Home How-To-Guides The Subjectivity Trap: Why Objective Risk Assessment is Crucial for Your Business's Security Posture

The Subjectivity Trap: Why Objective Risk Assessment is Crucial for Your Business's Security Posture

Posted: November 27, 2023

a sign on a stone wall warning of danger

Problems with Subjective Risk Assessment

1. Bias Introduced by Subjectivity Leads to Skewed Risk Assessment

One of the most significant problems with subjective risk assessment is the introduction of bias, which can lead to a skewed interpretation of the risk. Everyone has a unique risk perception, influenced by their experience, judgment, and personal bias. These individual biases can lead to incorrect estimation and prioritization of risks, resulting in a distorted understanding of the impact on a business operation.

For instance, if an individual has witnessed a specific risk event occurring historically, they may overestimate that risk's likelihood, wasting resource allocation towards a low-occurring risk. Similarly, a lack of exposure to a particular risk might cause the individual to underestimate its probability and potential impact, leading to unforeseen and unprepared scenarios.

2. Inaccurate Representation of Risks Due to Too Much Subjectivity

Excessive subjectivity can also lead to an unfair presentation of risks. A purely subjective risk assessment depends heavily on individual judgments, which may not accurately represent the reality of the risk. This level of subjectivity can undermine the objectivity necessary for making informed decisions, leading to incorrect conclusions about the risks and appropriate mitigation strategies.

For instance, a risk management team might have different opinions concerning a specific risk's likelihood or severity. Too much reliance on individual judgments can introduce discrepancies in the risk assessment due to the team members' varying degrees of risk tolerance. This variance in views can lead to conflicting risk mitigation strategies, resulting in ineffective risk management.

3. Poorer Overall Security Posture Due to Subjective Risk Assessments

Subjective risk assessments also adversely affect an organization's overall security posture. When risks are not objectively assessed, a company might fail to mitigate those requiring immediate attention. Inaccurate assessments can result in the over-protection of some assets, while others might be neglected, leading to a poorer security posture that doesn't effectively protect against potential threats.

For instance, a subjective risk assessment might overvalue the criticality of certain assets and divert most resources toward their protection. Meanwhile, other essential resources can be undervalued and vulnerable to potential threats, resulting in a weak overall security posture. Therefore, relying solely on subjective risk assessment can adversely impact a company's ability to effectively defend against and respond to potential security threats.

Steps to Objective Risk Assessment

1. Identifying Critical Resources and Data that Will Cause Monetary Impact on the Business During a Security Incident

The first step towards an objective risk assessment is to enumerate the business's critical resources and data. When compromised, these are usually assets that could lead to significant operational disruptions or reputation loss, making the business vulnerable to financial damages. They may include confidential customer data, proprietary software, hardware infrastructure, etc. This identification process requires a keen understanding of the business and its operation.

2. Understanding the Potential Impact of Each Critical Resource and Data

After identifying crucial resources and data, it is important to understand the potential impact if they were to be compromised. Analysts need to quantitatively measure the financial implications of a potential security incident affecting these resources and data. This understanding will help prioritize allocating resources for protection and threat mitigation.

3. Analyzing the Threat Landscape Relevant to the Business

Next, the organization needs to identify potential threats that could affect the identified resources and data. This threat identification requires staying current on the ever-evolving threat landscape relevant to their industry. It involves understanding the techniques and resources that attackers use in their campaigns and the vulnerabilities in systems and processes that might be exploited.

4. Mapping Each of These Threats to Their Respective Critical Resources and Data

Once identified, threats should be mapped to the respective critical resources or data under risk. This step forges a connection between threats and assets, creating a better understanding of which resources are at risk and the corresponding threat. It ensures that risk management efforts are strategically distributed, and that all identified threats are associated with a corresponding asset.

5. Evaluating Risk Exposure or the Probability for the Risks to Materialize

Having mapped the threats to corresponding resources, evaluating the risk exposure or the likelihood of the risks materializing is essential. Evaluating risk exposure utilizes statistical methods and data analysis to estimate the probability of a risk event. It provides valuable insight into risk management priorities and can assist in developing contingency plans.

6. Translating Risks to Monetary Impact for Executives and Board Members

As a next step, it is crucial to translate the identified risks into financial terms. This translation helps executives and board members understand the implications of potential security breaches and assists in allocating resources efficiently. Expressing risk in monetary terms can lend perspective on the potential impact of a security incident and allows decision-makers to weigh the cost of risk mitigation against the potential damage.

7. Aggregating Risks into Understandable Groupings like Business Units, Product Lines, Applications, etc.

Lastly, risks should be aggregated into clear, understandable groupings relevant to the organization for easy decision-making. This could include business units, product lines, applications, or other groupings that make sense for the organization. This practice provides an overview of specific threat areas, allows for more precise risk mitigation, and enables easier communication of risk exposure to stakeholders.

Importance of Objective Risk Assessment

1. Ensures Accurate Representation of Business Risks

Objective risk assessment is a cornerstone of effective risk management in any organization. Eliminating individual biases and grounding judgments in data and facts ensures an accurate representation of the business's potential risks. With such an assessment, organizations can work towards establishing a snapshot of the risk landscape that is unbiased and rooted in reality. This accuracy leads to a more effective risk prioritization, eliminating overemphasized or underemphasized threats and paving the way for a balanced allocation of resources to mitigate and control potential risks.

2. Enables Executive and Board Members to Understand Potential Business Losses

Translating risks into financial terms is essential to an objective risk assessment. It assists top-level executives and board members in comprehending the scope and magnitude of potential risks and understanding the potential actual economic losses. This can facilitate more informed decision-making in the organization concerning resource distribution towards risk mitigation, helping to strike a balance between investment in preventive measures and potential losses from uncatered incidents.

3. Serves as a Platform to Demonstrate the Value of a Security Team and Investments

Beyond a risk analysis tool, objective risk assessment can act as a platform to demonstrate the value of the security team and its investments in the organization. By indicating where risks lie and proposing how they can be mitigated, the security team can prove their worth, showcasing the importance of their role in maintaining the operation's stability. Also, by showing the potential economic implications of risks, they may justify their budget and even argue for more resources if needed, helping to support the continuous enhancement of the company's security posture.

Continuation of Risk Assessment Process

1. Risk Assessment as an Iterative Process

Risk assessment is a continuous and iterative process requiring regular reviews due to the dynamic nature of threats and risks. Businesses are routinely evolving, introducing new processes, technologies, and people, each of which comes with its unique set of risks. Moreover, external threats are also perpetually evolving, requiring consistent updates of the risk landscape. This iterative process helps ensure that the risk assessment remains relevant, accurately representing the current risk environment.

2. Ensuring to Maintain and Improve the Security Posture of the Business

Continuous and objective risk assessment is vital in maintaining and improving the overall security posture of an organization. Accurate identification, measurement, and prioritization of risks allow the allocation of resources to areas where they are needed most, aiding in the enhancement of defenses and mitigation strategies. Furthermore, as risks evolve and new threats emerge, ongoing risk assessments help an organization adapt its security practices accordingly and keep up with the ever-changing threat landscape.

3. Presenting Risk Exposure to Executives and Board Members

Another component of the ongoing risk assessment process is rendering risk exposure to executives and board members. Regular communication of a company's risk landscape to its leadership allows it to remain aware of the current risk exposure and understand the potential implications related to these risks. Moreover, it showcases the effectiveness of the security measures and the need for further investments. As such, executive and board awareness is a key aspect of continuing risk assessments, helping them make informed decisions that can impact the organization's security posture and overall resilience to threats.