Risk Quantification: A Powerful Tool in Your Cyberthreat Defense Arsenal

Three ways that understanding your cyber-risk in real dollars can help your organization survive the threat of ransomware and other attacks.

Prasad Sabbineni, CTO, MetricStream

November 3, 2021

4 Min Read
Finger touches risk analysis button
Source: Olivier Le Moal via Adobe Stock

2021 has already been a banner year for cybercriminals — the record-largest ransomware payment of $40 million was made by an insurance company this year. And the attacks won't stop.

It's not enough today for CISOs to know which cyber-risks could threaten their business. Rather, understanding the true cost of these threats puts an organization in a much better position to plan and act quickly if an attack happens. Heat maps have been a positive step in helping organizations understand the entire risk landscape, but the future goes beyond heat maps.

Here are three ways understanding your cyber-risk in real dollar values ("risk quantification") can help your organization survive the threat of ransomware and other attacks:

Identify Gaps in Your Risk Posture
The process of digging deep into risk assessments and quantifying risk, rather than relying on surface-level qualitative metrics, helps identify gaps in your risk posture. This is effective in stopping risks before they happen.

The risk assessment process isn't so simple with the size and scale of many companies today — companies run risk assessments via complex control tests and systematic analyses of the business and third-party partners. Automated control testing software can help simplify this process, draw connections between datasets, and more clearly show the risk gaps.

"The lack of clarity that far too many organizations encounter around cyber-risk is actually, in of itself, a risk. When there is ambiguity, inconsistency, and even obscurity in the environment, it is difficult to ascertain what lies ahead, and therefore effective decision-making is impeded," says Gavin Grounds, executive director of governance, risk, and compliance at Verizon and an industry leader in risk quantification. "However, when we address risk in a quantitative fashion, using empirical value instead of gradients and relativity, we get clarity around the risk environment. Data gives us a basis from which we can draw meaningful insights to inform the business and help prioritize business decisions."

Understanding exactly where the risk gaps are helps security teams determine what solutions need to be addressed and prioritized. Certain holes in a risk posture may need more immediate attention than others, so CISOs can bring their focus to different measures faster, involving other leaders as needed.

Prioritize Your Cybersecurity Spend
One of the biggest issues for CISOs is justifying their cybersecurity spend to their boards of directors. Boards often say, "We spend so much money on cybersecurity, but we haven't seen any benefits."

This misunderstanding is a hazard for risk executives. Unlike the clear correlation between sales and profit numbers, investment in cybersecurity is more covert. In other words, cyber-risk isn't a problem until it is, so you must insure your business in advance.

CISOs are more prepared to defend their cybersecurity investment when they have clear data points about all the threats that could potentially affect the business and can tie real dollars to the cost of not protecting against each risk.

Risk professionals should come prepared to each board meeting with a quantifiable understanding of the company's cybersecurity position, showing what the company has spent and enabled to address certain threats, as well as knowing what the dollar amount cost would be if the company were to be hit by ransomware.

This will help boards better understand the real impact of ransomware threats and help allocate investment dollars toward firewalls, threat detection, and cybersecurity network upgrades.

Collaborate Better With Legal Counsel
Specifically in the case of a ransomware attack, many moving parts of your organization will need to be involved, including your team's legal counsel. Legal representatives work with specific requirements and often get involved at a time when details could slip through the cracks. Risk quantification allows CISOs to work collaboratively with legal counsel and get ahead of problems before they happen.

For example, legal teams require clear evidence and facts as they review the events of an attack, detail by detail. In this situation, quantitative data is better than qualitative data and can help your legal counsel's position significantly in a case.

Having data points like quantified risk also helps boards approve this step and aids the process of adjusting your cyber-risk insurance posture after an attack happens. Your company's legal counsel exists to protect your organization; their team shares the same mission as cyber-risk management but through different means. Take steps ahead of time to help your company put its best foot forward if a cyberattack happens.

Spend Smarter, Protect Harder
Taken together, these actions can help your business spend its cyber-risk protection budget more effectively, turn your risk team's investment focus into areas that make a difference, and ensure the CISO's time and effort is spent truly safeguarding your business. Smart organizations are leaving qualitative data and heat maps in the past: Risk quantification is the way of the future.

About the Author(s)

Prasad Sabbineni

CTO, MetricStream

Prasad Sabbineni serves as the Chief Technology Officer at MetricStream. As the head of products and engineering, Prasad leads the company's product vision and execution of its market-leading GRC products.

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