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How to Perform an ISO 27001 Risk Assessment

It’s an opportunity to get everyone within your company on the same page and precisely define your risk metrics and methodologies.

A risk assessment is a critical part of the ISO 27001 process. And for obvious reasons. In order to address and correct the information security risks your organisation faces, you first need to identify them. An ISO 27001 risk assessment is an excellent way to systematically and comprehensively identify and evaluate information security risks.

ISO 27001 risk management is not just a compliance requirement; it’s a strategic imperative for modern organisations. In today’s digital landscape, various types of data breaches and cyber threats are a constant menace for many organisations. Whether it’s the threat of hackers exploiting vulnerabilities, data leaks from insider threats, or the evolving landscape of cyberattacks, the risks are ever-present.

Therefore, a proactive approach to risk assessment and management is crucial. ISO 27001 provides a comprehensive framework that enables organizations to identify, evaluate, and mitigate information security risks systematically. By implementing ISO 27001 risk management practices, companies not only enhance their security posture but also gain a competitive edge by demonstrating their commitment to safeguarding sensitive information.

In other words, the ISO 27001 risk assessment isn’t simply an unstructured analysis. It’s an opportunity to get everyone within your company on the same page and precisely define your risk metrics and methodologies.

That may sound complicated, so let’s break the process down step by step.

ISO 27001 risk assessment checklist

Let’s start at the beginning. If you’re reading this, you likely already appreciate that ISO 27001 is one of the most recognised and respected information security standards globally. Successfully implementing an ISO 27001 information security management system (ISMS) is a rigorous, multi-step process.

How do you know which risks to assess?

In fact, there is a considerable amount of preparatory work that needs to happen before the risk assessment even takes place. The company should appoint a team to drive the process and draw up an implementation plan. You then should define the scope of your ISMS. That is, systems, assets and departments are to be covered by the ISMS.

Defining the scope is a crucial strategic decision. If it is too broad, implementing ISO 27001 may be too complex, unwieldy and expensive. On the other hand, if the scope is too narrow, you risk gaps in your data security. Carefully defining the scope is a good way to ensure critical infrastructure and processes aren’t being overlooked in your overall information security process.

The process to determine the scope of your ISMS occurs prior to the risk assessment. But we can see how they are related. The ISO 27001 risk assessment procedure is a structured, targeted process performed according to the implementation plan and within the defined scope.

Evaluating risk

Within the framework detailed above, the risk assessment is the process that aims to identify data security risks to the company. The assessment should also determine how likely each risk is to occur and the potential consequences for the organisation.

The risk assessment is followed by risk treatment, which aims to remedy the identified risks.

Implementing the ISO 27001 risk assessment & treatment

The risk assessment is much easier to understand and manage when you break it down into its component parts. This brief risk assessment checklist will help you cover all your bases.

Define your assessment methodology

ISO 27001 doesn’t precise a methodology for assessing risk. It’s up to you to ensure you devise a comprehensive approach that ensures everyone in the organisation is on the same page. What metrics and rules will you use to measure risk? What scale will everyone grade risks on? Will it be qualitative (e.g. defined by subjective metrics like low, medium or high risk) or quantitative (with numerical values assigned to risk)?

Consider an asset-based risk approach

There are two paths for assessing risk under ISO 27001: scenario-based and asset-based.

A scenario-based risk assessment works by positing risk scenarios and then considering what factors would produce that risk. The approach is relatively simple and fast, but there is a significant possibility of overlooking critical risk factors.

With an asset-based approach, each asset within the organisation is carefully assessed for vulnerabilities. This approach is more time-consuming, but it is generally more robust and comprehensive.

What is the risk impact?

Once you have determined threats and vulnerabilities within your organisation, you should evaluate the consequences of each risk.

Doing so will help you prioritise which controls to implement. Threats and vulnerabilities that potentially produce the biggest impact need to be dealt with accordingly.

For example, threats that could be reputationally damaging or lead to significant financial losses will naturally be prioritised.

By contrast, some vulnerabilities may be associated with relatively low risk impact. Ameliorating such risks will be a lower priority. Some businesses may even decide to accept such risks, considering the relatively low potential harm.

Create a risk treatment plan

Once you have identified risks, you need to account for how you will address each one. As detailed above, not every vulnerability will necessarily be deemed high priority.

According to the ISO 27001 protocol, there are four recognised actions you can take to address a vulnerability:

  • Treat: Implement controls to mitigate the chances of the risk occurring

  • Avoid: Prevent the conditions in which the risk could take place

  • Transfer: Engage a third party to mitigate the risk (e.g. insurance)

  • Retain: Accept the risk because the cost of dealing with it is higher than the potential impact

Consider External Experts

To achieve ISO 27001 compliance, organisations need a robust risk assessment – Consider involving compliance experts who specialise in information security and risk management. These professionals bring really valuable insights and experience to the table and can help your organisation identify various blind spots and vulnerabilities that internal teams might overlook. Additionally, external experts can provide an unbiased perspective on risk severity and assist in determining appropriate risk treatment strategies suited for your organisation’s needs.

Article originated in Security Boulevard

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