Building a Small Business Security
Posture Assessment Checklist

Small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners and executives often wear multiple hats and are hands-on or intimately involved in many aspects of their organizations. However, because technology and cyber threats evolve so quickly, it can be difficult to understand and manage the organization’s cybersecurity defenses. Safeguarding sensitive data and digital assets through a strong security posture may be pushed aside in favor of other easier business initiatives. Unfortunately, ignoring your security posture can damage your ability to conduct business and become one of your more costly decisions.

Why Conduct a Security Posture Assessment

A robust security posture is a solid first line of defense that aims to proactively identify, protect against, detect, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity threats. As a measure of an organization’s overall cybersecurity status, security posture can cover a lengthy list of infrastructure, internal policies, practices, and initiatives working together to secure an organization’s digital environments. 

Without a dedicated IT team or the significant resources of a large corporation, SMB leaders who find themselves as the point person for cybersecurity matters often need an efficient understanding of their organization’s current capabilities, future needs, and overall security posture. 

Developing and conducting a security posture assessment can be a helpful evaluation of the resilience of an organization’s technical infrastructure and security protocols. Various security posture assessments aim to develop a clear understanding of the overall security state of an organization’s systems or digital environment. Thorough assessments generally include reviews of all infrastructure and technical controls and non-technical elements such as employee training efforts and incident response policies.

Self-Assessing Your Existing Security Posture

You can’t protect what you don’t understand. 

“Know what you have” is how the Global Cyber Alliance’s Cybersecurity Toolkit for Small Business puts it. Creating an inventory of all your devices, applications, and accounts is part of gaining a more precise awareness and understanding of your organization’s potential risks. 

First, you’ll identify your organization’s highest-value assets and how internal or external threats could impact them. Then, you’ll conduct comprehensive risk and vulnerability assessments to identify, prioritize, and evaluate the likelihood of potential threats to the security of your organization’s assets. 

In your self-assessment, it’s important to note the difference between “risk” and “vulnerability.”

Vulnerability is a measure of how exposed your networks and systems are concerning the likelihood of harm from potential threats. Meanwhile, risk measures the probability of that harm occurring, assessing how dangerous a hypothetical cyberattack or incident could be if one were to happen. 

Whether conducted manually, with automated tools, or by a third party, vulnerability assessments are essential in identifying potential risks and internal weaknesses and helping organizations plan to prevent or mitigate the most significant risks.

Risk assessments gather and catalog data on your organization’s physical and digital assets, analyze risk factors, and determine threats to shape ongoing future mitigation strategies. Beginning or continuing any cybersecurity journey is made all the more effective when done on a strong, firm foundation of illuminating self-assessments.

Organizations can develop a roadmap to address identified weaknesses after performing these evaluations and understanding their cybersecurity posture. It’s crucial to continually revisit and update these assessments as the threat landscape and digital environments evolve. Constant vigilance and improvement are key to maintaining a strong and adaptable security posture.

Learn More: How Do I Know My Security Posture?

Finding the Right Resources to Aid Assessments

Feeling ready to fight back is one thing; being equipped to fight back is something else. Fortunately, forward-thinking professionals can proactively protect their organizations without commanding an overwhelming amount of money or resources from often-limited teams. 

Learn More About Tools to
Assess Your Organization’s Security Posture

Third-Party Risk Management

Successfully managing third-party risk can help organizations achieve regulatory compliance, optimize business continuity, and improve their reputation with customers and stakeholders, positively impacting their overall security posture.

Proactively assessing and managing third-party risks encourages the long-term protection of sensitive data. It’s also an investment that can result in cost savings in the long run. By preventing cybersecurity incidents and data breaches, organizations can save themselves the financial and operational costs associated with incident response, remediation, legal action, or reputational damage.

Insufficient third-party risk management can expose organizations to a range of threats and dangers, potentially leading to dire consequences. 

Some of the potential risks associated with inadequate management of third-party vendor relationships include:

  • Data Breaches – Poor oversight of third-party vendors and their security commitments can lead to data breaches and the loss of confidential information, such as customer data, intellectual property, and financial records.
  • Supply Chain Attacks – Third-party vendors are common targets for cybercriminals as a means to infiltrate another organization’s network. Compromised vendors can act as entry points for cybercriminals to attack, move laterally within the supply chain, and reach core systems of other, larger organizations.
  • Regulatory Non-Compliance – Many industries feature strict regulatory requirements for protecting sensitive data. Inadequate third-party risk management can lead to non-compliance, resulting in legal consequences, fines, and reputational damage.
  • Operations Disruptions and Financial Losses – Security incidents involving third-party vendors and cloud service providers can cause significant operational disruptions. Any downtime, a loss of critical services, or delays in business processes can have dramatic consequences for your organization’s operations and bottom line. The aftermath of a cybersecurity incident, including legal action, regulatory fines, remediation costs, and potential lost business, can result in debilitating financial losses.  

Organizations must implement robust third-party risk management processes to mitigate these and other risks, including thorough assessments of vendor security practices, continuous monitoring, and clear contractual agreements addressing security requirements. 

The third-party vendor vetting process requires due diligence and careful review of vendors’ cybersecurity management. By completing a third-party risk assessment, organizations can gain precise insight into the risks posed to their supply chain, data, or cybersecurity.

Learn More About Measuring and Enhancing Third-Party Risk Management

Quantifying (and Strengthening)
Your Security Posture

In the same way credit scores offer a numerical value for an individual or organization’s credit risk, security posture ratings have become popular assessments of cybersecurity risk and incident readiness. While scores from just the “Big Three” credit rating agencies remain the primary measurements of creditworthiness throughout the world, there are many security rating options from which to choose.

No matter which assessments, provider, or scoring service your organization uses, security ratings are becoming key pieces of security evaluation programs that influence major business and risk decisions.

To promote effective guidelines and increase confidence in the quality, accuracy, and fairness in the industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce champions the following six principles for fair and accurate security ratings:

  • Transparency: Services should provide sufficient transparency into their methodologies and data types used to determine their ratings. Rated organizations should be allowed access to their individual rating and data that can impact a change in their rating.
  • Dispute, Correction, and Appeal: Organizations shall have the right to challenge their rating, and rating services should have appeal and dispute resolution processes established.
  • Accuracy and Validation: Ratings should be empirical, data-driven, or notated as expert opinion. 
  • Model Governance: Rating services shall provide reasonable notice to customers regarding any changes in methodologies or data sets and communicate how any changes could impact their existing scores.
  • Independence: No commercial agreements, on any lack thereof, should influence any organization’s rating.
  • Confidentiality: Information disclosed during the rating process should be appropriately protected. Rating services should not publicly publish individual ratings or provide any third parties with organizations’ sensitive or confidential information.

Learn More: What is a Security Posture Score?

Your Small Business Security Posture Checklist

❑ Create an inventory of all your devices, applications, online accounts, proprietary data, customer details, or other sensitive information requiring secure protection.

❑ Rank and prioritize the vulnerabilities and risks threatening your organization.

❑ Review any existing security network infrastructure, policies, or procedures to assess whether solutions align with industry best practices, are compliant with relevant regulations, and aren’t outdated or inconsistent with current systems and data.

❑ Implement security measures such as data encryption, multi-factor authentication, access controls, antivirus software, and more.

❑ Create detailed incident response and recovery plans that identify threats, contain breaches, and quickly restore affected systems or devices.

❑ Train all employees on cybersecurity awareness and best practices and recognize social engineering scams, establishing a security-centric company culture.

❑ Continuously back up data, update software, and patch systems as needed.

❑ Conduct regular assessments, internal audits, and penetration testing to identify potential weaknesses in security controls or new vulnerabilities over time.