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How To Conduct An Effective IT Security Risk Assessment

Measuring risk is a key to justifying new security spending. Here's a road map for doing it

[Excerpted from "How to Conduct an Effective IT Security Risk Assessment," a new report posted this week on Dark Reading's Risk Management Tech Center.]

Many security and compliance projects begin with a simple idea: assess the organization's risk of vulnerabilities and breaches. Indeed, implementing an IT security risk assessment is absolutely critical to the overall security posture of your organization.

An effective security risk assessment can prevent breaches, reduce the impact of realized breaches, and keep your company's name from appearing in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Regular IT security risk assessments also enable organizations to build up a cache of historical data that can be used to effectively gauge and communicate monetary impact related to risks -- and, hopefully, convince upper management to take decisive action to reduce the organization's threat surface.

It's important to note that not every IT security risk assessment is alike -- or even remotely close. Indeed, there are many ways to perform IT security risk assessments, and the results may vary widely depending on the method used. It should also be noted that performing a risk assessment is a very small part of the overall risk management process.

There are basically three risk management components:

1. Evaluation and assessment, to identify assets and evaluate their properties and characteristics.

2. Risk assessment, to discover threats and vulnerabilities that pose risk to assets.

3. Risk mitigation, to address risk by transferring, eliminating or accepting it.

The presence of these three high-level processes is constant in all risk assessment methodologies, although what they are called may vary. Our primary focus in this report is to discuss the assessment itself, but we will also touch on key elements of risk evaluation and assessment, as well as risk mitigation.

Traditional risk assessment includes general IT-related issues such as accidental outages, hardware failures, and uptime. Security risk assessment, on the other hand, is just what it sounds like -- analysis of the issues relating directly to security threats. However, many organizations lump these two types of assessments together, applying more generic risk models in the more dynamic world of IT security. That's a problem.

In many cases, the data compiled about a given asset and its risk is created with great care, but is not updated in a timeframe that would enable security pros to address the changing threat landscape. This leads to Band-Aid-style fixes, such as hard reassessment intervals every one or two years. Ultimately, this will leave gaps in security for months at a time.

For a look at the steps required to perform an effective IT security risk assessment -- and some key tips for implementing them -- download the free report.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

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