What is a Security Risk Assessment?

What Does a Security Risk Assessment Include?

A security risk assessment (SRA) is designed to help you evaluate risk and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements.

In most businesses, security should be a top priority. All your processes, technologies, and business elements have inherent security risks, and it’s your responsibility to make sure those risks are both understood and accounted for in your business’s operation. In some cases, you may be legally required to formally evaluate these security risks and adhere to certain standards to minimize them.

Security Risk Assessments: The Basics

Let’s start with a high-level overview of how a security risk assessment works. Generally, a security auditor will take responsibility for conducting the assessment; this may be a person or a team of people and may operate within the company or as a third party reviewing the company. In any case, the auditor will conduct a thorough review of your entire business, including things like how you manage employee passwords, how you collect payment information from customers, and even internal processes you use for communication.

The auditor will compile a list of potential security gaps and the current controls in place to mitigate those vulnerabilities. They will also be responsible for making a list of recommendations on how to mitigate those risks further.

Note that a security risk assessment may also be called something slightly different, like an IT infrastructure risk assessment, a security audit or a security risk audit.

Systems Included in a Security Risk Assessment

Different parties may organize their security risk assessments differently, but many will include the following areas, at minimum:

  • Infrastructure analysis. This area will examine your company’s infrastructure, including the physical security of your building. For example, do you have a consistent supply of power and backup power supplies in event of an emergency? What about cameras and alarm systems to protect against a physical break-in?
  • Server and system analysis. In this area, you’ll analyze your servers and internal systems, like your server’s redundancy, the antivirus or anti-malware systems you use and your identity and authentication systems.
  • Network analysis. You’ll also need a network analysis, which will help you analyze your internal and external networks, your firewalls, your SPAM filters and more.
  • Application scanning. Application scanning will examine your internal and external web applications, identify application vulnerabilities and more.
  • Information security analysis. If you’re storing data, you’ll need to examine how your data is classified, how it’s encrypted, and how access to these data is granted.
  • Company policies. Many company policies will also be subject to examination, including your IT policies (such as a BYOD policy), your disaster recovery plans, your business continuity plans and even your ongoing risk management approaches.
  • Third party security analysis. Not only will you need to check all of the above for your own company; you will need to check them for all of the third parties to which your company is connected. The reason is because by sharing data with and connecting to third parties, their security becomes your company’s issue as well.

The Benefits of a Security Risk Assessment

Security risk assessments carry several benefits, including:

  • Identifying areas of weakness. A security risk assessment will help you uncover areas of weakness in your business, across many different systems. Given the time and insight, you’ll have ample opportunities to account for these weaknesses and address them.
  • Maintaining compliance. Certain industries and types of businesses are required to comply with certain regulatory requirements with regard to privacy or security. A security risk assessment is necessary in these cases, to ensure you remain in compliance.
  • Preventing damage. For many businesses, the biggest benefit is the opportunity to prevent potential damage. If you notice a security flaw before it’s exploited, you could prevent a data breach from happening, saving your company thousands or even millions of dollars in the process.
  • Staying up-to-date. Security standards are always changing, and your business’s technologies and processes are likely changing as well. Conducting security risk assessments regularly allows you to keep up with these forms of evolution.

Security Risk Assessments and Security Risk Management

Security risk management and security risk assessments are similar, but aren’t the same thing. It’s best to think of these concepts this way; a security risk assessment is a snapshot of your current security practices, meant to help you understand the weak points of those practices so you can improve upon them. By contrast, security risk management is a series of ongoing strategies and practices to minimize risks.

An adequately protected business will need both an initial security risk assessment and a risk management strategy to succeed. Without a security risk assessment, you may not understand where or how to execute your security risk management strategy, and without a comprehensive security risk management strategy, all the takeaways you got from your security risk assessment will be practically useless.

The Security Risk Assessment Model

There are several different methodologies for approaching a security risk assessment. Generally, the process will begin with a discussion of goals, expectations and the process moving forward. By the end of the process, you’ll be presented with a thorough report, full of findings, conclusions and recommendations for how to move forward. This should be the case regardless of whether you conduct the risk assessment internally or whether you hire a third party to assist you.

In the meantime, you’ll go through three phases within the assessment:

  • Identification. First, you’ll identify the key areas that require examination. Which systems, processes, or technologies are you going to review during this process?
  • Gap Analysis and Prioritization. Next, you’ll do the grunt work of analyzing these areas for potential risks and weaknesses. Are there any bad employee habits or flawed processes that could leave your company vulnerable? Are there any exploits available in your current technological setup? Are your third parties on par with your security policy? It’s important then to prioritize the risks to build a strategy and workplan execution to close the gaps.
  • Remediation. After that, your security risk assessment team will work to mitigate the number of security risks you face. Recommendations here could include modifying an existing policy, replacing an older technology with a newer one or even working with the vendor to close their security gaps.

Are you interested in a security risk assessment, or are you looking to learn more? Contact us today for a free consultation, or sign up for a free demo of our security management software.

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