Cybersecurity Assessments

Cybersecurity Assessments: What They Are & Why They Matter

Cybersecurity is a crucial consideration for businesses of all sizes and scopes. As digital transformation continues to accelerate and data sharing increases across vendors, contractors, partners, and customers, the risks posed by cyber threats also increase. The cost of failure can be high—in some cases, companies that have fallen victim to cyberattacks have ceased operations or even gone out of business entirely. According to Sophos State of Ransomware Report 2021, 39% of Canadian companies experienced a ransomware attack in 2021, and 65% of those not hit anticipate a ransomware attack in the future.

To mitigate these risks, companies should conduct regular cybersecurity assessments to evaluate their cybersecurity preparedness and implement necessary improvements. 

What is a Cybersecurity Assessment?

A cybersecurity assessment is a process to help an organization understand the current state of its cybersecurity, identify and remediate potential gaps and risks, and ultimately implement a practical cybersecurity framework to improve its security posture and help meet compliance standards. 

Types of Cybersecurity Assessments

There are many types of cybersecurity assessments that organizations can utilize. Depending on the assessment’s scope and the detail level, they can take anywhere from a few hours to several months. The following types of cybersecurity assessments are most common: 

Vulnerability Assessment

A vulnerability assessment identifies and quantifies known security vulnerabilities in an environment. It is a surface-level evaluation of your information security posture, indicating weaknesses and providing the appropriate mitigation procedures required to eliminate or reduce them to an acceptable level of risk.

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, also known as a pen test or ethical hacking, is an authorized simulated cyberattack to access or exploit computer systems, networks, websites, and applications. The primary purpose of penetration testing is to identify exploitable issues and implement adequate security controls. However, security professionals can also use penetration testing techniques to test the robustness of an organization’s security policies, regulatory compliance, employees’ security awareness, and ability to identify and respond to security issues and incidents such as unauthorized access.

Risk Assessment

This assessment is essential for analyzing the likelihood and impact of a threat exploiting a vulnerability. These assessments are quantitative or qualitative, depending on the organization’s focus. Typically, with a quantitative risk assessment, the organization assesses the amount of financial loss a risk could incur. On the other hand, a qualitative risk assessment uses a risk matrix and categorizes risks based on their severity level (determined by the combination of their likelihood and impact).


A security audit compares an organization’s existing policies, procedures, and configurations to a legal, regulatory, non-regulatory, or security standard. Organizations must conduct security audits to ensure that they comply with these regulations and standards to abide by the law and have a better security posture.

Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Frameworks

You can choose from several standard information security frameworks that are available. Your choice of a particular framework is determined by your industry type and compliance requirements. When selecting a framework, you also need to keep in mind your customer expectations as well as the security capabilities of your IT team.

Here are some examples of common security frameworks:

Key Assessment Steps

A cybersecurity risk assessment may be split into many parts, but the five main steps are as follows:

1. Scope  

The first step is to identify the assets that define the scope of this assessment. For example, servers, databases, key people, sensitive documents such as contracts, SLAs, customer contact information, trade secrets, Intellectual Property and other critical information assets. Not all assets have the same value; therefore, it is essential to prioritize the assets based on criticality.

2. Identify Threats 

Threats are the tactics, techniques, and methods used by threat actors that have the potential to cause harm to your organization’s assets. Common threat types include:

  • Malicious or accidental unauthorized access. This could be a direct hacking attack, malware infection, or an internal threat.
  • Misuse of information (or privilege) by an authorized user. This could result from an unapproved use of data or changes made without approval.
  • Data leakage or unintentional exposure of information. For example, permitting the use of unencrypted USB without restriction, low paper retention and destruction practices, transmitting Non-Public Personal Information (NPPI) over unsecured channels, or accidentally sending sensitive information to the wrong recipient.
  • Loss of data. This can be the result of poor replication and backup processes.
  • Disruption of service or productivity.

3. Identify Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability is a weakness that a threat actor can exploit to perform unauthorized actions such as data theft, modification, deletion or further infiltration into the networks. You can identify vulnerabilities using various technical security assessments such as network penetration testing, web application penetration testing, mobile pen tests or vulnerability assessments. 

4. Determine Risk Impact

Risk likelihood is the probability that a given threat is capable of exploiting a given vulnerability. It is determined based on the discoverability, exploitability and reproducibility of threats and vulnerabilities rather than historical occurrences. This is because the dynamic nature of cybersecurity threats means the likelihood is not so closely linked to the frequency of past events. Examples of impact ratings are:

High: The threat source is highly motivated and sufficiently capable, and controls to prevent the vulnerability from being exercised are ineffective.

Medium: The threat source is motivated and capable, but controls are in place that may impede the successful exercise of the vulnerability.

Low: The threat source lacks motivation or capability, or controls are in place to prevent, or at least significantly impede, the vulnerability from being exercised.

5. Prioritize Risks & Recommend Controls

The next step is to prioritize risks by giving each vulnerability a risk rating so that you can prepare your remediation plans. For example:

High risk An organization should develop corrective measures as soon as possible.

Medium risk An organization should develop corrective measures within a 

Low risk. An organization should decide whether to implement corrective action or live with the risk (accept).

Before deciding on the risk treatment action, compare the value of an asset and the costs against remedial risk measures to check if preventative controls are worth the investment.

6. Document 

The final step in your cybersecurity risk assessment is to create a report of your findings. This document will help you in budgeting and planning and will also be invaluable in keeping your policies and procedures up-to-date. Record each threat, vulnerability, value, mitigation step, and ownership to keep track of the progress and for future reference. Your document will also serve as a template for future assessments.

Benefits of Cybersecurity Assessments

1. Identify Vulnerabilities 

A cybersecurity assessment will help expose the drawbacks and limitations of your current security arrangement and allow you to fix them. 

2. Improve Security Controls 

A cybersecurity assessment provides insight into your current security controls while evaluating how efficiently they operate and when they should be upgraded. Your final report will include a detailed list of risks most likely to affect your business and recommendations for mitigating those risks. 

3. Enhance Security Documentation

Annual cybersecurity risk assessments track your progress from year to year as you close gaps and strategically develop your security program. Additionally, keeping a record of regular risk assessments indicates to potential clients and investors that you are investing in cybersecurity. 

4. Meet Compliance Regulations

Depending on your industry and the data you store, your organization could be subject to cybersecurity compliance requirements. For example, a law firm must comply with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Cybersecurity assessment experts are well-versed in compliance standards, and a risk assessment will identify where your organization meets compliance and where it does not.

5. Educate Employees 

Cybersecurity assessments improve overall security awareness across the organization. As a result, employees can recognize red flags and prevent costly mistakes – saving time and money in the long run.  


A cybersecurity assessment aims to improve an organization’s security posture, reduce cybersecurity risk, and help companies meet compliance standards. Selecting a managed service provider that can deliver a comprehensive evaluation covering all security aspects is essential to ensure a holistic view of your organization’s security posture and to set the stage for an effective response.

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