How to craft cyber-risk statements that work, with examples

A cyber-risk statement should be clear, concise and simple -- but that doesn't mean it's easy to write. Get tips and read our cyber-risk statement examples.

One of the chief challenges today's CISOs face is effectively positioning cybersecurity as a business issue and communicating to enterprise stakeholders why they should care.

Enter cyber-risk statements, which concisely summarize potential cyber threats and their implications for the bottom line. Not only are these statements key tools in a company's cybersecurity strategy, they help all stakeholders understand and manage cyber-risks.

What is a cyber-risk statement?

A cyber-risk statement is a formal declaration identifying a specific threat to an organization's digital assets. It includes the following information:

  • Description. A description of the threat and the asset at risk.
  • Likelihood. The likelihood the threat will compromise the asset.
  • Impact. The potential impact on the organization if that does occur.

Cyber-risk statements are integral to a company's risk management strategy, offering a clear and structured way to communicate cyber threats to stakeholders. They are useful for several reasons:

  • Risk awareness. They raise awareness about potential cyber threats within the organization.
  • Decision-making. They help inform decisions about resource allocation and risk mitigation strategies. As cyber-risks continue to increase, expect to see executive stakeholders making more business decisions around cyber-risk issues.
  • Compliance and reporting. They are often required for regulatory compliance and can be used in external and internal reporting. This is especially notable given the increase in mandatory SEC cyber-risk incident reporting.
  • Stakeholder confidence. They help to build trust among stakeholders by demonstrating a proactive approach to cybersecurity that aligns with business goals.
Security managers should focus on the business impact of these threats, as opposed to the technical risks.

How to write a cyber-risk statement

To write an effective cyber-risk statement, consider the following key steps:

  • Identify the risk. Start by identifying potential cyber threats that put the business at risk. These can range from phishing attacks, malware and data breaches to insider threats and system outages.
  • Define the risk scenario. Describe how the identified threat could materialize, including methods attackers might use and vulnerabilities they might exploit. Don't neglect social attack vectors, which remain the most likely entry point for most companies.
  • Assess the likelihood and impact. Evaluate how likely it is for the risk scenario to occur and the potential impact on the organization. Consider both quantitative and qualitative measures. Note: Security managers should focus on the business impact of these threats, as opposed to the technical impact. Remember, cyber-risk statements are going to the board. They should be legible and meaningful to executive stakeholders, with an eye on the bottom line.
  • Describe mitigation strategies. Outline the steps the organization is taking or plans to take to mitigate the identified risk. In addition, identify mitigation costs to help determine priorities.
  • Review and update regularly. Cyber threats evolve rapidly, so it's important to review and update the risk statement regularly. Most companies do this annually, but ideally, they should be reviewed quarterly and after any reportable incident.

Cyber-risk statement examples

Aim to write risk statements using simple, business-oriented language that avoids jargon. Convey messages in a clear, direct style. Consider the following cyber-risk statement examples.

Example 1: Data breach risk

Risk statement. "Our organization is at high risk of data breaches, primarily due to targeted phishing attacks. These breaches could result in unauthorized access to sensitive customer data, regulatory penalties and reputational damage."

Mitigation strategy. "We are implementing advanced email filtering and employee training programs to reduce the likelihood of successful phishing attacks."

Example 2: Ransomware attack

Risk Statement. "Our organization is at moderate risk of ransomware attacks targeting corporate systems and data, which could lead to significant downtime, loss of critical data and reputational damage."

Mitigation Strategy. "We have deployed robust backup systems and are continuously monitoring our network for signs of ransomware activity."

Example 3: Insider threat

Risk statement. "Insider threats pose a low but potentially severe risk to our intellectual property and trade secrets, which could jeopardize our competitive advantage."

Mitigation Strategy. "We are enhancing our internal access controls and conducting regular security audits to mitigate this risk."

Cyber-risk statements are essential tools. They not only highlight potential threats but also demonstrate the organization's commitment to proactive risk management. By following the outlined steps and considering the above cyber-risk statement examples, cybersecurity professionals can effectively communicate cyber-risks and strengthen their organization's defensive posture.

Jerald Murphy is senior vice president of research and consulting with Nemertes Research. With more than three decades of technology experience, Jerry has worked on a range of technology topics, including neural networking research, integrated circuit design, computer programming and designing global data centers. He was also the CEO of a managed services company.

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