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What to know about IT System Risk Assessment and protecting your IT

Computer & IT System Risk Assessment

All You Need to Know About Computer System Risk Assessment

With the advent of technology, everything is moving in the digital domain. As more and more data (including personal, professional, financial as well as banking information) goes binary, the threat of it being lost or misused increases exponentially…this is where cybersecurity comes in. In a nutshell, it's a combination of comprehension of risks, administration of measures, and blocking of loopholes. If you’re to protect the best interests of your business, you need to either understand the risks or work with a company that does.

Introducing Risk Assessment

Risk evaluation and mitigation are inseparable parts of IT security, and in order to carry out a judicious risk assessment, you need to first undertake the following:

  • Identify the important data that needs to be protected to ensure that your company's interests are unharmed.
  • Segregate the top five business operations that are required to use this data.
  • Envisage the likely dangers that could upset the functionality of these business functions.

Threat Versus Cost Analysis

After you’ve recognized the most important assets for the business, you can formalize your plan of action. However, you need to seek answers to important questions when spending any company time and money. With this in mind, here are some potential questions to ask:

  • What risks can we avert through the implementation of a solution?
  • Are we addressing the highest priority risks?
  • Are we considering the most cost-effective solutions?

Understanding the Risk

The dictionary meaning of risk is 'a situation leading to exposure of your assets to a danger'. In business terminology, it's the danger of a financial loss. Generally speaking, we can split risk into the following categories: zero, low, medium, or high. Consequently, risk determination involves understanding threats, a system's vulnerability, and the health of assets. Although risk is not limited to numbers, it can be mathematically represented as, "Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Asset”.

When it comes to risk analysis, common sense and a logical approach are required. For example, think about the risk of your data getting hacked. In this case, we know that the asset is critical and the risk is high in the modern world. If you don’t have firewall protection, vulnerability is also high. and this pushes the risk even higher.

On the other hand, if your data is protected through adequate anti-hack technology, the vulnerability becomes either zero or low, thereby reducing the risk accordingly.

You've to keep the following points in mind while carrying out risk analysis:

  • The Power of Zero - If any of the three factors in the above mathematical formula are zero, risk will automatically reduce to zero.
  • Risk Involves Uncertainty - If something is certain, it can't be considered a risk.

Unfortunately, businesses can occur losses in many ways (and the number seems to be growing as cybercriminals get their hands on more advanced technology and systems). The following are common examples of losses:

  • Data Leaks - If a trade secret is leaked, this can lead to a loss of business because competitors can now utilize the secret. Elsewhere, a loss of customers’ personal information results in customers losing trust in you, which potentially shrinks your customer base. In case this isn’t enough, you could also receive fines and penalties for poor security.
  • Inefficient or Dysfunctional System - An ineffective system can lead to customers not being able to place their orders or a poor response to questions and messages.
  • Legal Implications - Loss of even non-critical data is against most of the security compliance regulations; as mentioned, this can attract financial penalties.

Risk Assessment Process - How Does It Work?

At this point, you should now understand more about the importance of IT system risk assessment for your business. So, the next question you’re likely to have regards the process itself. Below, we’ve laid out a step-by-step guide so that you get an in-depth knowledge of a computer system risk assessment.

Before we go into the process, you should know that InfoStream is the perfect partner for all your risk assessment needs. Whether you’ve completed risk assessments before or this would be the first time, allow us to assist you. Our experts have been through the process countless times and understand how to perform risk assessments correctly. Why go it alone when you can get the help of experts in the field? You can prevent mistakes, save resources, and allow your team to do other tasks while we do the risk assessment with you.

The steps below describe how a typical risk assessment process goes; if you were to work with InfoStream, we would take the pressure from your shoulders by completing various tasks ourselves.

Step #1: Identification and Prioritization of Assets

Assets can be servers, data disks, partnership documents, customer contacts, trade secrets, and items of this nature. Often, the list of valuable assets needs to be worked out in consultation with all stakeholders. After the list is finalized, their relative importance should be discussed and decided. Why? This is required to address the most critical points within the allocated budget for risk management. What assets should get the most attention? Which should get the least?

Importantly, prioritization must be done in an objective manner taking into consideration common benchmarks like the asset's value, the impact of its loss, legal implications, etc. Based on the benchmarks approved by the managing committee and included in the security directives of the company, you can then categorize the assets as minor, major, or critical.

Finally, you’ll need to compile the following information for each asset:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Data
  • Users
  • Interface
  • Support system
  • Purpose
  • Operational requirements
  • Level of importance
  • Policies
  • Security structure
  • Network arrangement
  • Flow of information
  • Storage security
  • Physical safety
  • Technical control
  • Environmental protection.

Step #2: Threat Identification

An interference targeted to exploit any weakness in your security system to steal your vital information is a threat. Apart from the obvious malware and hackers, there can be numerous other threats such as:

  • Internal System Collapse - The chances of such an event can't be negated, but it depends upon the quality of your system. A smart user will therefore always invest in a good quality system.
  • Natural Catastrophe - Disasters like hurricanes, floods, and fire can cause loss of not just data, but also physical assets including servers and lockers. Therefore, place your servers diligently. As an example, you shouldn't ever put servers on the first floor if the area is vulnerable to floods.
  • Accidental Human Intervention - Although your team works hard for the business, you can’t ignore the potential of human error. Some important files can be fortuitously deleted, someone may click on a malware link, or a critical piece of equipment may get physically damaged. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of human error is training. Regular backups, tracking changes, and training all computer handlers to exercise caution are some steps that can prove useful against such losses.
  • Inimical Humans - This can further be subdivided into the following three types. Firstly, interference can include intentional deletion of data, distributed denial (DD) of service, and theft of servers. Secondly, impersonation involves the abuse of somebody else's identity to harm your company. Credentials can be procured from the dark market, snatched by physical attacks, or obtained through social media. Thirdly, interception is the traditional form of hacking that we all know and loathe.

Step #3: Pinpointing Your Weaknesses

A weakness or a vulnerability can be misused by your enemies to break through your security and cause harm to your company. There are professional techniques like security audits and NIST databases on vulnerability, software, and system analysis that can be used to identify vulnerabilities in your system. The system's digital resilience can be increased through regular patch updates and tests.

However, adequate focus should also be kept on the possibility of physical damage. For instance, having your servers on the higher floors will reduce your system's physical vulnerability against a flood. IT system testing is also a useful method for this purpose and it may consist of:

  • Methods to test penetrability
  • Vulnerability scans using automated tools
  • Standard procedures like STandE include complete tests and evaluations of the information security

Step #4: Carrying Out an Audit of Controls

Controls typically come in two forms; firstly, technical - this includes encryption, software for user authentication, identification, and detection of intrusion. Secondly, non-technical - this includes environmental and physical tools, administrative checks, policies for security and protection, and more.

Both these types of controls can further be subdivided into detective or preventive types. As the name suggests, the former category of controls assist you to keep tabs on the user history and detect and inform about any attempted hack. Preventive controls like encryption aim to preempt and foil any likely attacks. A meticulously planned allocation of controls is essential if you want a foolproof system to guard against threats.

Step #5: Ascertaining the Chances of Damage

Next, we recommend carrying out a detailed assessment of the chances that a vulnerability may be exploited. This must be undertaken considering the type of weakness, proficiency, the motive of the source of the threat, and the efficiency of your controls. You can give a numerical value to the chance or classify them as low, medium, or high - it’s up to you.

Step #6: Threat Impact Assessment

Analysis of the impact of the threat is an essential aspect, and the factors that need to be included are:

  • The system's importance based on its value and the data that it processes.
  • The objective and functions of the system.
  • The responsiveness and susceptibility of the system.
  • The likely annual average of the occurrence of exploitation of the weakness by the threat.
  • A rough cost of each of these incidents.
  • Relative weightage of a particular threat exploiting a specific weakness.

The impact assessment can be carried out using the existing documents within the organization. For example, one such document is the report on the impact analysis of the business (BIA); the report outlines the effect of the loss of each type of data on the system in a quantitative or qualitative manner. The incidence of a harmful activity or a likely attack can undermine the wholeness, confidentiality, and trustworthiness of the information and the system, so a proactive approach is critical.

Just as we saw in the previous section, impact analysis can be indicated qualitatively as low, medium, or high.

Step #7: Prioritization of Assessed Risks to Information Security

Give risk ratings to each of the pairs of threat/vulnerability based on the following aspects:

  • The chance of exploitation of the weakness by the threat.
  • The effect of successful exploitation.
  • The efficacy of the security system in place or under planning to avert or reduce the risk.

During this step, we highly recommend a risk-level matrix as an important tool for this operation. Values of 0.1, 0.5, and 1.0 are allotted for low, medium, and high chances of the risks respectively. Similarly, impact levels are rated as 10, 50, and 100 for low, medium, and high impacts. Risk calculation is done by simply multiplying the two values and the risks are thereafter rated as low, medium, or high based on the results.

Step #8: Suggested Controls

At this stage, you’re ready to take everything you have learned and suggest actions to be taken by senior-level managers and other authorities to reduce risks. Some general guidelines on the basis of risk levels are as follows:

  • High Risk - Major remedial measures need to be planned for implementation at the earliest opportunity.
  • Medium Risk - Restorative measures should be planned within a feasible timeframe.
  • Low Risk - A decision must be taken whether the risk should be accepted or corrective measures are required.

While deciding the controls to reduce each risk, remember to keep in mind cost vs benefit, company policies, feasibility, existing rules and regulations, dependability, the effects of considered actions, and the efficacy of recommended actions.

Step #9: Record the Results

Finally, we recommend creating a report on the computer system risk assessment to help the senior management make informed and timely decisions on the policies, procedures, and budget. The report should list all the vulnerabilities and the corresponding threats, assets that face risk, the effect that the risk may have on the company's prospects and profits, the chances of incidence, and the suggestions for control mechanisms.

This report can also be used to spot a few remedial steps that can tackle multiple risks simultaneously. Regular backing up of data, for instance, will not only reduce the risk of loss of data from accidental deletion but it will also protect against natural disasters. Cost-benefit analysis is also useful for senior management when making decisions. While giving recommendations, always remember the business objectives.

When you start working on this process, the company's procedures and operations will become clear to you and you’ll provide valuable advice to the business. This gives you the opportunity to formulate the IT system risk assessment policy for your company, describing in detail the periodical actions. You can then decide upon the actions to alleviate risks to keep them within acceptable limits; while you can’t eliminate danger entirely, you can take a proactive approach to ensure that they are at least unlikely.

Contact InfoStream Today for Computer & IT System Risk Assessment

While working on IT security, one must always remember that risk assessment for information security and risk management for the enterprise go hand in hand. It's these two processes that are the guiding factors in forming an effective and safe information system. They inform you of the threats and weaknesses that can harm your company while also suggesting ways to reduce them.

If you want a reliable partner for your computer system risk assessment, feel free to contact InfoStream at 561-968-0046 today. You can also contact via email or by completing the contact form on the website. Save your resources, benefit from the expertise of professionals, and limit risk in your business this year!