What Is Cybersecurity Risk? A Thorough Definition

What Is Cybersecurity Risk? A Thorough Definition

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Cybersecurity risk is the probability of exposure or loss resulting from a cyber attack or data breach on your organization. A better, more encompassing definition is the potential loss or harm related to technical infrastructure, use of technology or reputation of an organization.

Organizations are becoming more vulnerable to cyber threats due to the increasing reliance on computers, networks, programs, social media and data globally. Data breaches, a common cyber attack, have massive negative business impact and often arise from insufficiently protected data.

Global connectivity and increasing use of cloud services with poor default security parameters means the risk of cyber attacks from outside your organization is increasing. What could historically be addressed by IT risk management and access control now needs to complimented by sophisticated cyber security professionals, software and cybersecurity risk management.

It's no longer enough to rely on traditional information technology professionals and security controls for information security. There is a clear need for threat intelligence tools and security programs to reduce your organization's cyber risk and highlight potential attack surfaces

Decision-makers need to make risk assessments when prioritizing third-party vendors and have a risk mitigation strategy and cyber incident response plan in place for when a breach does occur. 

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity refers to the technologies, processes and practices designed to protection an organization's intellectual property, customer data and other sensitive information from unauthorized access by cyber criminals. The frequency and severity of cybercrime is on the rise and there is a significant need for improved cybersecurity risk management as part of every organization's enterprise risk profile. 

Regardless of your organization's risk appetite, you need to include cybersecurity planning as part of your enterprise risk management process and ordinary business operations. It's one of the top risks to any business.

What Is the Business Significance of Cyber Attacks?

Although general IT security controls are useful, they are insufficient for providing cyber attack protection from sophisticated attacks and poor configuration

The proliferation of technology enables more unauthorized access to your organization's information than ever before. Third-parties are increasing provided with information through the supply chain, customers, and other third and fourth-party providers. The risk is compounded by the fact that organization's are increasingly storing large volumes of Personally identifiable information (PII) on external cloud providers that need to be configured correctly in order to sufficiently protect data.  

Another factor to consider is the increasing number of devices that are always connected in data exchange. As your organization globalizes and the web of employees, customers, and third-party vendors increases, so do expectations of instant access to information. Younger generations expect instant real-time access to data from anywhere, exponentially increasing the attack surface for malware, vulnerabilities, and all other exploits. 

Unanticipated cyber threats can come from hostile foreign powers, competitors, organized hackers, insiders, poor configuration and your third-party vendors. Cyber security policies are becoming increasing complex as mandates and regulatory standards around disclosure of cybersecurity incidents and data breaches continues to grow, leading organizations to adopt software to help manage their third-party vendors and continuously monitor for data breaches.

The importance of identifying, addressing and communicating a potential breach outweighs the preventive value of traditional, cyclical IT security controls.

Data breaches have massive, negative business impact and often arise from insufficiently protected data. External monitoring through third and fourth-party vendor risk assessments is part of any good risk management strategy. Without comprehensive IT security management, your organization faces financial, legal, and reputational risk.

What Are the Key Cyber Risks and Threats?

Cybersecurity is relevant to all systems that support an organization's business operations and objectives, as well as compliance with regulations and laws. An organization will typically design and implement cybersecurity controls across the entity to protect the integrity, confidentiality and availability of information assets

Cyberattacks are committed for a variety of reasons including financial fraud, information theft, activist causes, to deny service, disrupt critical infrastructure and vital services of government or an organization.

The six common sources of cyber threats are as follows: 

To understand your organization's cyber risk profile, you need to determine what information would be valuable to outsiders or cause significant disruption if unavailable or corrupt.

It's increasingly important to identify what information may cause financial or reputational damage to your organization if it were to be acquired or made public. Think about personally identifiable information (PII) like namessocial security numbers and biometric records.

You need to consider the following as potential targets to cyber criminals:

Who Should Own Cybersecurity Risk in My Organization?

Cybersecurity risk management is generally set by leadership, often including an organization's board of directors in the planning processes. Best-in-class organizations will also have a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) who is directly responsible for establishing and maintaining the enterprise vision, strategy and program to ensure information assets and customer data is adequately protected.

Common cyber defence activities that a CISO will own include:

  • Administering security procedures, training and testing
  • Maintaining secure device configurations, up-to-date software, and vulnerability patches
  • Deployment of intrusion detection systems and penetration testing
  • Configuration of secure networks that can manage and protect business networks
  • Deployment of data protection and loss prevention programs and monitoring
  • Restriction of access to least required privilege
  • Encryption of data where necessary
  • Proper configuration of cloud services
  • Implementation of vulnerability management with internal and third-party scans
  • Recruitment and retention of cybersecurity professionals

When an organization does not have the scale to support a CISO or other cybersecurity professional, board members with experience in cybersecurity risk are extremely valuable.

That said, it is important for all levels of an organization to understand their role in managing cyber risk. Vulnerabilities can come from any employee and it's fundamental to your organization's IT security to continually educate employees on how to avoid common security pitfalls that can lead to data breaches or other cyber incidents. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NISTCybersecurity Framework provides best practices to manage cybersecurity risk.


Cybersecurity risk management is a long process and it's an ongoing one. Your organization can never be too secure. Cyber attacks can come from stem from any level of your organization, so it's important to not pass it off to IT and forget about it. 

In order to mitigate cyber risk, you need the help of every department and every employee. 

If you fail to take the right precautions, your company and more importantly your customers data could be a risk. You need to be able to control third-party vendor risk and monitor your business for potential data breaches and leaked credentials continuously

How Upguard Can Help Reduce Your Cybersecurity Risk

UpGuard helps companies like Intercontinental Exchange, ADP, The New York Stock Exchange, IAG, First State Super, Akamai, Morningstar and NASA protect their data and prevent breaches.

We can help you continuously monitor, rate and send security questionnaires to your vendors to control third-party risk and improve your security posture.

To prevent breaches, avoid regulatory fines and protect your customers trust who UpGuard BreachSight's cyber security ratings and continuous exposure detection.

Book a demo today.

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