Cybersecurity Risk Management for Business Leaders, IT Managers and CTOs
Managing cybersecurity risk has become a high priority task for most companies. That is because a single successful breach of an organization’s IT systems carries a substantial risk of becoming a death blow. When it happens to small and medium-sized enterprises, there is a 60% chance of the affected business ceasing operations within six months. For larger companies, even if the damage is not fatal, it is still costly. According to IBM, a single data breach or cybersecurity incident cost businesses an average of $4.35 million in 2022. Therefore, it is no surprise that businesses are placing cybersecurity at the center of their strategic planning.
However, coming up with a cybersecurity risk management strategy is a massive undertaking. With sprawling infrastructures to secure, limited budgets, and small armies of employees who might undermine their efforts— business leaders, IT Managers and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) have their hands full. We’ve prepared a step-by-step strategy-building procedure to help them overcome those challenges. It addresses the critical elements that every cybersecurity risk management strategy requires and should produce a bespoke strategy tailor-made for any business. Let’s get started, shall we?
Identify Existing Cybersecurity Risks
The first step in developing a cybersecurity risk management strategy is to identify and categorize the existing cybersecurity threats the business already faces. That effort can and must begin with an inventory of all IT assets the business processes. However, cataloging the organization’s IT hardware and infrastructure assets is not enough. Any effort to identify cybersecurity risks must consider all data the business has in its possession, as well. When assessing data, it is important to ask:
- Who does the data belong to?
- If the data belongs to customers or someone outside the business, have they granted permission for the business to store it?
- What kind of data is it?
- Does the data pose a financial, reputational, or operational risk if it gets exposed or stolen?
Once the list of IT assets is in hand, the next step is to list the cybersecurity threats that apply to the items on the list. For example, servers and desktops could be at risk of malware and ransomware infiltration, as well as the threat of data exfiltration. Network hardware may be at risk of threats like denial-of-service attacks and the like.
The next step is to evaluate the identified assets to determine how vulnerable they are to the relevant threats. For example, an internal business network with no publicly facing services connected to it won’t be at much risk of an external attacker finding their way in. However, it would be at risk for attacks based on social engineering that use unwitting employees as accomplices. It would also be at risk from internal threats—employees that take deliberate action to compromise the organization’s cybersecurity.
Conduct Potential Impact Analysis
With existing risks identified and the likelihood of them affecting the identified assets determined, the next step is to conduct impact analysis. It is a good idea to begin with any threats deemed highly likely to materialize and work down toward the least likely threats. This process will yield a decision matrix that makes it possible to prioritize mitigation measures. For example, if one threat is highly likely to lead to a cybersecurity incident, and the potential damage from that incident is great, it is a high-priority threat.
However, unlikely threats with severe consequences should also receive their due attention. Therefore, if an unlikely threat with high damage potential is identified, it should outweigh even a likely threat with a tiny damage potential. Not that the latter isn’t a concern, but the consequences for the unlikely event outweigh it.
Design Risk Mitigation Measures
Using the decision matrix developed in the previous step, the next thing to do is design appropriate mitigation measures. Beginning with the highest-priority threats, devise an approach that includes three distinct phases:
- Defense — A plan to prevent the threat from materializing.
- Response — A plan to respond to the threat in real-time and limit damage.
- Recovery — A plan to deal with the aftermath of an incident involving the threat.
The defensive plans must include comprehensive threat monitoring measures, as well as security controls meant to decrease the odds that an attacker might succeed in exploiting any identified vulnerabilities. It should also include an element of employee education to help harden the business against non-technological attack vectors. Being as proactive as feasible on this front is a major key to minimizing overall cybersecurity risk.
On the response side, the idea is to develop a playbook that eliminates uncertainty in the event of a cyberattack. This will allow the organization’s IT staff to focus on executing their pre-set plans rather than on trying to figure out how to respond. It also provides a roadmap that the staff can use to practice their incident response skills. As far as cybersecurity risk management goes, that is a critical task.
The reason for that is the speed at which todays cyberattacks unfold. According to cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, the average breakout time for cyberattacks in 2022 stood at one hour and twenty-four minutes. That means cybersecurity incident responders have no more than that to halt an attack in its tracks. Additionally, it means that every minute past that critical breakout time that a business takes to respond to an incident increases the likelihood of significant data theft or a much wider breach of protected systems.
Finally, if defensive and response measures fail, the recovery plans should include a step-by-step process for the business to follow to clean up during an attack’s aftermath. The plans should begin with data and systems backup measures to safeguard data from things like ransomware and other threats. Also, the recovery plan should designate which systems get restored and in what order after an attack. The idea is to plot an orderly recovery from a cybersecurity incident that gets the business back to normal operations as fast and as safely as possible.
Plan Audits and Cybersecurity Tests
With the plans for how to prevent, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity incidents set, the final part of the strategy development process is to develop a system to audit and test the efficacy of those plans periodically. This provides the business with a self-reinforcing mechanism to keep its defenses up and functioning at all times.
The first thing to do is create a designated security audit team, whose job is to comb through things like the logs produced by the organization’s threat-monitoring hardware and software. If an incident or a near-miss takes place, they should also stand ready to investigate, talk to the stakeholders involved, and generate an after-action report. Those reports are useful for figuring out what parts of the cybersecurity risk management strategies worked, which didn’t, and which need revisions or updates.
It is also important at this juncture to plan for periodic—preferably unannounced—cybersecurity tests. These may include working with an external penetration testing firm to occasionally probe for weaknesses. Also, it may include checking on the human part of the cybersecurity equation through the use of mock phishing emails or phone calls. Again, the point is to continually identify areas where the organization’s cybersecurity measures need reworking or reinforcement.
A Plan for Every Eventuality
The result of the strategy-building exercise detailed above should be a comprehensive and business-tailored cybersecurity risk management plan. It should provide a complete understanding of the threats the business faces, how severe those threats are, and how the business can best handle them. Additionally, it should create procedures aimed at minimizing the identified risks and keeping defensive measures sharp and ready for anything.
Of course, there is no reason that any business should go it alone especially when it comes to cybersecurity. We here at Outsource IT offer complete cybersecurity and consulting services to provide as much or as little support as a business requires. To get started, simply contact one of our knowledgeable account managers. They’ll assess your needs and let you know how we can help create, operationalize, and refine your cybersecurity risk management strategy.