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Cybersecurity Assessment: Definition and Types

According to the national Common Vulnerabilities and Exploits (CVE) database, there are more than 11,000 known vulnerabilities in commonly used software and systems. IBM has calculated that breaches of these vulnerabilities cost large enterprises $3.92 million on average; for 60% of those breaches, patches were available but not applied.

To protect your assets, you need to perform regular cybersecurity assessments. Threats evolve constantly, and what protected you in the past might not be effective against today’s threats. You may also have legal obligations to conduct routine assessments, particularly if regulations like GDPR and HIPAA apply to your business.

In all cases, the more you know about the threats you face, the better prepared you will be to improve your cyber resilience.

What is a Cybersecurity Assessment?

A cybersecurity assessment examines your security controls and how they stack up against known vulnerabilities. It’s similar to a cyber risk assessment, a part of the risk management process, in that it incorporates threat-based approaches to evaluate cyber resilience. A complete security assessment includes a close look at the company’s overall security infrastructure.

Components

A cybersecurity assessment examines a company’s information technology infrastructure as well as its security-related policies and practices. It evaluates:

  • Existing protective systems
  • Compliance with security regulations
  • Vulnerability to security incidents
  • Resilience against potential harm

With this combined data, security teams can identify vulnerabilities and strengthen defenses.

Goals

A cybersecurity assessment aims to close vulnerability gaps and remediate weaknesses, prioritizing issues with the highest potential for bottom-line impact.

Assessments also help cybersecurity teams improve communication with upper management. The most effective security strategies are integrated into all company operations. To make that happen, you need buy-in from decision-makers.

To achieve these goals, a cybersecurity assessment needs to include the following information:

  • The nature and value of the company’s cyber assets
  • The origin of potential threats
  • The vulnerabilities that could allow cyber threats to materialize
  • The likelihood of harm
  • The risk or possible impact on operations and assets
  • Level of compliance with privacy and security regulations

What Are the Steps in a Cybersecurity Assessment?

A complete cybersecurity assessment begins with inventory, progresses to vulnerability assessment, and ends with strategy.

Step 1. Define Your Existing Security Posture.

Your security posture is the overall strength of your cybersecurity framework. It incorporates hardware, software and where the two interact, as well as the policies and processes that move data along your network. This includes:

  • Taking inventory of the protections built into your tech stack
  • Documenting the procedures you use to mitigate risk

If you don’t have formal protocols in place, you’ll need to document that fact.

Step 2. Review Compliance Requirements.

Most companies have to comply with at least one cybersecurity regulation, but not every business knows which controls apply to them. It’s important to close this knowledge gap by assembling a complete list of:

  • The regulations that apply to your company
  • The security measures that each regulation mandates

If you don’t already have compliance software in place, now is the time to get it. The right tools help you stay compliant by identifying security gaps.

Step 3. Assess the Maturity of Existing Security Controls.

This is the meat of your cybersecurity assessment. It determines how well developed your security strategy is, based on your company’s goals and industry norms.

You’ll start by defining your risk profile and setting acceptable risk targets. Next, you’ll evaluate your security maturity against those targets, measuring any gap between controls and risks. You want to look at this information not just in isolation, but against industry standards and required compliance standards.

Step 4. Develop a Risk Mitigation Roadmap.

This is where you develop a strategy to close the gaps between your security posture and your risk targets. Your strategy needs to prioritize action steps and the proper allocation of resources. To do that, consider the value and cost of each asset. The prioritized plan will be what you report to decision-makers, framing recommendations against organizational priorities.

Types of Cybersecurity Assessment

How you approach your security assessment will depend on what information is most important.

Assessment of Cyber Infrastructure Effectiveness

This type of assessment involves a complete inventory of your organization’s security controls and an evaluation of how well they work. One effective technique is penetration testing, in which specially trained cybersecurity professionals document their attempts to breach defenses. This can be performed internally or ordered from a service provider.

An effectiveness assessment also assesses the resilience of your security posture: how quickly your security ecosystem could respond to and recover from an attack.

Assessment of Operational Resilience

Operational resilience measures an organization’s ability to do two things:

  • Prevent disruptions from happening
  • Quickly respond to and recover from a disruption in business processes

To test your operational resilience, you need to evaluate how well your company:

  • Adapts its management approach and strategy based on prior threats
  • Prepares for potential threats and monitors critical functions of at-risk systems
  • Withstands cyber assaults while maintaining normal operations
  • Recovers operations and restores tech infrastructures after an assault

This type of assessment will test the responses of your IT assets and systems as a whole, not just your cybersecurity practices or security posture.

Assessment of Management of External Dependencies

Every organization depends on external entities to some extent. Your organization can’t directly monitor the vulnerabilities of every party in your network, but you can evaluate and guard against the risks posed by each relationship.

To assess how well your company manages external relationships, you need to look at:

  • Whether your company has a strategy for external dependencies
  • How the company identifies and manages risks related to each dependency
  • What relationship management systems are in place to stay informed about risks
  • Whether a plan is in place to maintain continuity if a threat materializes

This is a complex and multifaceted process. It will involve stakeholders from all departments that have external dependencies.

Assessment of Risks and Vulnerabilities

This assessment focuses on where your ecosystem is more vulnerable to attack. To find gaps, you have to look at your people as well as your systems. In particular, you need to determine how vulnerable your systems are to social engineering, a strategy that hackers use to trick employees into granting access to crucial data. This will involve an evaluation of your teams’ cybersecurity practices and responses to potential threats.

Penetration testing is the other part of the equation. By testing how easy it is for a hacker to infiltrate your systems, you can pinpoint where you need to strengthen your security controls.

Conclusion

The process of cybersecurity assessment is necessarily in depth. Clarify where vulnerabilities may exist in your cybersecurity framework and use the results to prioritize strategy development. Insights from cybersecurity assessments will ultimately provide immense value to your organization.

Improve your IT security posture by reducing your IT risks