An Effective Risk Assessment Guide for SMEs

Sub-Saharan Africa alone has 44 million micro, small, and medium enterprises. SMEs are the backbone of
Africa’s economy and are responsible for an estimated 80% of jobs across the continent.
In an era of rapidly expanding knowledge and technology, businesses are forced to rely more and more
on technology to accomplish everyday jobs. Although these day-to-day technology advancement helps
businesses function at a higher level of productivity, it also exposes them to many risks.
Today, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can be considered as the new big target for
cyberattacks, being among the least mature and most vulnerable in terms of their cybersecurity risk and

SMEs rarely conduct a thorough cyber-risk assessment, and they may face various internal issues when
attempting to set up cyber-risk strategies, such as: having small IT teams, inadequate security budgets,
and disagreements between IT and business leadership teams regarding cybersecurity risk management.
Furthermore, SMEs often have a more immediate mindset due to their limited resources, both monetarily
and in terms of manpower. However, that mindset endangers operations and can leave SMBs more
vulnerable to cyber-attacks. As a result, more than half of the existing SME companies lack either an upto-date cyber-risk strategy or any defined cyber-risk strategy at all. Quite alarming!

So how can SMEs protect themselves? An effective risk assessment strategy is the antidote.

Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment helps SMEs to better prepare for unexpected events,
promotes increased competitive posture amongst industry peers, foster a transparent process to address
weak points in IT systems, improves the ability to adapt as the threat landscape changes, and enforces

5 Key Steps for Effective Risk Assessment


    1. Build an Internal Team
      When conducting risk assessments, SMBs typically want to save costs. A smart way to do this is by using an internal team. Although, these teams may lack the expertise to complete a thorough assessment.
      In situations like this, Hacktales can provide guidance throughout the process. Additionally, for successful risk assessment and management, it’s key to form a multi-departmental team beyond just the IT team.

    2. Choose a Framework
      One cool fact about cybersecurity is that there are several frameworks, such as CMMC and NIST, which provide well-documented guidelines to complement your risk assessment methodology. A framework can help identify specific categories of risks and vulnerabilities to test for, based on industry standards and auditor requirements.
      For example, if your business holds a great deal of customers Personally Identifiable Information (PII), then exploitation is one potential problem – something addressed by both CMMC and NIST.

    3. Rank your Risks
      After you must have identified risks through the framework, proceed to rank risks by determining the relevance and likelihood of each threat. For instance, would a supply chain threat, direct malware attack, or insider threat cause greater damage? What is the probability of each? Additionally, if a hack occurs, what type of hack could cause the most significant impact? Once you determine the risks, build out your risk matrix. The risk assessment matrix works by presenting various risks as a chart, color-coded by severity: high risks in red, moderate risks in yellow, and low risks in green.

    4. Establish Baselines
      Once you understand your strengths and weaknesses, establish a baseline using cybersecurity best practices tailored to address your previously identified high, medium, and low risks. It is important to tailor the baseline to your organization’s needs and industry standards.

      Using one of the frameworks appropriate to your industry is an excellent place to start since they are well established and based on industry standards. However, you are not limited by the baseline; rather, it serves as a building block.

      For example, CMMC Level 1 only requires 17 practices for compliance. Still, if your company grows and begins to create Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), your company will be expected to achieve a minimum Level 3 certification. Although baselines change, conducting a risk assessment helps you see what needs to change within that baseline as your company evolves.

    5. Develop a Remediation Plan
      Once an assessment is completed, the next step is the remediation phase which usually requires cooperation. Create a remediation plan with clear deadlines to ensure the weaknesses are addressed and not simply forgotten once the assessment is complete.

    It’s important to note that risk assessment is not a one-and-done task; it requires planning and follow-through. Competitive SMEs must remain vigilant and continually assess and improve cyber risk posture in response to changing threats and risks.

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