Security Risk Assessment

A comprehensive guide about security risk assessment: why organizations need to perform it, the categories of security control, how to carry out a risk assessment, and what tool to use when conducting a security risk assessment

Published April 12th, 2021

What is a Security Risk Assessment?

A security risk assessment is a process that helps organizations identify, analyze, and implement security controls in the workplace. It prevents vulnerabilities and threats from infiltrating the organization and protects physical and informational assets from unauthorized users.

Why Perform a Security Risk Assessment?

A security risk assessment is a continuous process that allows the organization to monitor and update the current snapshot of threats and risks to which it might be exposed. It is a requirement for different compliance standards, including the following:

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS) – An information security standard for organizations that handle branded credit cards from the major card schemes.
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 – An internationally recognized set of guidelines that focuses on information security and provides a framework for the Information Security Management System (ISMS).
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – a US law that requires the careful handling of Protected Health Information (PHI) or individually identifiable health information.

How Security Risk Assessments Help With Compliance

Conducting a security risk assessment helps prevent potential threats that could compromise the security of an organization. Security officers should understand the relationships between security components, including threats, vulnerabilities, and risks, to secure the organization from physical, socio-economic, and environmental threats. A security risk assessment helps an organization to:

  • prevent any potential dangers that have the capability, motivation, and intent to exploit existing vulnerabilities;
  • protect valuable and sensitive company data, including personal and financial information from ransomware and data loss;
  • comply with regulatory standards to prevent lawsuits;
  • measure the risk ranking for each asset and assess criticality based on how it would affect business operations; and
  • secure the company’s reputation and brand image.

Categories of Security Controls

Performing security risk assessments is a crucial task for security officers. It is a far-reaching review of anything that could pose a risk to the security of an organization. The following categories of security controls can help provide a better understanding of the scope of security in business operations.

Management Security Control

Management security or administrative control is the overall design of controls that provides guidance, rules, and procedures for implementing a security environment. It safeguards the organization from data corruption and unauthorized access by internal or external people and protects the company from financial loss, reputational damage, consumer confidence disintegration, and brand erosion.

Example: The organization identifies a risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data stored on an internal database server. The management security control team is responsible for defining who is authorized to access the data.

Operational Security Control

Operational security or technical control defines the effectiveness of controls. It includes access authorities, authentication, and security topologies applied to applications, networks, and systems.

Example: The organization identifies a risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data stored on an internal database server. IT teams use operational security control to prevent and detect unauthorized server login.

IT managers can use a cyber security risk assessment checklist or IT risk assessment checklist to help identify malicious activities and implement needed measures to manage threats. It helps validate the consequence, likelihood, and risk rating of identified vulnerabilities.

Physical Security Control

Physical security control is the protection of personnel and hardware from tangible threats that could physically harm, damage, or disrupt business operations.

Example: The organization identifies a risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data stored on an internal database server. The organization can apply physical security controls to restrain visitors and unauthorized personnel to access restricted areas.

Facility security officers (FSO) can use a facility security assessment checklist to carry out an extensive internal scan of the facility’s infrastructure, vulnerabilities, and potential threats. It helps assess the building security condition to protect occupants from the possibility of higher risks.

How to Carry Out a Security Risk Assessment?

A security risk assessment varies depending on the needs of a company. It relies on the type of business operation, assessment scope, and user requirements. Generally, it can be conducted with the following steps.

5 steps to implement security risk assessment

5 Steps to Implement Security Risk Assessment

Step 1: Identify

  • Identify the business needs and critical assets of technology infrastructure that may affect the overall IT and security direction.

Step 2: Review

  • Review existing security policies, standards, guidelines, and procedures and diagnose sensitive data that is created, stored, or transmitted by technology infrastructure assets.

Step 3: Assess

  • Assess and analyze assets, threats, and vulnerabilities including their impact, likelihood, and risk rating.
  • Check the physical protection applied to computing equipment, server, and other network components.
  • Conduct technical and procedural review and investigation of network architecture, protocols, and other components to ensure it is implemented according to security policies.
  • Review and assess configuration, implementation, and usage of remote access systems, servers, firewalls, and other external network connections.
  • Check access control systems for authorized users and other authentication policies.
  • Check physical assets including access cards for staff and visitors.
  • Check the perimeter protection and inspect the operational condition of CCTV cameras and alarm systems.
  • Ensure housekeeping is properly observed.

Step 4: Mitigate

  • Review and analyze assessment reports and determine how to effectively allocate time and resources towards risk mitigation.
  • Implement technical actions to address the vulnerabilities identified and reduce the level of security risk.
  • Assign corrective actions and recommendations to appropriate personnel to enforce security controls for each risk.

Step 5:Prevent

  • Conduct regular security risk assessments, monitor updates, and communicate security risk assessment reports to an authorized person.
  • Streamline reporting processes to minimize threats and vulnerabilities from occurring.

Security Risk Assessment Tool

Technological growth comes with the transformation of security threats. Lawbreakers discover new mechanisms to break through the most stringent security systems. A security risk assessment helps protect the organization and building occupants from possible exposure to threats that can sabotage their assets and expose them to much higher risks.

Traditionally, a security risk assessment is performed with the use of pen and paper that is susceptible to deterioration and loss. It takes a lot of time to hand over assessment reports, which increases the chances of exposing the organization to security risks. iAuditor by SafetyCulture is a mobile inspection app that can help security officers to proactively identify security risks and respond on time to mitigate the risks.

iAuditor for Building Effective Security Assessment Checklist

To ensure the effectiveness of security risk assessment the following iAuditor features can help security officers save time conducting assessment and handover of security risk reports.

Conduct security risk assessment anytime, anywhere on a mobile device

iAuditor makes it easy for anyone in the team to conduct inspections and audits on the go. Whether online or offline iAuditor can record security risk assessment results in real-time that are automatically saved securely in the cloud.

Turn security issues into actions

Create corrective actions on the spot for identified security threats. Set the due date and priority level, then assign them to the authorized personnel to address and mitigate security risk immediately.

Review performance and trends

Automatic syncing between mobile devices and desktop platform provide real-time analytics dashboards on Premium accounts. Get instant visibility on identified security issues and team productivity.

Performing regular security assessments is vital to keep a protected and up-to-date security system. Here are other features of iAuditor that could help improve security risk assessment:

  • capture unlimited photo evidence, annotate, and add notes to further explain the issue;
  • round the clock handover of security risk assessment report even right after conducting the assessment;
  • easy to set schedules and notifications for regular security risk assessments to never missed an expected assessment; and
  • free use for small security teams and can be upgraded with unlimited reports and storage for Premium accounts.


Jona Tarlengco

SafetyCulture staff writer

Jona has been part of SafetyCulture for more than 2 years contributing her experience in writing quality and well-researched content. She usually writes a topic about risks, safety, and quality.