Thanks to its numerous benefits, technology is playing an ever-increasing role in our lives. Unfortunately, cyber-attacks are also on the rise, increasing by 400% annually. These attacks can result in different problems like the loss of money and the theft of medical, personal, financial, and other private information.

If your organization relies on software systems, tackling security risks is non-negotiable. Hence, you must always ensure that your information assets are robust enough to withstand security risks. This post explores how you can ensure your software systems’ reliability through a security risk assessment.

But First, What is a Software Security Risk Assessment?

A security risk assessment identifies, evaluates, and prioritizes potential vulnerabilities to diverse information assets, including hardware, systems, data, and applications. Armed with this information, you can take preemptive defense actions and prepare effective risk responses should such attacks come through. Risk assessment can either be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative risk assessment focuses on numbers and percentages and can give insight into the financial impact of software risks. Conversely, qualitative risk assessment helps measure risk’s human and productivity components.

Software Risk Assessments are Essential because they help to:

Support Spending in better Security

Companies are always looking for ways to slash their budget. An inadequate software security budget can spell trouble down the line. With a risk assessment, you can easily communicate the critical vulnerabilities of the system and their impact and defend an increased security budget.

Boost Productivity

There is no 100% foolproof system. However, with a proper risk assessment, the security team can prioritize what risks are more critical and devote more attention to them. Hence, risk assessment helps with the optimal use of resources.

Fostering Communication

More often than not, the software security team is isolated in its operations. However, a risk assessment forces proactive communication. During the risk assessment process, the security team must interact with people in another department to understand what systems they use, their usage, and the potential vulnerabilities within the system – such open communication results in better software security compliance.

Steps for Software Security Risk Assessment

Step 1: Identify and Catalog Information Assets

The first step in risk assessment is to prepare a comprehensive list of all software assets in the company. These assets can range from CRM to servers. After that, assign sensitivity levels to each of these assets and their strategic importance to your company. That way, you can put a commensurate effort toward reducing vulnerabilities in these systems.

Step 2: Identify Threats

While hackers are the most direct threat to identify for most software systems, threats can come in different forms, including human mistakes. Hackers primarily attack a business’ firewall, looking to gain unwanted access. Conversely, human error can include mistakenly deleting vital information from the computer system or clicking on a malicious link. If your system isn’t robust, such mistakes can result in system failure.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies now adopt remote work forms, posing new threats. For example, phishing attacks and disinformation campaigns are more effective among remote workers.

Step 3: Identify Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability is any point of weakness in your software system. For example, if your system fails to encrypt customers’ card details properly, hackers can steal such information and commit fraud. Another example would be allowing weak passports for registration. You can identify and correct vulnerabilities through audits, vulnerability scanning tools, penetration testing, and more before they cause serious problems.

Step 4: Analyse Internal Controls

More is needed to identify threats and vulnerabilities. It would help if you also implemented measures to eliminate or minimize those threats and vulnerabilities. Elimination is always preferred. But when that is not possible, you must implement control measures to reduce exposure.

Examples of control measures include software or tools for detecting hackers and other forms of illegal intrusion. These measures can also be non-technical by developing a solid security policy, having different levels of security clearances, and even physical controls.

Step 5: Assess the Likelihood of Incidents

Assigning probabilities to different risks is crucial because it helps you to allocate resources better. Most companies use the low, medium, and high categories to indicate different risk levels.

For example, the likelihood of software running out of date is high. That’s why you must have processes that automatically check and updates software systems to prevent unnecessary downtime.

Step 6: Determine the Impacts of Incidents

Aside from the likelihood of software security incidents, you must also determine the potential impact of these incidents. This stage is called impact analysis, and it must include the following:

  1. The purpose of the system, including the implemented processes.
  2. The criticality of the system is defined by its value and the value to the organization.
  3. The data and system’s sensitivity.

You should apply both quantitative and qualitative impact analysis where possible. And you can define the impact as low, medium, or high.

Step 7: Obtain a Background Check for Employees

Regardless of measures in place, without honest employees, your system will always be vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals. That’s why you must ensure that those who assess your software system undergo a background check.

A police check reveals an individual’s criminal history, including arrests, convictions, and other offenses. Hence, individuals with a criminal record that make them high-risk employees can be effectively identified and filtered out of the hiring process. Moreover, current employees should undergo police checks periodically and when changing roles. This helps ensure the integrity of employees at all times.

Step 8: Prioritise the Risks to your Software System

A simple risk matrix combining the likelihood and impact of incidents is a valuable tool for prioritizing risk. The risk with a high probability of occurring and a high impact are high priorities and must be eliminated. Conversely, risks with the lowest chance of occurrence and a low impact have the least importance. Most organizations use a 3 x 3 or 5 x 5 risk assessment matrix, but this depends on the likelihood and impact levels.

Step 9: Design Controls

Controls are measures taken to eliminate or minimize the impact of software security risks. You must allocate resources to the highest-priority risks before moving to lower-priority ones.

Step 10: Document the Result

Proper documentation is a vital part of the software security risk assessment. This documentation is known as a risk assessment report, and they identify the key risks and the recommended controls. By having a risk assessment document, the organization can proactively plan to counter threats when they occur.

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