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Blog Post Apr 05, 2024

What is cybersecurity risk & how to assess

With increasing digitization, cybersecurity becomes paramount. Conducting a risk assessment and implementing strategies are key to reducing exposure.

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As more business processes go digital, cybersecurity should be top of mind for any organization. Data proliferation, rapid digital transformation, interconnected systems, increased connectivity, and stringent compliance requirements mean cybersecurity measures can't be an afterthought.

Businesses must decide where to focus their resources to develop an effective cybersecurity strategy—starting with understanding their risks. Let's explore the importance of conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment, where to look for risks, and how to implement strategies to reduce your exposure.

Understanding cybersecurity risks

Cybersecurity risk is the probability of data exposure or loss due to cyberattacks or data breaches. The results may compromise an organization's technical infrastructure and information security, jeopardizing sensitive customer or business-critical data.

These risks include ransomware, spyware, insider threats, phishing attacks, social engineering, traffic interception, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, cross-site attacks, zero-day exploits, SQL injections, and poor compliance management.

Risks are different from threats or vulnerabilities. Threats like a natural disaster, a human error, or a hacker may destroy, damage, or steal an asset (e.g., sensitive information). Vulnerabilities, such as outdated code, are weaknesses or gaps in your protection mechanism. Risks are a function of threats taking advantage of vulnerabilities to compromise assets.

Why businesses should assess potential risks

Enterprises should prioritize cybersecurity risk assessment to strengthen their defense against cyber crimes. The insights you gather from these assessments allow you to proactively address vulnerabilities, improve your security posture, and prevent issues that may cause disruptions, data loss, or system failures.

Also, preventing cybersecurity incidents and reinforcing data security is essential for building trust with customers, partners, and stakeholders and protecting your organization's reputation. It helps mitigate the financial consequences of an attack or data breach, such as downtime, lawsuits, investigations, and compensation for affected parties.

Moreover, a comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessment is critical for complying with various data privacy laws, especially in highly regulated industries like finance, healthcare, and government. It provides insights for prioritizing security resources to avoid legal consequences and financial penalties that may result from non-compliance.

As such, a cybersecurity risk assessment should be a top priority for organizations in today's dynamic technology landscape, where new cyber threats emerge regularly. Businesses should identify assets, evaluate vulnerabilities, and estimate potential impact. Apply risk assessment frameworks (e.g., NIST Risk Management Framework), conduct regular audits, monitor cybersecurity threats, and stay current with the latest best practices to guide your risk management strategy.

Where to assess cybersecurity risks

Organizations must consider every aspect of their digital infrastructure when assessing cybersecurity risks. Here are the critical areas to evaluate:

1. Email risks

Phishing emails may trick employees or customers into giving up credentials for accessing sensitive data, while malware scams deceive recipients into introducing malicious software into your systems. Also, threat actors may intercept and alter email content to trick people into transferring funds or sharing sensitive information.

Address the risks: Protect emails with an email signing certificate, which provides an additional layer of security through an authentication protocol. The hashing process shows if an email is altered or tampered with to ensure data integrity.

2. Internet of Things (IoT) device risks

IoT devices substantially increase an organization's attack surface, allowing hackers many opportunities to infiltrate a network or exfiltrate data. Unfortunately, many aren't equipped with sufficient security measures (e.g., access control and frequent firmware updates) to prevent unauthorized access.

Address the risks: Take inventory of all your IoT devices and identify potential vulnerabilities. Implement an IoT security and identity management solution to support device authentication and ensure secure data transmission.

3. Network device risks

Organizations must ensure users and devices accessing their network are who they say they are. Plus, validating the identity of every machine with network access is essential for a zero-trust architecture. However, traditional authentication methods like passwords are easily compromised and may not offer sufficient protection.

Address the risks: Automate the management of human and machine identities with managed public key infrastructure (PKI) services to strengthen digital identity verification and ensure secure connections beyond firewalled network architecture.

4. Web server risks

Cybercriminals may exploit vulnerabilities to access sensitive information in your systems or intercept data exchange between web browsers and your server. These attacks may disrupt your network, inject malicious content into your website, seize access privileges, or gain direct access to databases that contain valuable information.

Address the risks: SSL/TLS certificates enable the implementation of encryption protocols to protect communication between browsers and web servers. Choose the right certificates and automate the certificate lifecycle management process to ensure uninterrupted security. You may also use Sectigo SiteLock to augment website protection.

5. Application development risks

Threat actors may modify software code after an application is released and before its installation. For example, they could inject malicious code into an application's database to access sensitive data.

Address the risks: Use code signing certificates, which enable developers to digitally sign applications, drivers, and programs and allow end users to verify that a third party has not altered or compromised the code they receive.

6. DevOps environment risks

Your DevOps environment and tools are a treasure trove of passwords, access keys, SSH keys, tokens, certificates, and API keys. However, securing container communication and protecting numerous applications has become more complex as an infrastructure scales and incorporates various DevOps tools.

Address the risk: Implement a PKI solution to enforce cryptographic security across your DevOps implementation. Also, incorporate PKI into your continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and container orchestration frameworks.

7. Public cloud key management risks

Public key management supports encryption protocols via digital certificates to protect sensitive information in the cloud. However, managing a growing number of certificates is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and error-prone. Renewal delays or mistakes could lead to security gaps and outages.

Address the risk: Automate certificate lifecycle management with Sectigo Certificate Manager to eliminate errors and bottlenecks that could result in expired certificates and compromise your data security.

Strategies for reducing cybersecurity risks

Cybersecurity risk management and treatment plans are essential for safeguarding your data and infrastructure. Conduct regular security risk assessments (SRAs) to take inventory of your assets, identify potential threats, and evaluate their potential damage.

Then, use the insights to implement risk treatment plans. For example, you may allocate more resources to address vulnerabilities most likely to result in a security incident. Also, establish a timeline for implementing security controls and monitor the effectiveness of these measures.

Educate employees on cybersecurity best practices and your assessment and treatment plans. Communicate your security policies and procedures (e.g., using digital certificates to verify user and device identities), and ensure employees understand their roles in preventing security incidents.

Assess your business for cybersecurity risks

Cybersecurity risks are fast-evolving. Organizations must stay vigilant to protect every aspect of their infrastructures. Unfortunately, human errors and oversights cause many vulnerabilities as systems and networks scale.

The good news is that technologies have kept pace to help overcome these challenges. Automation, real-time monitoring, zero-trust architecture, and advanced identity and access management are essential for creating an airtight system and seamless processes for ongoing security.

Want to learn more? Get in touch to book a demo of Sectigo Certificate Manager!

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