How To Perform a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

Janani Nagarajan - March 28, 2024

What is a cybersecurity risk assessment?

A cybersecurity risk assessment is a systematic process aimed at identifying vulnerabilities and threats within an organization’s IT environment, assessing the likelihood of a security event, and determining the potential impact of such occurrences.

In most cases, a risk assessment will also provide recommendations for additional security controls to address the organization’s specific challenges and mitigate the risk of breaches or other disruptive incidents.

Importance of a cybersecurity risk assessment

Almost every modern business maintains an online presence and utilizes connected devices in its operations. This makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks, as any endpoint or online activity on any system can provide a gateway to threat actors looking to access systems, applications, data, and other assets.

Unfortunately, as companies conduct more and more activity digitally, their likelihood of being targeted by cyberattacks also increases. In recent years, the frequency and complexity of these attacks have steadily increased, making it more important than ever for organizations to proactively engage in a variety of cybersecurity measures to mitigate risks.

The recently launched CrowdStrike 2024 Global Threat Report reveals several key findings that underscore the crucial need to conduct routine and comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessments:

  • “Hands-on” attacks are on the rise: Interactive intrusions — such as credential phishing, password spraying, and social engineering — increased 60% in 2023, underscoring the idea that companies need to defend against a variety of attack vectors.
  • Stolen credentials are driving stealthy attacks: Leveraging legitimate credentials is now among the fastest and most common ways for adversaries to gain access. This highlights the need for organizations to defend against difficult-to-detect identity-based techniques.
  • The cloud is particularly vulnerable to attacks: CrowdStrike analysis revealed a 75% increase in cloud intrusions in 2023. Though the shift to the cloud is an important business initiative for many organizations, security must be a central component of the migration strategy.

2024 CrowdStrike Global Threat Report

The 2024 Global Threat Report unveils an alarming rise in covert activity and a cyber threat landscape dominated by stealth. Data theft, cloud breaches, and malware-free attacks are on the rise. Read about how adversaries continue to adapt despite advancements in detection technology.

Download Now

Benefits of a cybersecurity risk assessment

The most obvious benefit of a cybersecurity risk assessment is to enhance the organization’s security posture across the entire IT environment. This is achieved through:

  • Improved visibility into IT assets and applications
  • A complete inventory of user privileges, activity within Active Directory, and identities
  • Identification of weaknesses across devices, applications, and user identities
  • Identification of specific vulnerabilities that could be exploited by a threat actor

In addition to strengthening the organization’s security posture, a risk assessment is also likely to deliver several important secondary benefits, including:

  • Reducing costs through earlier mitigation of vulnerabilities and attack prevention
  • Optimizing limited resources by identifying high-priority activities relative to risk and impact
  • Reducing regulatory risk by ensuring compliance with relevant data requirements
  • Enhancing availability of applications and services through avoided downtime

Considerations before performing a cybersecurity risk assessment

Before conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment, organizations should take several preliminary steps to ensure they are prepared for success.

  1. Set clear objectives for the assessment. For most organizations, the goal of a cyber risk assessment is to reduce risk by identifying specific vulnerabilities and threats within the IT environment and the security measures that can help mitigate them. Beyond that, each organization may have specific objectives with respect to cost savings, resource optimization, or other criteria.
  2. Define the scope of the assessment. Many organizations have a large and complex IT environment. Since most organizations also have limited budgets and resources, it may be necessary to limit the scope of the assessment to cover specific assets and systems or define the type of vulnerabilities and threats the team will consider.
  3. Identify the assessment team. Conducting a successful risk assessment requires specific cybersecurity expertise. For organizations that do not have an in-house cybersecurity team with deep domain knowledge and experience, it may be necessary to engage a trusted and reputable third-party cybersecurity partner to help plan and conduct the assessment.
  4. Develop an assessment framework. To be effective, the cyber risk assessment process must evaluate and analyze risk based on clearly defined criteria that are applied consistently. Establishing a framework to assess risk is critical for ensuring the team is thorough and consistent in their evaluation.

Learn More

Read this blog to learn which vulnerabilities were leverage by insiders to escalate privileges and get access to sensitive information.Blog: How Malicious Insiders Use Known Vulnerabilities Against Their Organizations

7 steps to perform a cybersecurity risk assessment

It is essential to conduct cybersecurity risk assessments regularly to proactively identify weaknesses in security measures, prioritize resources, and develop effective strategies to protect against cyber threats. But how do organizations go about this process?

Here are seven key steps for conducting a comprehensive cyber risk assessment.

1. Perform a data audit and prioritize based on value

Establishing a comprehensive and current asset inventory is a foundational element of every company’s cybersecurity program. This audit will provide visibility over the endpoints, cloud workloads, applications, and accounts being used in your environment, helping your organization identify critical security gaps and reduce the risk of a data breach.

In addition to identifying all assets, organizations should also identify which assets are their so-called “crown jewels.” This could be highly sensitive data or IP that is of extreme value to the business or a critical application or asset.

By defining the IT environment and identifying the most critical assets, organizations can then take steps to protect these high-value items and prioritize implementing targeted security controls to safeguard them.

2. Identify cyber threats and vulnerabilities

In the second part of the risk assessment, the organization will identify all cyber vulnerabilities and threats.

A vulnerability is a weakness within the IT environment that can be exploited during a cyberattack. Some common vulnerabilities include:

  • IT misconfigurations
  • Excessive administrative and access rights
  • Unprotected or insufficiently protected endpoints
  • Unmanaged exposed assets (including users or assets that are not properly deprovisioned)
  • Unpatched applications or systems
  • Weak passwords
  • Weak IT settings

Threats are the tactics, techniques, and methods that threat actors use to exploit a vulnerability. Threats can be internal — originating from an employee or other approved user — or external, originating from outside the organization. Threats include:

  • Malware: Ransomware, trojans, spyware, viruses, and any other type of attack that leverages software in a malicious way
  • Phishing: Spear-phishing and other social engineering attacks
  • Exploit kits: Any toolkit that cybercriminals use to attack specific vulnerabilities in a system or code
  • Distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: A cyberattack that attempts to interfere with the operation of a server or network by flooding it with fake internet traffic
  • SQL injections: A cyberattack that injects malicious SQL code into an application, allowing the attacker to view or modify a database
  • Insider threats: Any cyber risk that comes from inside the organization

To help identify potential threats as they relate to each asset, companies may find it helpful to reference reputable frameworks and methodologies as well as third-party research and reports. These may include:

  • The MITRE ATT&CK® framework, a curated knowledge base that tracks cyber adversary tactics and techniques across the entire attack life cycle
  • The cyber kill chain, an adaptation of the military’s kill chain that outlines the various stages of several common cyberattacks and the points at which the information security team can prevent, detect, or intercept attackers
  • The National Vulnerability Database (NVD), a repository of standards-based vulnerability management data compiled by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Cybersecurity vendor reports and alerts
  • Government-issued reports and alerts

 3. Assess and analyze associated risk

Once the organization identifies its high-priority assets — along with the specific vulnerabilities and potential threats — the infosec team can assess and calculate the corresponding risk levels based on these components.

This step aims to uncover any overlap between critical assets and existing vulnerabilities or threats, helping the organization determine the likelihood and potential impact of an attack. By analyzing this information, the organization can prioritize actions to mitigate risk.

4. Calculate the probability and impact of different cyber risks

Two other important considerations for the risk assessment are:

  1. The probability of an attack, or the likelihood that an actor will exploit the vulnerability
  2. The outcome of a potential attack, or the impact such an event will have on the organization

The likelihood of an attack is based on a combination of factors, such as:

  • Discoverability: The degree to which a vulnerability is known
  • Exploitability: The ease with which an attacker can take advantage of a weakness
  • Reproducibility: The ability of the cybercriminal to leverage the same techniques or exploit the same vulnerability over time

The impact of an attack is usually based on the loss of confidentiality, integrity, and availability of an organization’s data. These factors could then be linked to other outcomes, such as monetary losses, recovery costs, fines, or legal repercussions as a result of noncompliance, reputational harm, and brand erosion.

As part of this process, organizations should develop a clear and consistent assessment tool that helps the organization calculate and quantify impact for all vulnerabilities and corresponding threats within the IT environment. This will ensure that they are able to prioritize activity based on the potential ramifications of an attack.

5. Implement security controls

Any risk present within the IT environment requires additional security controls to mitigate. As part of this step, organizations should assess what specific measures they need to minimize or eliminate the likelihood of an attack.

Security controls can take many forms, including:

 6. Prioritize risks based on a cost-benefit analysis

At this point, organizations review the vulnerabilities that surfaced during the assessment and prioritize them based on which poses the greatest risk to the business. The highest priority ones should be remediated first.

Some prioritization factors include:

  • Vulnerability score based on database or threat intelligence tool
  • Business impact if the weakness is exploited
  • Likeliness of cybercriminals knowing about this weakness and of it getting exploited again
  • Ease of exploitation
  • Availability of a patch required to neutralize the vulnerability

Learn More

This blog highlights the importance of effectively prioritizing vulnerabilities and shows how CrowdStrike can help to do so effectively and with minimal effort.Blog: CrowdStrike Services Help Organizations Prioritize Patching Vulnerabilities

7. Monitor and document results

The final stage is when the assessment tool provides a comprehensive report that gives the security team a snapshot of all vulnerabilities within the environment. The report also prioritizes the vulnerabilities and provides guidance on how to remediate them.

Some of the information about the vulnerabilities found in the report include:

  • When and where vulnerabilities were discovered
  • Systems or assets these vulnerabilities affect
  • How likely they are to be exploited again
  • Potential business damage if it is exploited
  • Availability of a patch and the effort required to deploy it

It is important to keep in mind that cyber risk assessment is an ongoing process. Because the vulnerability and threat landscape changes day to day (if not minute by minute), organizations should conduct assessments regularly and frequently. This will not only help organizations ensure that they have effectively resolved vulnerabilities identified in past scans but help them detect new ones as they arise.

CrowdStrike’s approach

To defend your organization against cyberattacks, you must first understand the gaps, weaknesses, and risk lurking in your IT environment.

The CrowdStrike Technical Risk Assessment is an in-depth vulnerability discovery, threat detection, and risk assessment service that organizations can use to proactively safeguard their data, systems, networks, and users before a breach occurs.

The CrowdStrike Technical Risk Assessment helps organizations:

  • Detect vulnerable applications by providing insight into unpatched or unauthorized applications being used in the environment
  • Remediate unprotected rogue systems by detecting unmanaged endpoints within the network
  • Prevent Active Directory abuse by monitoring administrator credentials across your entire network

Data Sheet:
CrowdStrike® Technical Risk Assessment

Download this data sheet to learn more about the key benefits and outcomes of a Technical Risk Assessment.

Download Now


Janani Nagarajan is Sr Director of Product Marketing, responsible for CrowdStrike Services portfolio and the CrowdStrike platform ecosystem. She brings 15+ years of experience in cybersecurity, cloud and networking technologies and has held prior roles at Cisco and Illumio. She specializes in positioning, messaging and go-to-market strategies, in addition to her engineering, product management, sales and alliances expertise. She currently leads a team of Product Marketers to oversee product and partnership launches, value articulation to sales, partners and customers, and market strategy and execution.