As businesses continue to increase their reliance on technology, the need for robust cybersecurity defenses becomes more critical. But with so many potential threats and vulnerabilities, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to allocating resources. What are your business-critical assets? What could be the best strategy to protect them? In this blog post, we will outline a step-by-step process your organization can use to prioritize its cybersecurity resources and keep its critical assets secure.
1. Identify your business-critical assets
The first step is to identify which assets are critical to your business and what vulnerabilities could pose a threat to those assets. Is it customer data? Financial information? Proprietary processes or products? Doing this can be done from three key perspectives:
You know what asset matters to your business, but knowing whether and how much they matter to malicious attackers can help you assess their resulting level of risk. This level of risk must reflect the overall risk in terms of cybersecurity and business impact; As such, it must identify what an attacker could do with your assets – ranging from data theft and breach to ransomware attacks – and how much financial and reputational damage this would cause.
Looking at your list of critical assets with a corresponding level of risk for each, what would either the complete compromise, theft, or destruction of any of them would mean for your organization in terms of damage? The assets resulting in the biggest impact or damage are the most critical and need to be prioritized. That being said, the value of an asset is not always clear and can depend on your specific industry or organization.
What would it cost your organization to replace a lost or stolen asset? How much would it cost to repair the damage done to an asset? And how much would it cost in terms of reputation if your organization’s cybersecurity were breached and its customer data leaked? Asking yourself the right questions can help you put a monetary value on an asset and better understand its importance to your business.
All of these factors – risk, impact, and cost – need to be considered when identifying which assets are critical to your business and should be prioritized for cybersecurity.
2. Involve top management from the start
One of the most important steps in this process is involving senior management from the get-go. Cybersecurity should be seen as a business risk, not just an IT issue, and top management needs to be aware of the potential consequences of a breach. By getting C-suite buy-in from day 1, you can ensure that cybersecurity receives the attention and budget it deserves.
3. Identify, classify, and rate potential threats
Once you have management on board, you need to identify, classify, and rate the most potential threats to your critical assets.
Operational risks are those that can cause business interruption, such as system downtime or data loss.
Hardware risks are those that threaten the physical integrity of your devices, like fires or flooding.
Software risks are anything that can impact the normal functioning of your software, like malware or coding errors.
Project risks are anything that could jeopardize the successful completion of a project, such as changes in scope or budget.
By staff risks
Staff or people risks are any risks related to your employees, like social engineering or insider threats.
By data risks
Data risks are those that could lead to data loss or corruption, like human error or cyberattacks.
By vendor risks
Vendor risks are any risks that could come from using a third-party service, like data breaches or cyber espionage.
By disaster and business continuity risks
Disaster and business continuity risks are those that could cause long-term damage to your business, like power outages or natural disasters.
By compliance and security risks
Compliance and security risks are those that could lead to legal or financial penalties, like non-compliance with data privacy or payment card data regulations.
Rate threats by level
Using a scale of cyber risks, rate your threats by severity level, between 1 and 5 (or very low and very high). This will help you determine your threshold of unacceptable risks. e.g.
- Level 1 (very low)
- Level 2 (low)
- Level 3 (moderate)
- Level 4 (high – threshold)
- Level 5 (very high)
Each severity level has a different threshold of acceptable risk. For example, a level-1 threat may be something that can be mitigated with little effort or cost, while a level-5 threat may be something that could have disastrous consequences for your business. Keep in mind that the severity level is not static – it can change over time as the cybersecurity landscape or your organization evolves.
4. Establish a financial scale of cyber risks
Senior management might not be able to make the right call about cybersecurity threats without a clear, pre-defined potential financial loss impact for each of them. Your financial loss scale of cyber risks, between 1 and 5, or between very low and very high, could help you determine your threshold of unacceptable risks. e.g.
- Level 1 (very low): Between $10,000 and $34,000.
- Level 2 (low): Between $35,000 and $59,000.
- Level 3 (moderate): Between $60,000 and $99,000.
- Level 4 (high – threshold): Over $100,000.
- Level 5 (very high): Over $250,000.
This financial scale could include, for each bracket, examples of threats – data breach, denial-of-service, or ransomware attacks – with their corresponding level of financial loss. This tool will help you prioritize your cybersecurity resources given your actual level of threats and potential financial losses.
5. Create your threat likelihood scale
Building on your financial scale, establish the likelihood scale by percentages for each level of risk. e.g.
- Level 1 (very low): Between 1% and 19%.
- Level 2 (low): Between 20% and 39%.
- Level 3 (moderate): Between 40% and 59%.
- Level 4 (high – threshold): Over 60%.
- Level 5 (very high): Over 80%.
6. Define your cybersecurity strategy
Having identified your assets and rated their threats, potential damage, and likelihood, you can start to develop a cybersecurity strategy that aligns with your overall business priorities.
What are your business goals?
Is it to increase revenue? Reduce costs? Enter new markets? Protect your reputation? Your cybersecurity strategy should support your business goals and objectives. For example, if your goal is to enter new markets, you’ll need to invest in cybersecurity technologies that help you meet compliance requirements in those markets; but if your goal is to reduce costs, you might want to focus on cybersecurity solutions that help you automate tasks or improve efficiency.
How much risk are you willing to accept?
The level of acceptable risk will differ from organization to organization. For some, the goal might be to eliminate all cybersecurity risks, while for others it might be to manage them to a level that is acceptable given their potential impact on the business. To that end, conducting either a network penetration test, an application penetration test, a cloud penetration test, or even an adversary simulation will allow you to understand what risks you are currently facing and how to mitigate them.
What is your budget?
Your budget can help you prioritize cybersecurity solutions and investments. For example, if you have a limited budget, you might want to focus on cybersecurity solutions that have the biggest impact or address the most critical risks first; on the other hand, if you have a larger budget, you might want to invest in a more comprehensive cybersecurity strategy covering a wider range of risks.
By answering these questions, you can start prioritizing which cybersecurity measures or solutions will be most effective for your organization.
7. Define roles and responsibilities
Once you have developed your cybersecurity strategy, you need to define roles and responsibilities within your organization that will put it into action. This will help ensure that everyone knows what their part is in protecting your business-critical assets. These roles can range from the Chief Information Security Officer (CISOs) – who is responsible for the overall cybersecurity strategy – to the system administrator – who is responsible for maintaining the security of your systems.
When defining roles and responsibilities, it’s important to consider not only what tasks need to be completed but also who has the skills and knowledge to complete them. For example, if you need to implement a new cybersecurity solution, you’ll need someone with the technical expertise to do so; but if you need to develop and implement a cybersecurity policy, you’ll need someone with both the technical knowledge and the ability to communicate with different stakeholders.
Organizations should regularly review and update their cybersecurity priorities as new threats emerge and business priorities change. By following these steps, businesses can ensure that they are properly protecting their data and systems against the most critical cybersecurity threats.
A 2022 Ponemon Cost of Insider Threats Global Report indicates that the average cost of a cybersecurity incident is around $11.45 million. It also reports that malicious, negligent, and compromised users in any organizations form a serious and increasing risk, with insider threat incidents rising by 44%. At any rate, prioritizing cybersecurity has become essential for the survival of any business, and the steps mentioned in this blog post can help you achieve that. This process also helps you ask the right questions and shape up the best roadmap to help keep all of your business-critical assets secure.
Contact us if you need help improving your enterprise security.