Posted on January 31, 2020.

When it comes to digital threat and risk assessment, knowing the difference can save your organization from malicious attacks. It can also help your IT team create a system to address those attacks. While threat and risk are similar in nature, understanding the nuances, and the different insights they can provide, can help you make better-informed decisions about your enterprise’s IT security.

The differences between threat and risk

The differences between threat and risk are small, but important to know. Think of a threat as an outside force, or an attacker, that might harm your system. It might come in the form of a virus, malware, or an actual hacker. If something breaks into your system or hacks into your accounts, you’ve been threatened. Your security system works to prevent threats from inflicting damage. 

Risk seems very similar to threat, but think of it this way: while a threat is the attacker itself, a risk is to what extent an attack (or other unplanned event) could inflict damage. Risk is the possibility that damage might occur due to vulnerabilities, either in your security system, unforeseen events or because of human error. Basically, your organization is your house and your IT system is the locks and doors. A threat is someone trying to come in uninvited, while your risks are leaving your doors and windows unlocked. 

Now that you understand those nuanced differences, you’ll be able to better understand how you can prevent threat or risk to your enterprise with the proper IT assessments. Specifically, with threat and risk assessments.

What is a threat assessment?

A threat assessment analyzes your system to find out what attacks are currently happening or which attacks are being threatened. Threat assessments can gather knowledge on attacks before they happen, which can help determine the extent and danger of a threat and how it might affect an enterprise. It’s more of a reactive approach to IT security, and a helpful option for companies who need to know what’s going on in their system and what issues need to be resolved right away. 

Threat assessments can catch digital threats like:

  • Vulnerabilities in applications that can be used to attack your network
  • Malware or viruses present 
  • Current phishing attacks that put your enterprise at risk for a breach
  • Misuse of information (especially relevant to financial and health sectors)
  • Employee, vendor, and individual risks (detecting anyone with malicious intent)

Certain industries may be more vulnerable to specific attacks than others. For example, banks, app creators, retail and tech businesses are often the most attacked. For enterprises in the financial and health industries, it’s even more important that sensitive data is protected because that is the data most often targeted. Digital threat assessments can be matched up with software and tools that monitor behavior and meet the needs of that specific industry. 

What is a risk assessment?

Like a threat assessment, a risk assessment analyzes your system to root out any security problems. They include business continuity risks, disaster recovery, data recovery, employee skillset / ability, and might even come down to equipment power and cooling. However, it’s more of a proactive approach to IT security. These assessments must consider risk from top to bottom, as it could be anything that has the potential to halt operations. While threat assessments investigate issues as they occur or are being attempted, risk assessments cover a broader umbrella of possibilities to locate any potential problems and the degree of possible damage. It’s like checking the doors and locks to make sure a potential intruder can’t get in, and to see if those doors and locks are up to snuff.

Risk assessments can test for a wide range of potential issues, including but not limited to:

  • Attacks across devices and platforms such as email, social media, and mobile apps
  • Vulnerabilities that make an attack more likely, such as open networks, excessive access, or weak passwords
  • Type of attacks depending on industry and size
  • Network failure/downtime, insider attacks, or simple user error
  • Business and data recovery
  • Potential operational downtime
  • Other vulnerabilities outside of a cybersecurity breach

Risk assessments aren’t limited to third-party attacks. While a risk assessment covers areas like hardware, software, devices, and data, it can also investigate internal information that might be vulnerable. Company records, vendor data, employee information, and client data should also be included in a risk assessment. Because a risk assessment is a preventative, proactive approach, the goal is to create a plan to address potential risks should they happen in the future. 

How Sanity Solutions can help

Knowing where to start with a threat or risk assessment can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure which one you need for your organization. If you’re unsure of how an IT assessment can help your current infrastructure, ask Sanity Solutions. Our Sanity Checks guide you through a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis process that will help you safeguard your data and infrastructure. Our customized data solutions paired with exceptional customer experience means your organization gets the security tools you need — when you need it.