The Top 5 Problems Security Teams Face During Cybersecurity Risk Assessments

Security teams face a myriad of problems when starting and executing a cybersecurity risk assessment. Coordinating a risk assessment is a big undertaking. It can present a lot of different obstacles in the form of technical, political, and operational challenges. In this article, we will uncover the top five problems that security teams face during risk assessments and provide some insight into how you can overcome them.

1. Cost

Cost can determine the effectiveness of a risk assessment.

Budget constraints can affect both the scope and scale of an assessment. Budget is usually very tight for security departments and especially in higher education. Although risk assessments are a critical first step to setting up and focusing any security program, in reality, it is often difficult to find dedicated budget or full-time employees to conduct risk assessments. Organizations usually wait until there is a specific law or regulation that requires them to conduct one, or worse, after a significant breach.

Properly rectifying any cybersecurity issue requires a great deal of time and expertise, both of which cost time and money. When organizations don’t understand the risks inherent to their cybersecurity operations, they fail to appreciate the need to allocate a budget or define organizational goals for a problem that they cannot see, or that hasn’t happened yet.

Initially, a starting point for any security or risk program is to conduct a baseline assessment. This will tell you where you’re most vulnerable, where the most significant threats are, and where to deploy money and full-time employees for maximum security return. To make impactful decisions with that data, it is essential that you quantify and measure your organization’s risk and understand your overall security posture better.

Indeed, trade-off costs do exist when you don’t conduct a security risk assessment. If the upfront work for a proper assessment isn’t done, unsolved problems within your environment will compound during a significant breach event. In turn, it could possibly cost you more money and resources after the damage is done.

2. Culture

Lack of cybersecurity awareness and culture can hinder forward movement

In any organization, it is very likely that most individuals will have some idea as to what other departments do. However, the IT and security departments are usually forgotten. In fact, most organizations lack a cybersecurity culture entirely. This lack of cybersecurity culture can make it difficult to instill a culture of risk assessment.

Without a culture, warming up your stakeholders to a risk assessment can be challenging. However, you could begin with a focused approach by starting small and looking at your most critical units/areas first. This is typically where most of your sensitive data is stored. Then, use these initial findings to provide feedback to stakeholders and broaden scope and depth over time. By taking baby steps, you can ultimately help shift your organization’s focus and bring a culture of risk assessment to the forefront.

3. Selecting Tools

The right tools for your organization can make the difference

Security teams must select tools that not only get the job done but also do it efficiently and scale with their needs. For example, during a risk assessment, multiple departments will need to be surveyed on their processes and operations. Stakeholders may need to fill out questionnaires or complete assessments. Being able to pull forward responses from previous assessments so that departments are not answering the same questions over and over can save time and resources.

As new departments are added to the scope and old one are take away, a scalable tool can prove to be beneficial to security teams. Automation tools can also make the task of extracting and analyzing large amounts of information from across a distributed organization less daunting and achievable.

4. Scope/Setting Objectives

Determining the priorities of a risk assessment can be stressful

Where do you start? It can be difficult to determine the overall goals and scope of an assessment when faced with large and complex environments. Therefore, security teams need to start with a focused approach; target the highest risk units and assets of an organization while using more limited question sets as they build out their assessments. As a result, this lean approach allows security teams to accomplish their goals faster and focus on the higher risk areas of their environment that demand the most attention.

5. Reporting

What’s the best way to present and analyze risk to everyone?

All of the observations and finding during an assessment will need to be distilled into a report that will be shown to management. Reporting not only helps make decisions but also acts as a hinge between security teams and stakeholders. Hence, being able to communicate through this report effectively plays a huge factor in the resources that are allocated to your department in the future. Reports need to be accurate and comprehensive. At the same time, they need do so in a language that non-security personnel can understand. Reporting must also be influential. It should tell a story by tying the conclusions of the assessment to the bottom line. At a minimum, basic reports should allow you to quickly identify areas for focus across your organization as well as potential outlier units/departments that require further follow up and attention.


Taking action, no matter how small, to build a culture around risk assessment is better than doing nothing at all. Even if you’re only assessing two to three units with a handful of questions, this is a much better alternative than not doing anything at all. By planting this seed, you begin the process of getting your organization involved in the habit of participating in risk assessments. At the same, you’re continuously delivering valuable insight to key stakeholders. Ultimately, using automation software as your risk assessment efforts scale can allow you to maximize the time and attention of your full-time employees as well as your budget.