TPRM) program. Organizations must account for third-party risks and vulnerabilities with rigorous assessment and onboarding. That includes IT and security awareness training, ideally identical to what internal personnel receive, along with API integration for seamless visibility across elements of your organization’s systems that contractors and vendors access for their responsibilities.
In some cases, these contracts can have compliance implications, as with the business associate requirements for HIPAA.
Step 4: Mitigating and Managing Your Identified Risks
The final step has less to do with understanding the risk rating report than utilizing it when managing the identified risks. The most straightforward approach is implementing a threat and vulnerability management program informed by your risk reports.
Gathered intelligence on vulnerabilities and threats will guide lifecycle management processes for individual assets and systems. This should be integrated across all architecture implementation, including specific or semi-segmented areas like cloud security.
For example, risk management can be a critical component of baseline cyberdefenses, such as firewall configurations. Rather than relying on a single firewall, your organization should install multiple layers of proactive web filtering. The baseline firewall can be tuned for the general threats any organization faces, while other layers can scan specifically for risks your reports have identified, along with any advanced persistent threats designed to bypass firewalls.
Ultimately, you should also integrate risk management into incident management. No security system can entirely prevent incidents; a risk-informed response program minimizes the resulting damage when threats materialize into full attacks—especially when organizations enlist professional help.
Professional Risk Rating Reports and Cyberdefenses
Has your organization generated a risk rating report recently? If not, you should consider conducting an analysis to understand the risks facing your stakeholders.
If you have run a report, but you’re uncertain how to address the risks uncovered, RSI Security can help you rethink your defenses to reduce both vulnerabilities and threats.
Contact RSI Security today to get started!