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5 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring Anyone to do An Information Security Risk Assessment

Q1: Is a human being completing the risk assessment?

Why ask? Buyer beware - software programs or tools that claim the ability to conduct a risk assessment by scanning your network with little to no human interaction should raise concern! These tools will generally do a nice job discovering vulnerabilities, but vulnerabilities are not risks by default. Risk requires the presence of a vulnerability PLUS the action of threat actor. To illustrate this concept using an example from the tangible world lets visualize a car. The car is parked, and the doors are unlocked. A premature conclusion would be to state that the doors being unlocked translates to risk. If you apply critical thought however, you will discover that the unlocked doors are simply a vulnerability that could be exploited. You would need more information to determine actual risk. Is there anything valuable in the car? What is the crime rate associated with the place the car is parked? What would the impact be if someone gained access to the car? The same logic applies to the digital world. A risk assessment requires critical thought to occur beyond the discovery of vulnerabilities by software tools.

ISM’s Answer: All risk assessments conducted by our 3rd part security team are led by an industry certified and experienced Information Security Consultant. It is their duty to not only consider the presence of vulnerabilities but to also consider the likelihood of threat actors exploiting those vulnerabilities. They provide the reason, logic and critical thinking that software utilities fail to offer.

Q2: Does the assessment provide more than a basic analysis of your cybersecurity control framework?

Why ask? The presence of so many cybersecurity frameworks and standards encourage many service providers to focus solely on the existence of the cybersecurity controls that are prescribed in the framework or standard. The absence or deficiency of any given control does not automatically translate to the establishment of risk.

A risk assessment should involve more than reviewing a checklist of controls, like firewalls or data encryption to determine your unique risk profile. An assessment of your control framework should serve as an input to the risk assessment process but never replace it. If you wanted to buy and apple, you wouldn't shop for a banana. If you want to buy a risk assessment, then you should not entertain proposals that only provides a cybersecurity controls assessment.

ISM’s Answer: Our risk assessments are performed according to the globally adopted NIST SP800-30 guide for conducting risk assessments. It a comprehensive engagement designed to identify unique risk and threat scenarios vs. simply checking to see if cybersecurity controls are implemented.

Q3: Can they explain how they prepare your organization for the risk assessment?

Why ask? Conducting a risk assessment will require some level of participation from you and your organization. The assessors or consultants responsible for identifying risks and providing recommendations will need input. It is important for them to prepare your organization for the risk assessment so that proper expectations are set, and everyone involved clearly understands their roles and responsibilities. Elements of preparation include:

• Understanding the objective and purpose of the risk assessment

• Defining the scope of the risk assessment

• Identifying assumptions of constraints that exist

• Choose the risk model, assessment scales and approach

• Assign roles and responsibilities to all participants

ISM’s Answer: We define a custom scope of work for each and every risk assessment and will not start the assessment until all of the proper planning and preparation is completed. It sets the tone for a successful engagement and a fantastic outcome.

Q4: Do they insist on following the NIST SP 800-30 Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments?

Why ask? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a globally recognized organization that defines standards and best practices. Risk Assessments, according NIST, should be conducted as follows:

Identify Threat Sources - who are the bad actors and what is their capability and intent?

Identify Threat Events - what are the bad things that could occur?

Identify Vulnerabilities - what conditions exist that would influence the success of threat sources?

Determine Likelihood - how likely is it for a threat event to occur?

Determine Impact - what is the adverse impact from threat events occurring?

Determine Risk - what is the actual risk associated with potential threat events?

Neglecting to complete any of these steps reduces your ability to accurately identify risk and reduce risk over time. Any attempt to consolidate the exercises listed above is shortsighted.

ISM's Answer: Every risk assessment performed by 3rd party security firm is strictly aligned with the NIST SP 800-30 guidelines. We never skip a step and understand the value in conducting risk assessments in a way that provides the most comprehensive result.

Q5: Do they provide a deliverable that is easy to understand and actionable?

Why ask? The final report, or deliverable provided at the conclusion of the risk assessment should contain all the content needed for you to:

• Understand your unique risk profile

• Consider formal recommendations to mitigate or reduce risk

• Define information security initiatives & allocate resources

• Satisfy cybersecurity compliance requirements

You should request a sample report or deliverable from the service providers you may be considering hiring. Look for evidence that their report provides the desired benefits listed above. Risk assessment results are documents that should be used to justify the resources required to make big reductions in risk. It is in your best interest for the report to be great, not mediocre or incomplete.

ISM’s Answer: Our risk assessment deliverables are organized, comprehensive and are actionable. We also spend at least an hour with each client to present the deliverable to stakeholders, explain its content and answer any questions. We are happy to share a sample deliverable for you review at any time.

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