What Is a Data Risk Assessment?

Nov 19, 2021

If you have data, it’s at risk. That’s the nature of having valuable information that’s of interest to scammers and thieves. Exactly how much real-world risk your data faces is up to you or, more specifically, the defenses you’ve put up. Every organization needs to evaluate its level of risk, and the time to do it is now, not after a crisis has already happened.

A data risk assessment, or DRA, is a set of steps that you and your IT provider can engage in to determine how secure your sensitive information is. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation provides guidelines (even if they’re a little vague) to help organizations ensure they conduct such an assessment correctly.

A DRA needs to be integrated into your IT security protocols and must be performed regularly. Scammers, thieves, and hackers get more crafty all the time, so you have to stay ahead of them.

What Are the Steps for a DRA?

Remember that even if there aren’t laws about certain aspects of your data security, it’s in your best interests to ensure the information you’re responsible for is safe. Your clients, customers, and employees rely on you to keep personal information from leaking.

  1. Identify Possible Threats

Just as you need to spend time and energy gathering information about your ideal customer profiles, you need to give the same analysis to threat actors who have an interest in your data. What type of scammers would want what you have? How could they exploit the information they steal? Are there people in your organization who may be likely targets of social hacking attempts or even employees who might be a threat themselves?

  1. Identify Weaknesses

Once you know who to look for, find places they can get in. Unsecured networks with no firewalls or encryption are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Old unshredded documents, hard disk drives, or solid-state drives sitting around are ripe to become toxic assets. Work devices used for personal purposes (or vice versa) and software/operating systems that haven’t been updated create avenues for hackers to infiltrate. You also need to evaluate training methods for employees to identify phishing and business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

  1. Sort Data By Risk

You know who the threat is, you know how they can get in, now figure out what data they want so you can give it the most protection. Your database of corporate mascot ideas would probably be a low-priority target, but files containing social security numbers or banking information would be the most interesting to thieves. Investigate all possible locations of important data, too. If a document is sitting in a filing cabinet and is also in digital form on your company’s server, you may need different types of protection.

  1. Make a Plan

You know who the threats are, where they can get in, and what they want to steal, so now’s the time for a game plan. You and your IT department need to meet with all relevant department heads to establish a chain of command and implement the level of protection. Physical locks protect user workstations and documents. Update passwords and add multi-factor authentication. Put it in writing and make timelines!

  1. Document Results

As your team enacts the new security measures, document whether the changes have had any effect. If you don’t see a decrease in successful cyberattacks, then you’ll know you have to review your processes again. Your strategy is only as good as the results.

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