What Is a Data Security Risk Assessment and How Can it Save Your Business?

Recently we discussed the importance of strategically leveraging your business data via quality data analytics. But it’s also vital that you protect that data from cybercriminals and their relentless attacks that can take down your business.

Among its other powerful effects, the global pandemic has forced a sea change on organizations worldwide, abruptly forcing both businesses and public sector agencies towards online customer platforms and remote work. Yet while this shift has made it physically safer to operate, and provided a vital lifeline to stay in business, it’s also exposed organizations to sharply escalated cyber threats, as more of their online traffic runs through public networks.

Today, whether they know it or not, businesses are more vulnerable to cyberattacks than ever. With these rising threats, not to mention highly public—and embarrassing—cyber breaches, data security risk assessment has necessarily become a top priority for smart organizations, with businesses earmarking an ever-higher percentage of their IT spend to keep their data safe from criminals.

A 2021 Gartner survey forecast that business spending worldwide on security and risk management would reach $150 billion, nearly doubling the growth rate of the previous year. This dramatic spike in outlay is largely due to business’s sudden heavy reliance on online platforms and remote work models.

What is a Data Security Risk Assessment?

Data security risk assessment is a process to identify and measure potential risks that exist across an organization’s attack surface, which the U.S. government’s Computer Security Resource Center defines as “the set of points on the boundary of a system, a system element, or an environment where an attacker can try to enter, cause an effect on, or extract data from, that system, system element, or environment.” That’s why a good data security risk assessment closely scrutinizes existing threats from both inside and outside an organization’s IT environment.

The process primarily takes into consideration the presences of vulnerabilities at different points of an attack surface and calculates potential impacts these may cause, in the form of disruption to business continuity and data loss. This information is critical to foresee threats and make necessary adjustments in the business’s use of IT components and the access it allows to critical data.

A data security risk assessment involves the following core considerations:

Business-Critical Data

Business-critical data includes sensitive information regarding an organization’s internal workings and the personal information of its employees and clients. These rank as both the most important and most sensitive data assets of any organization, since it’s legally obligated to ensure they can only be accessed by authorized users.

Therefore, identifying such highly personal information is the key priority in any security assessment, as is developing safeguards and protocols to ensure these assets are locked behind top-flight security.

Data Processing Frameworks

Data processing frameworks consist of end-to-end processes that govern the movement of data through different stages. They function as pipelines to move data sets systematically across an organization’s data repositories. Therefore, an audit of data processing frameworks is an integral part of data security risk assessment, to mitigate threats and eliminate vulnerabilities around critical data assets.

Existing Data Security Threats

Within every organization’s data dwell certain inherent threats. These can be active threats, which means they can disrupt an organization’s IT operations at any time, or they can be dormant, which means they can slip into an organization’s systems undetected and act at a pre-programmed time in the future. Data security risk assessment helps pinpoint such implicit and explicit security threats to proactively block any impacts to the business.

How Do Data Security Risk Assessments Work?

Data security risk assessments enable organizations to identify vulnerabilities in their data security mechanism and provide them with key visibility into potential security loopholes. This allows them to map out strategies to reduce existing vulnerabilities and preemptively address security threats in their IT environment.

Generally, a data security risk assessment takes a deep dive into all an organization’s IT components, including applications, technologies, daily business processes and more, and provides a comprehensive mapping between interconnected frameworks that process data. It also closely scrutinizes the interplay between the data processing frameworks and users to identify defects that could invite cybercriminals in.

Could a Data Security Risk Assessment Save Your Business?

With data breaches up a jaw-dropping 68% in 2021, increasingly the reputation of a business can hinge on the level of security controls it exerts to safeguard its customer data. Calling 2021 “a devastating year for cybersecurity,” Forbes reports in the same year the average cost per breach topped $4 million per incident.

This figure doesn’t even take into account the damaging public relations hit companies take in the media and in customer relations, particularly if the burden falls on customers to protect themselves from subsequent identity thefts. Of at least equal concern are companies that unknowingly endanger key business relationships by allowing a cyber-incursion that infects alliance partners. That’s why every day more organizations are radically altering their spending allocations, prioritizing data security to protect sensitive business data.

A high-level data security risk assessment requires a holistic analysis of an organization’s IT portfolio, isolating the weak links within their back-end and front-end business processes. In addition, a comprehensive set of business rules has to be put in place to ensure all user activities are in line with the security and compliance policies of the organization.

Data security risk assessment allows an organization to implement organization-wide scrutiny of its data assets and provides resolution of any existing security loopholes. It also performs periodic checks on user activity, mandates necessary rules to avoid malicious activities and holds everyone accountable for their roles within an attack surface. And while, for non-expert users, such vital security protocols, like enforced regular password changes, can feel onerous—at least it helps to ensure their employer stays in business.

Thus, a solid data security risk assessment protects businesses by:

Safeguarding Business-Critical Data Now and in the Future

A solid data security risk assessment zeros in on the flow of information across different pipelines, identifying gaps that could expose sensitive data to unauthorized users. This helps an organization eliminate those vulnerabilities and run their data through newly-secured data pipelines, significantly boosting the likelihood that business will be able to avert disastrous breaches that impact both their reputation and their bottom line.

Prioritizing Data In Terms of Criticality

This is particularly beneficial for large organizations that run hyperscale workloads, but don’t have the resources to perform daily data usage audits. With data security risk assessment experts, they can gain visibility into all their data, locate mission-critical assets and set security preferences based on level of risk, in effect putting the strongest locks on the most business-critical assets while still optimizing performance.

Minimizing Overall Data Security Costs—and Liabilities

By providing insights into existing vulnerabilities and threats, data security assessments provide businesses with the most cost-effective way to mitigate risk, while also helping them avert the costs and public relations nightmares that would result from a successful cyberattack. Additionally they protect businesses from the dire legal implications of data breaches, which often result in well-publicized lawsuits.

For Enhanced Data Security, Upgrade Your Technology

As we often note, moving to the cloud means you have virtually instant access to leading edge technology. But what it also offers is state of the art security. Major cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure spend billions on security and monitoring annually, providing a level of expertise, protection and risk minimization that’s virtually impossible for individual businesses to match in on-premise data centers.

Conclusion

In the current business and 24-hour news environment, where large-scale data breaches make headlines virtually every day, a high-level data security risk assessment is the most cost-effective way to safeguard your organization from cyberattacks that can cost you far more than just money. Optimized data security gives businesses the insight they need to assess their current data, prioritize protective measures balanced by performance requirements, and ensure they’re doing the best they can by their customers, employees and partners.

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