Organizations are increasingly aware of the need to secure their digital infrastructure and safeguard their data — especially when you consider the price of not doing so.
The global average cost of a data breach hit a staggering $4.35 million in 2022, per IBM and Ponemon Institute’s latest Cost of a Data Breach Report. That figure is over twice as much in the United States alone at $9.35 million.
Ethical hackers discovered over 65,000 vulnerabilities in 2022 alone, up 21% year over year. From 2021 to 2022, global cyberattacks increased by 38%, per Check Point Research, while global cybercrime costs are projected to reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.
All of this is to say that when it comes to falling victim to a cyberattack, it’s an ever-increasing likelihood with an ever more expensive impact — so businesses must take proper precautions to ensure they’re adequately protected. The easiest first step towards addressing this challenge is a security assessment.
What is a security assessment?
A security assessment evaluates how well an organization’s systems and processes protect against cyber threats.
At its core, a security assessment is like a “check-up” for your digital infrastructure. It identifies and evaluates the risks posed by attackers based on the vulnerabilities that could be exploited. The goal of these assessments is to identify the weaknesses in your organization’s security posture so you can take corrective action and improve your defenses against malicious actors.
Types of security assessments — and what they do
Security assessments are typically tailored to the individual organization and take into consideration both the size and complexity of their operations. Assessments usually involve a thorough review of all systems, networks, and applications within an organization’s environment — both physical and virtual.
During these assessments, security professionals evaluate things like system configurations, data access control policies, authentication protocols, software patch levels, and more.
There are several different types of security assessments. Vulnerability scans, for instance, are meant to identify any known vulnerabilities within your organization’s environment and provide actionable intelligence on how to mitigate or fix them.
Penetration tests — or ethical hacking — are simulated attacks against your company’s digital and/or physical assets designed to assess the overall security posture. They can go as far as to test physical security measures, like office access, and procedural weaknesses that can be exploited using phishing and social engineering attacks.
Risk assessments take the identified vulnerabilities and gauge them against internal factors like criticality of the systems, access control policies, and user privileges, as well as external threats, like observed exploitations in the wild, data breaches, or malicious actors targeting the organization. The end result is a better understanding of your risk profile and risk-based prioritization for remediation.
Other forms of security assessments include tabletop exercises, system reviews, and threat modeling.
Why security assessments are crucial
How rampant are cyber threats? Let’s look at the facts.
Global cyberattacks rose 38% in 2022, per Check Point Research. There were 255 million phishing attacks detected last year — up 61% compared to 2021 — and ransomware breaches climbed 13%, more than the last five years combined, according to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigation’s Report.
The reality is, in today’s digital world, data breaches and cyberattacks have become an unfortunate reality for many organizations. And as we’ve already pointed out, the cost of these incidents is staggering. That’s why security assessments are so valuable, as they give you a greater understanding of your current cybersecurity posture, help you deduce vulnerabilities and risks, identify proper solutions, and prioritize remediation based on risk.
Security assessments can also help you meet compliance requirements. Many regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), require regular audits to ensure your business is meeting its security obligations.
By regularly conducting security assessments, you can demonstrate that you’re taking the necessary steps to protect customers’ data and comply with these laws.
Just got your security assessment back — now what?
While security assessments can provide invaluable insights into the effectiveness of your business’ security strategy, they only work if you know how to interpret and act on the results.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your security assessment:
- Pinpoint the perfect resources for success. The assessment should be customized to your organization’s specific security needs, so make sure you select the right tools and processes for evaluating your systems. For example, if you’re searching for vulnerabilities in web applications, you should turn to a penetration test rather than a network scan.
- Prioritize vulnerabilities based on risk. Security assessments identify a range of potential vulnerabilities, from minor issues to major flaws that can be exploited by attackers. However, high-level vulnerabilities aren’t always the greatest threat to your organization. Identify your biggest risks and prioritize those vulnerabilities to ensure you make the most effective use of your resources.
- ‘Plug the holes.’ After you’ve discovered your most pressing concerns, implement solutions to address them. This could include patching vulnerable systems, implementing additional security measures such as encryption or authentication, or deploying new tools and processes to improve your overall security posture.
- Don’t let your guard down. Security assessments provide a snapshot of your current security posture, but the threat landscape and your infrastructure are constantly evolving. Consistently monitor your environment and conduct regular assessments to ensure you remain aware of any new threats or vulnerabilities.
Making security assessments work for you
Security assessments are an integral part of an organization’s overall security strategy and can make all the difference in protecting data from cyber threats.
They provide valuable insights that can help drive your company’s cybersecurity strategy, allowing you to identify potential weaknesses and prioritize solutions to improve your overall security posture. They can help you stay on top of compliance requirements as well.
Of course, security assessments are only useful when applied properly. So, focus on developing a comprehensive strategy that considers your environment, addresses your specific needs, and prioritizes the remediation of any discoveries.
This means not only implementing solutions like vulnerability scans and penetration tests but also staying up to date with industry trends, streamlining processes (where possible), training staff on best cybersecurity practices, and investing in new technologies. By taking a holistic approach to risk management, you can ensure you’re well-equipped to face any potential cyber threats.