Pop quiz: You put together a nuanced risk intelligence report with contextualized insights relevant to your company. In it, you find a series of red flags. Should you:

  1. Dive into remediation ASAP?
  2. Mark unread and leave for future-you to deal with?
  3. Investigate further to connect the report’s findings to real-world circumstances?

The correct answer is C, and here’s why. Most risk intelligence is quantitative in nature, like security ratings or an estimation of a risk’s potential financial impact. But before you can take action, you need more than a simple number on the page or letter grade. The next layer of analysis helps you connect the hard data from the report to the current state of your business, allowing you to determine your next steps.

To effectively use a risk intelligence report as a decision-making tool, you need to investigate how each risk intersects with your data, processes, security measures, and so on before you can accurately identify your highest priorities.

Why You Need More Information Before Taking Action

A risk intelligence report is a powerful and informative tool, especially if the data has been contextualized through your business’s unique lens. However, the findings can be overwhelming if you face several seemingly serious risks and aren’t sure what to focus on first. 

Effective prioritization is important because remediation efforts can be costly to all parties, including the security team, other internal business unit owners, and to the vendors in your ecosystem. You want to be highly thoughtful and intentional about the amount of work you’re passing on to others. Dig deeper into your risk intelligence to identify the minimum requirements necessary to reduce risk to an acceptable level.

Say you’re notified of a fourth-party supplier that provides a software component that’s highly susceptible to ransomware — and it’s being used by one of your vendors. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go to your vendor and ask them to go to their vendor with a long list of remediation steps. 

Maybe through further analysis you find that 70% of your vendors are using that component. Next, you look at each use case to see how big of an impact it could have on the vendor and, by extension, on your organization. Maybe 10% of the vendors using that component have access to your organization’s sensitive data and if an attack were successful, it would have a significant financial impact on your business. That 10% is where you focus your efforts first.

How To Use Your Risk Intelligence Report to Guide Your Decision Making

Here are four steps you should take when using a risk intelligence report to guide decision making.

Step 1: Establish a Specific Goal 

As simple as it may be, “reducing risk” is simply too broad to guide your analysis. Are you currently undergoing an audit related to a specific regulation? Do you need to move quickly because there’s a security breach at a third-party vendor and you need to understand and minimize its impact on your business? Establishing a clear objective will guide you to better questions and more meaningful answers.

Step 2: Correlate Data  

Your report provides a snapshot of your potential cyber risk, but the red flags it highlights don’t exist in isolation. Look for patterns and connections between different data points, within the report and without. This might involve vulnerability assessments, penetration testing results, threat actor analysis, industry trends, and existing internal security measures. Keep digging until you’re confident you’ve identified the risks that are most urgent and impactful to your business.

For example, your risk report might highlight a vulnerability at a vendor that, if exploited, might cost your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars. When you investigate, however, you see that the internal data the vendor has access to is protected by cutting-edge polymorphic encryption. So while the likelihood that the vendor will fall prey to an attack is high, the likelihood of threat actors accessing your sensitive data through that vulnerability is very low. This knowledge allows you to move on to a higher-priority item on your list.

Step 3: Engage Internal and External Stakeholders  

Connect with relevant stakeholders from other departments (e.g., IT, procurement, legal) in the decision-making process. They can help you understand how the vendor is used, who has access to the tool, and what safeguards they currently have in place. 

You may also need to conduct deeper due diligence on high-risk vendors, including requesting additional security documentation or conducting on-site assessments. Altogether, this provides a clearer picture of how your third-party risks intersect with your own internal vulnerabilities.

Step 4: Plan for Remediation  

Develop a clear action plan to address identified risks, starting with the top priority you’ve outlined through your analysis. This may involve actions like:

  • Implementing specific security controls within your IT infrastructure.
  • Developing a stricter vendor onboarding process based on risk assessments.
  • Prioritizing resources for security audits and penetration testing for high-risk vendors.
  • Negotiating stronger contractual terms related to data security and breach notification.

Looking Beyond the Report

We know, this additional analysis sounds like a lot. But who said cybersecurity was easy?
Leveraging tools that can process large amounts of raw risk data and churn out the insights that are relevant to your business is one way to expedite analysis and make your life easier. Ideally, these tools will also include continuous monitoring and artificial intelligence capabilities to ensure your risk intelligence process is repeatable and scalable. With these tools, customized risk reports, and analysis skills in your back pocket, you’ll be ready to effectively manage your organization’s third-party security posture.

Remember, your ability to successfully interpret your risk intelligence report hinges on the quality of your data and how it’s reported. Learn more in our related blog “Turn Raw Risk Data into a Meaningful Risk Intelligence Report” and sign up for our webinar, “What Your Cyber Risk Intelligence is Telling You.”

Remember, your ability to successfully interpret your risk intelligence report hinges on the quality of your data and how it’s reported.