Everyone knows that cyber risks are changing and one of these is through social engineering. If you’re not familiar with the threat, it’s when hackers use deceptive methods to get individuals to divulge personal information with the express purpose of using the data for fraud. Social engineering risks aren’t the only ones companies need to worry about, there are other cybersecurity threats. This is why businesses must perform regular assessments.
In this article, you’ll learn why risk assessments are vital for cybersecurity and how to create one if you don’t know how or need a refresher.
What is a Social Engineering Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is a handy tool that helps businesses meet industry compliance standards. It identifies both real and potential threats, estimates the impact, and prioritizes the risks. Its primary goal is to help organizations prevent data breaches by ensuring adequate cybersecurity controls are in place.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides businesses with the framework they need to perform a risk assessment. The technology institute advises that having good cybersecurity and running regular assessments will help ensure the proper responses are implemented to stop any cyber-attack.
Some of the issues that the social engineering assessment addresses are:
- The type of data breaches that would severely impact the company
- Identify the most vulnerable external and internal practices or policies
- Determine the company’s most integral IT components, those most at risk
- The level of risk the company faces, and the level the business is comfortable with
These are all issues that could put a company at risk for a data breach.
How to Prepare for a Social Engineering Risk Assessment
The first step is to identify the data, along with the systems and networks used to handle the information. To determine this, you’ll need to perform a small audit to answer the following questions.
- What type of data is collected and/or stored?
- How is the information stored?
- How is the data secured and documented?
- What is the data’s validity?
After you’ve defined the type of data being assessed, it’s time to determine the guiding parameters. These are:
- The purpose of the assessment
- The scope of the social engineering risk assessment
- Define the restrictions and/or priorities that might affect the assessment
- Determine the individuals responsible for running the risk assessment
- Define the risk model the business will use to assess its risks
Defining these parameters ensures that the risk assessment is complete. When you’re creating the risk assessment model, NIST recommends using the following 6 steps.
- Identify the source or sources of the cybersecurity threats
- Identity risk events
- Determine where existing vulnerabilities are and how hackers can exploit them
- Determine the chances a cyber-attack occurs and how likely the hackers are to succeed
- Identify the potential impacts to the company
- Identify the risks posed
This is the basic guide to prepare for a social engineering assessment, however, the next step is to understand the information you’ve collected and identified.
Understanding the Information Collected for a Risk Assessment
If you don’t understand the data you gathered or know what you are supposed to look for, the risk assessment will have little value for your company. Here’s the information you need to know so running the audit isn’t a waste of time.
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Determine the Source of Your Cybersecurity Threats
There are two primary threats to every organization’s cybersecurity practices. Hackers, whether it’s through social engineering or other methods are one type of threat. The other is caused by the organization, often through negligence or employee accidents. Some common cyber threats include:
- Competing businesses resorting to corporate espionage
- State-sponsored attacks: typically from foreign governments
- Insiders and third-parties with access to internal systems/networks
- Established individual hackers and/or groups
Once the threats are identified, the next step is to evaluate and quantify each risk. For example, categorizing the risk as very high, high, medium, and unlikely.
Identify Risk Events
A risk event describes the attack on the business. The description of the event must apply to the organization’s cybersecurity protocols, otherwise, you have the risk of misclassifying it in the assessment and responding to the threat inadequately.
Two examples of different risk events and how each one is classified, according to NIST risk management guidelines are,
- Conduct network scanning: Cybercriminals often use software programs to scan a company’s network perimeter. It’s done to get a better understanding of the underlying IT infrastructure so they can launch successful attacks.
- Phishing and social engineering tactics: Cybercriminals manipulate individuals from personal information, often by imitating trustworthy sources. Phone calls, instant messaging, emails, and other means of communication are all targets.
Identify Existing Vulnerabilities In the System
Previously, you were assessing potential threats, in this step you are looking at the potential risks. You’ll measure each threat against your current IT infrastructure and security protocols to determine your level of vulnerability. It applies across your network to third-party vendors and remote employees.
Your level of vulnerability severity is determined by deciding if the cybersecurity practices in place are adequate to mitigate the threat.
Determine the Likelihood of a Cyberattack and Chances of Success
During this step, you are determining how likely a cyberattack will occur and its chances of succeeding. Some of the factors included in the assessment are the capabilities and intentions of known hackers against targets, whether the cybercriminals were successful or not.
Cybercriminals are not the only threat evaluated in this step, but accidental and environmental ones. These can include accidental employee breaches or power outages caused by storms. The qualitative value assigned to the threat is based on the severity and duration of the risk event. Some of the factors used to determine the likelihood of an event are,
- How the company feels about risks
- How tolerant the company is in regards to specific risk factors
- How the organization weighs risk factors
Determine Potential Impact on the Company
There are a few aspects that determine the risk’s effect on a business, starting with its ability to contain it. Your impact assessment covers identifying potential targets that include data, applications, and information systems. If the initial impact occurs in applications, the assessment will determine how far it is allowed to spread.
The risk assessment not only covers the IT infrastructure but also personnel. Employee mistakes, whether accidental or deliberate, are a common source of cybersecurity risks. Most cybersecurity experts recommend taking a holistic approach to this part of the assessment.
Identify the Risks
When you’re using a social engineering assessment to identify risks, you first have to know the likelihood of it occurring and its impact on the company. Factoring these two values against each other will give you an estimate of the level and type of risks your company is facing.
Know that you understand the information you are gathering for the risk assessment and why it’s time to input into the framework.
Risk Assessment Framework
Knowing the risks and the impact they could have on your business is the first step in managing them. The second is to adopt the risk assessment framework into your cybersecurity protocols. NIST provides a risk assessment framework for businesses of all sizes, and it consists of six steps.
- Categorize the company’s information systems. Information systems are an integral part of the business and each system or network should reflect its specific role. Assigning new IT roles, based on the company’s mission and objectives help to ensure adequate protocols are in place to prevent data breaches.
- Identify current security controls. The organization must identify current security controls and implement new ones to minimize risks. The controls are approved by leadership, and supplemental ones are also added as needed. During the risk assessment, the company will learn what its minimum IT requirements are to stay in compliance.
- Implement security controls. Since you’ve identified the existing controls and received approval for necessary supplement ones, this part of the assessment requires you to implement them. Once the controls are in place, the company should have documentation and their employees understand the purpose and use of the controls.
- Assess security controls. When you’re assessing the implemented controls, it’s best to bring in an unbiased assessor. They’re more likely to spot vulnerabilities, and can also recommend the right controls. A third-party assessor does come with a fee, but it is less expensive than the penalties that come with a data breach.
- Authorize the controls. Company leadership must authorize the security controls and incorporate them into their practices. Included with the authorization, are the results from the assessment and the new controls implemented to mitigate risks.
- Continuous monitoring. Implementing controls is the first step in managing cybersecurity risks, but you also need to monitor their effectiveness. Technology constantly advances, along with cyber threats, and if your controls aren’t up-to-date a data breach can occur.
One Risk That’s Easy to Ignore
A social engineering assessment is designed to help businesses identify vulnerabilities in their systems that could lead to a data breach. While the assessment framework does help companies meet industry compliance standards, there is one risk that is often overlooked. Even when the risk is identified in the assessment, it’s still easy for organizations to look past associated employee risk.
One of the biggest cyber risks are employees that unintentionally cause data breaches when they open phishing emails or click on suspicious links. Testing this vulnerability is vital in your assessment. You also want to assess your employees’ online practices.
How to Run a Phishing Vulnerability Test
It’s easy to add an employee vulnerability test to your social engineering risk assessment. Some simulators allow you to disguise emails as if they were sent by co-workers, encouraging employees to open the attachments or provide personal information.
If employees open the phishing emails, it indicates that this is an area the company has not implemented the appropriate controls. These controls include properly training employees in best security practices. If employees aren’t aware of a potential threat, they can’t mitigate it.
Other Potential Employee Risks
Emails and suspicious links are the most common employee vulnerabilities, but there are others included in the risk assessment. The misfiling of digital data is a common accident, along with not following proper protocols for information destruction. Using unsecured channels to send or receive is an easy mistake, especially for remote employees.
Another social engineering risk is the use of unencrypted USB flash drives. The small components can easily miss being overlooked during the encryption process or employees can use their own not realizing the potential security risks.
Training and educating employees is a crucial part of the assessment, since this is where companies can find vulnerabilities.
While a social engineering risk assessment is a vital tool in ensuring your company’s security protocols are more than adequate, it’s also time-consuming. The experts at RSI Security can guide you through the assessment. Our IT staff are also certified assessors and can come in to help as needed. Contact RSI Security today for a free assessment.