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Most people have an abstract idea of what “cybersecurity risk” is, but they may have trouble defining it or have an understanding of the cybersecurity risks within their organization—especially third-party cybersecurity risk. If you want to protect your organization effectively and design the best strategies to overcome your biggest threats, you’ll need to be able to define and understand those risks.

The Basics of Cybersecurity Risk

Cybersecurity helps protect an organization from external digital threats. According to CISA, “Cybersecurity is the art of protecting networks, devices and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.”

Therefore, a cybersecurity risk is the risk associated with cybersecurity; it’s the probability that you’ll lose data or suffer some other loss from a data breach, cyberattack or malware infestation. It’s the potential harm you may suffer in your digital infrastructure as a result of a cyber threat.

Individual risks and threats emerge from two conditions: a motivated party, or actor, deliberately attempting to attack your organization, and a sufficient vulnerability, or weakness in your security system, that can be exploited. 

With this in mind, when performing risk assessments on your vendors, you must consider potential harm or consequences that may result from such an attack. This will help you prioritize different systems, put proper controls in place and design better protective measures overall.

Types of Cyber Threat Actors

You can better understand the concept of cyber risk if you have an understanding of the types of cyber threats you might face as an organization. Here are some of the common culprits behind cyberattacks:

  • Nation-states. If you have information of national importance or if your organization plays a major role in the operations of your country, entire nation-states may be motivated to try and acquire that information.
  • Hacktivists. Sometimes, hackers gather in groups as a way to coordinate attacks against organizations they deem to be in conflict with their political agenda or social stance.
  • Enterprise actors. Even more common, organizations are hacked or breached by rival organizations. If a rival can get a hold of your sensitive, proprietary information, they may be able to use it against you, exploiting it to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Profiteers. Many would-be hackers and cybercriminals are simply interested in their own bottom-line profit. They’ll launch a ransomware attack against your entire company just for the chance of getting paid a decent ransom.
  • Insiders. There’s always a chance that a disgruntled employee (or one paid off by a competitor) is interested in launching an attack from within. If they have access to your systems, it would be trivially easy to exploit them.
  • Lone wolf actors. It’s also possible to face attacks from lone wolf actors who are independently motivated.

Better understanding the potential impact of the motives and psychological profiles of these actors can help you better guard against them.

Types of Vulnerabilities

There are many types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities you’ll need to consider when evaluating your potential cybersecurity risk, including:

  • Unsecure technology. If there’s a significant hole in the technology you use, any marginally skilled cybercriminal could potentially exploit it. For example, Meltdown was a widely reported security vulnerability affecting a wide variety of common microprocessors; with knowledge of this inherent flaw, cybercriminals could launch a rogue process to read all memory, even without direct authorization.
  • Bad security habits. Most organizations suffer from poor cybersecurity habits. For example, they use the same password for all applications, or choose weak passwords that are easy to guess. You don’t need to be a cybersecurity expert to establish the most rudimentary (and often, the most important) habits.
  • Ignorant employees. Employees who aren’t knowledgeable about common attack vectors may unwittingly open the door to cyberattacks. For example, if they plug an unfamiliar flash drive into a company computer, or if they click a download link in an email from an unfamiliar sender, they could instantly put your entire organization at risk.
  • Third-party vulnerabilities. Of course, we also need to consider third-party vulnerabilities. Your organization may be absolutely pristine—it may be well-guarded against nearly every type of cyberattack. But are your third-party vendors and partners following equally regimented practices? All it takes is a single third-party with a single weakness enabling access to your organization and your data. It is critical to have a third-party security strategy in place to protect yourself.

Potential Harm

There are several ways to evaluate the potential harm that can result from a cybersecurity risk, including negative effects in these areas:

  • Loss and recoverability. If your data is compromised, can you restore a backup and recover easily?
  • Financial damage. Will your company stand to lose money if it’s attacked or breached?
  • Reputational damage. How much will your reputation suffer in the eyes of stakeholders and customers if you’re the victim of a publicly known cyberattack?
  • Legal consequences. You may be legally responsible for keeping consumer data secure. What are the legal consequences if you fail to comply with these laws?

Tips for Identifying and Mitigating Cybersecurity Risk

If you want to do a better job of identifying and mitigating cybersecurity risk in your organization, there are some important tips you can follow:

Work with professionals. Hire a dedicated team of cybersecurity professionals to help you understand and respond to the latest threats. The right talent can help you plan a sufficiently robust system.

Use the right technology. The right tools can make all the difference. Invest in platforms that automate your security and make it easy to monitor for potential threats.

Stay up-to-date. The world of cybersecurity is always changing. It’s important to invest in ongoing education so you can stay up-to-date with the latest standards.

Don’t neglect third-party vulnerabilities. Too many organizations are vulnerable to third-party security issues without even realizing it. Don’t neglect this important element of your cybersecurity risk mitigation strategy.

Without the right third-party security upgrades, your organization will remain vulnerable. Panorays can help; it has all the tools and features you need to automate, accelerate and scale your third-party security process. Request a demo today to find out how it works!

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