Whether your latest information technology project involves installing new hardware, developing software, upgrading your networks, integrating cloud computing or applying business analytics, you need to focus on prioritizing risk.
The process of prioritizing cybersecurity risks in an IT project involves taking the following steps:
Step 1: Identifying Potential Cybersecurity Risks
How do you know which risks to prioritize if you don’t even know which risks pose vulnerabilities?
A risk is a potential threat that can harm an organization. So, the first step in risk prioritization is to identify potential risks. Below are several types of potential risks in information technology:
- Execution risks. Risks in execution usually occur at the beginning of a project. They can arise as a result of resource unavailability, lack of commitment by stakeholders — or due to resistance within the organization.
- Integration risks. Risks in integration usually come about during the implementation stage when incompatibility of technologies or processes occurs, resulting in disruption of crucial operation processes.
- Performance risks. These are the types of risks that occur when the desired result is not achieved — or when the original goal is not met, leading to unanticipated time and costs. You must, therefore evaluate past performance history, analyze security controls and conduct employee training to minimize performance risks.
- Unknown risks. These types of threats are the potential risks to which you are not privy. For instance, if you are planning to implement new or untested technology, there could be some unknown vulnerabilities that could produce some hidden risks. When identifying potential risks at the beginning of your project, you need to consider the inherent risks that occur not just during the development stage, but also during your organizational operations. This is where cybersecurity risks emerge. Possible cybersecurity risks in information technology projects include:
- Control risks. These types of risks arise when hackers exploit the vulnerabilities that lie within untested technologies. To avoid them, work to identify the weaknesses of the unknown technologies you intend to implement and take measures to mitigate them. Malware and ransomware risks are some of the most prevalent cybersecurity control risks.
- User risks. Cybersecurity risks can also come from end users. One of the ways to mitigate user risks is by limiting, controlling and monitoring user access and authorization. It’s also essential to conduct employee training regularly to bring users up to speed about emerging cybersecurity risks.
- System architecture risks. These are the risks likely to occur when a new application is incorporated into your current IT landscape. Before adding another app to your business network, it is crucial to consider the consequences that might arise as a result. Some of the key things to consider include vendor security, encryption, quality assurance and residual information protection.
Step 2: Performing a Risk Impact Assessment
After discovering all potential cybersecurity risks, perform a risk impact assessment. There are three steps involved in this, which are:
- Assessing the probability of risk
This is where you determine the likelihood of risk occurrence. There are those risks that have a high probability of occurrence, and there are those that with low probability. You can assess the likelihood of occurrence both quantitatively and qualitatively, after which you can formulate a qualitative scale such as ranging from “highly unlikely” to “highly likely.” You can then align them to numeric scores that can help you perform a quantitative assessment using a risk assessment matrix to help you prioritize. When prioritizing cybersecurity risks, it is crucial to first focus upon high probability risks. For instance, data breaches should fall into the high probability risk category, considering that they are increasing annually not just in number, but also in sophistication. Prioritizing the cybersecurity risks within the medium-risk and high-risk categories will enable you to create a viable risk management plan that will protect your business through the project’s development.
- Assessing the impact of risk
The second part of the risk impact assessment involves evaluating the consequences that can arise as a result of the risk. Some risks may have a low impact, while others may carry a high impact. Again, risk impact can be assessed both qualitatively and quantitatively. For example, quantitative consequences of a data breach — a cybersecurity risk— are financial losses due to fines, ransom payments and cost increases, among others. Reputation damage and interruption of business operations are examples of qualitative consequences of the same cybersecurity risk.
- Creating a risk impact assessment chart
After identifying potential cybersecurity risks, their probability of occurrence and their potential impact, you will be able to develop a risk impact assessment chart with the information gathered. You can use either a quantitative or qualitative assessment process to formulate your risk impact assessment chart. This chart will help place things in clear perspective so you can quickly determine which risks to accept, refuse, transfer or mitigate. Note that establishing a least-to-most critical importance ranking involves analyzing not just high risks compared to medium risks, but also considering how you determined that value. For instance, a high impact risk may have a medium probability of occurrence, but the cumulative score may push it up to the high-risk category. Interruption of business operations fits this category. If the likelihood of the business interruption is moderate, but its impact is high, then the composite score will push this risk to the high-risk category.
Step 3: Initiating the Risk Management Process
After identifying risks, assessing the probability of them occurring and evaluating their impact, the risk management process follows. How you manage the risks will largely depend on whether you choose to accept, refuse, transfer or mitigate the risks. The fundamental basis of the risk management process is to put measures in place to minimize the probability of potential risks from occurring — and figuring out ways to mitigate the impact of those risks should they occur.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways of managing and mitigating cybersecurity risks. The most effective ways of managing cyber risks include:
- Conducting regular vulnerability assessments, which involves scanning your network hosts, endpoints and VMs to detect and patch security vulnerabilities before hackers can exploit them.
- Reducing dwell time by proactively detecting and eliminating cyber threats continuously. This helps prevent cybersecurity incidents from evolving into full-blown breaches.
- Improving detection and providing efficient and accurate incident response capabilities to help you swiftly detect, investigate and eliminate cyber threats.
As an IT project manager, part of your work involves integrating new technologies. While these technologies will prove handy for enabling or accelerating business processes, they will also present some potential risks. You must create a robust risk management plan to ensure that the benefit of integrating those new technologies will outweigh the risks by far. If you find the risk management process to be daunting, you may want to consider outsourcing cybersecurity risk management services to a specialized provider.
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