How to Approach Cybersecurity Risk Management

Published April 2, 2024
by Dave Stenger

In business today, cybersecurity risk management has transcended from an optional safeguard to an indispensable component of a company’s strategy. “Risk-free” operations are unfortunately unattainable as maintaining an online presence and possessing digital assets of any kind are enough to invite some level of cyber risk. From minor to catastrophically detrimental, different risks come with varying severity. Every organization’s risk tolerance depends on its size, industry, scope of work, data sensitivity, and many other factors. Regardless, an effective cyber risk management strategy is critical for any organization to protect its assets and reputation and mitigate cyber threats.

Implementing a Risk Management Framework

Developing a comprehensive risk management framework is critical for outlining an organization’s tailored approach to identifying, assessing, monitoring, and mitigating cybersecurity risks.

Various cybersecurity risk management frameworks developed by government agencies offer expert guidance for organizations in navigating risk management.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) stands out as one prominent option in the space, offering an extensive compilation of best practices for standardizing cyber risk management efforts. Initially aimed at securing the United States’ critical infrastructure, the NIST CSF’s principles broadly apply to any organization grappling with cyber risks. Customization of the framework is recommended to accommodate the unique standards, resources, and risks faced by different sectors and individual organizations. 

The NIST CSF promotes a structured yet adaptable approach, free from ties to specific technologies, allowing organizations the flexibility to select protective measures—like firewalls and encryption—that align with their risk profiles and financial constraints. This framework encompasses five critical functions for managing cyber risk: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover, each encompassing a series of actions designed to fortify an organization’s cybersecurity defenses.

1. Identify: Discover and Understand Your Risk

Consider this step your getting-to-know-you phase with your organization’s digital environment. It’s all about understanding what’s at stake—your systems, your data, and all the technology that keeps your business operating. Here’s how you can approach it:

  • Catalog Your Assets: List everything from laptops to software apps to customer databases. Knowing what you have is the first step to protecting it. Maintain organized hardware and software assets inventory. 
  • Understand Your Business Context: Consider how your digital assets tie into your broader business goals. Which data or systems are vital for your day-to-day operations?
  • Assess Your Risks: Look at what could go wrong. What are the vulnerabilities in your systems? What are the potential threats out there?
  • Strategize: Once risks are identified, assign a risk score or ranking to prioritize them based on potential impact and the likelihood of occurrence to allocate resources or find solutions for the most critical risks first. Prioritizing risks can help organizations make smarter, informed decisions when allocating resources or infrastructure for risk management.
  • Governance: Set up rules and policies that support your cybersecurity goals, assigning clear roles and responsibilities. It’s about ensuring everyone’s on the same page about protecting your digital assets.

2. Protect: Discover and Understand Your Risk

Once you know what you’re dealing with, the next step is to put protective measures in place. Here’s what you can do:

  • Control Access: Ensure only authorized people can access your critical systems and information. Less access means less risk.
  • Train Users: Equip your employees with the knowledge to spot and avoid cyber threats. A well-informed team is your first line of defense.
  • Safeguard Your Data: Use encryption and other security measures to protect your data, both where it’s stored and when it’s moving from place to place.
  • Update and Patch: Regularly update your systems and software to patch any vulnerabilities. Keeping your tech up-to-date is like fortifying your castle’s walls.
  • Consistently Backup Data and Devices: Regularly conduct system-wide backups.
  • Employ Protective Technology: Use antivirus and scanning software, firewalls, and other tools to detect and block threats before they can do harm.

3. Detect: Observe and Watch for Potential Threats

Detection is all about vigilance—constantly watching for signs of a cyberattack. Here’s how to stay alert:

  • Monitor for Anomalies: Be familiar with the organization’s expected uses and flows of sensitive data. Set up systems to monitor your network for unusual activity that may indicate an attack.
  • Use Tools: Research tools that can help you monitor your systems in real time and watch for any signs of a breach. Test and update detection processes.
  • Keep Detailed Logs: Improve your ability to detect cybersecurity events and potential incidents rapidly. Maintain detailed records of network activity so you can spot and investigate suspicious behavior.

4. Respond: Take Action Against Attacks

Despite your best efforts, breaches can happen. In this step, you use your plan to deal with incidents swiftly and effectively. To respond, you will need:

  • A Battle Plan: Develop an incident response plan that outlines exactly what to do during a cyberattack.
  • Clear Communication: Make sure everyone knows their role in a crisis, and keep lines of communication open with stakeholders inside and outside your organization.
  • Analysis of the Situation: Investigate the breach to understand what happened and how to prevent it from worsening.
  • Steps to Contain and Mitigate: Take immediate steps to limit the damage, such as isolating affected systems and removing malicious content.
  • To Learn and Adapt: After the dust settles, review what happened and update your response plan based on lessons learned.

5. Recover: Bounce Back to Become Resilient

This step focuses on returning your operations to normal after an incident and learning from the experience. Here’s how to approach recovery:

  • Plan Your Comeback: Have a recovery plan outlining how to restore any services or data affected by the breach.
  • Keep Everyone in the Loop: Communicate with your stakeholders throughout the recovery process, informing them of your progress. Proactively manage public relations and company reputation with honesty and humility.
  • Make Improvements: Use the incident as a learning opportunity to strengthen your defenses against future attacks. Update recovery plans as lessons are learned and areas of improvement are addressed.

As new cyber threats continue to emerge and evolve, regularly reexamining risk potential and returning to risk assessment processes is important for maintaining an effective cybersecurity and risk management program.

Find Help for Each Step of Your Risk Management Journey at RAMPxchange

While the NIST CSF and similar frameworks are open for anyone to use, many organizations seek to leverage the expertise of cybersecurity consultants or service providers when beginning or continuing their risk management journey. The RAMPxchange marketplace includes members and highly rated providers well-versed in effective cyber risk management strategies and solutions. Connect with a RAMPxchange representative today to learn more and join our active, collaborative cybersecurity marketplace.