7 best cybersecurity risk assessment tools

| By:
Frank DePrisco

So much of cybersecurity performance starts with a proper risk assessment. Think of a proper risk assessment as your roadmap or “battle plan” for improving your client’s defenses, it’s impossible to know where you need to go without knowing where you’re starting.

Fortunately, MSPs don’t need to leave such an important task to chance. They also don’t need to leave it up to the archnemesis of cybersecurity – human error. You can rely on cybersecurity risk assessment tools to ensure you’re covering all the critical aspects of protecting your client’s network infrastructure, mission-critical data, and sensitive files. But, with so many IT risk assessment tools available, how do you choose the right one?

This guide is here to help you wade through the “sea” of risk assessment tools. Our team here at ConnectWise has done the research for you. So, let’s find you the perfect cyber security risk assessment tools for your growing MSP business.

How cybersecurity risk assessments work

Your risk assessment aims to thoroughly evaluate your client’s IT estate and current cybersecurity defense structure. A strong assessment process should provide you with the following:

  • An overall picture of your client’s entire IT infrastructure
  • A categorized list of assets (both hardware and software) from most to least important
  • An idea of current cybersecurity strengths
  • An idea of current cybersecurity weaknesses and optimization opportunities

NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is one of the benchmark organizations for cybersecurity best practices. The cybersecurity community at large embraces the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as one of the “gold standards” for protecting your client’s digital assets.

Another NIST document, the Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments, outlines 6 key steps for an effective cybersecurity risk assessment. They are the following:

  • Identify threat sources. ID where possible threats may come from. If your client is a governmental agency, a potential example would be another nation’s government. Environmental threats like natural disasters may also be a factor. Consult a threat catalog from a reputable cybersecurity agency for a more in-depth list.
  • Identify threat events. Identify which cybercriminal methods would be most relevant for your clients (i.e., ransomware, DDoS, social engineering, etc.).
  • Identify vulnerabilities. Look for vulnerabilities, loopholes, and preexisting conditions in your client’s existing cybersecurity. Use a cybersecurity framework like NIST as a benchmark for comparison. NIST also provides extensive lists of preexisting conditions you can put your client’s system up against.
  • Determine the likelihood of exploitation. How likely is it that one of the potential threat events will result in data or financial loss? This process can be in-depth and requires three separate steps within itself. The proper steps to assess exploitation can be found in Appendix G of the NIST cybersecurity framework.
  • Determine the probable impact. For any event you determine likely to cause a loss in step 4, you’ll assess the impact of those potential losses. If you don’t know where to start, you can find general guidance in Appendix H of the NIST framework.
  • Calculate Risk. Here, you’ll combine your findings in steps 4 and 5 to determine an overall risk assessment of a particular cybersecurity threat. The NIST cybersecurity framework includes a detailed 9-block scoring rubric to help you further categorize your threats and accurately determine their risk. This scoring tool can be found in Appendix I of the framework.

Further definition and breakdown of the NIST framework, cyber attack methodologies, and other important risk assessment concepts can be found in our cybersecurity glossary

The role of cybersecurity risk assessment tools

The functions of cybersecurity risk assessment tools vary. Tools like the NIST and other cybersecurity frameworks provide a guide/checklist to ensure no stone goes unturned. 

Launching an effective cybersecurity strategy hinges heavily on a rock-solid risk assessment. Frameworks like these are necessary to make sure that happens. Other tools like vulnerability scanners and assessments, automated questionnaires, and staff assessments expand the scope of your risk assessment. They provide the same investigation and planning level to peripheral cybersecurity concern areas, like staff and vendors. These risk assessment tools are used in conjunction with your primary assessment and serve to strengthen its findings or minimize human error.

The cybersecurity risk assessment tools you need

Now that you’re familiar with their form and function let’s dive into the security risk assessment tools you need to properly evaluate your client’s defenses.


1. The NIST cybersecurity framework

We touched on this briefly above, but the NIST framework is widely considered the “go-to guide” for conducting a thorough and efficient risk assessment. Between the guide itself and the appendices within, MSPs should have everything they need to thoroughly examine and diagnose their clients’ cybersecurity needs.

What makes this framework so effective is its approach. The NIST framework fosters a proactive (rather than reactive) approach to cybersecurity protection. Since it is so thorough, the framework helps many organizations strengthen their current risk management while improving their ability to ID and stop future threats. 

Discover how effective the NIST framework can be – when you align your people, processes, and technology to its tenets – by watching our webinar, The Left and Right of Boom.

2. Automated questionnaires

Automated questionnaires are a valuable tool for assessing third-party risk. Any vendors or contractors your clients work with become an extension of their attack surface by association. However, countless vendors are typically used to conduct everyday business. The time and energy necessary to administer these questionnaires would create a bottleneck in any organization.

Using an automated platform allows you to conduct these surveys much more efficiently. Responses can be collected and tracked without taking away from primary duties. You can also use automated questionnaire platforms to administer specific surveys for specific vendors. 

3. Vulnerability assessment tools

These security risk assessment tools scan your client’s system for any vulnerabilities, loopholes, or exposures cyber criminals may seek to exploit. 

Vulnerability assessments can protect against the following threats:

  • Escalation of privileges by way of fault authentication
  • Insecure defaults – software containing weak credentials like easy-to-crack passwords
  • Code injection attacks like SQL, XXS, and more

4. Vendor-provided tools

Not to be overlooked, standard vendor-provided tools provide an all-important layer of protection to any cybersecurity risk assessment. These are tools like threat response, identification, and analysis services. Certain vendors may even provide robust security operations center as-a-service (SOCaaS) services, SIEM analysis, and more. 

Remember that you are bringing on a third-party vendor when purchasing these tools. It’s important to explore your business relationship and ensure that whomever you work with is a great fit for your company goals and values.

5. Staff questionnaires

Remote work culture has thrown a whole new wrinkle into cybersecurity. With entire workforces working remotely, it can be hard to track just how big an organization’s attack surface can get.

Part of the reason for this ever-expanding attack surface is the fact that employees need to log on to company devices, and access sensitive company files remotely. Additionally, employees may use personal devices for work or allow friends and family to log on to their work devices.

Regular staff questionnaires will keep employees on their toes. They’re a simple way of testing an employee’s cybersecurity knowledge and response capabilities. Insights you gain from these questionnaires can guide future company-wide cybersecurity training for your clients or even help to overhaul their best practices.

6. Third-party risk assessments

Vendors and contractors make up a fringe layer of your client’s overall network infrastructure. These entities may technically exist outside the company but routinely access your client’s network assets.

Today’s hackers are fully aware that this relationship exists. As a result, hackers target these vendor companies as a roundabout way of accessing companies’ primary networks. Once inside the vendor’s system, these threat actors can navigate to mission-critical information for several companies, causing significant damage and loss.

Stopping this cyber-attack trend means using vulnerability assessments to your advantage. When conducting the assessment, be sure to dig a little deeper than surface-level vulnerabilities. Probe your client’s access and security controls to uncover any potential vulnerabilities. 

Armed with the findings from your report, you can assess how your client’s vendor performance aligns with their internal cybersecurity best practices. Taking the extra time to explore this cybersecurity assessment tool can strengthen your client’s relationships with their vendors and uncovers opportunities to cancel/eliminate any technology, apps, or partnerships that compromise overall cybersecurity protection.

7. Security ratings

Security ratings provide an objective view of your client’s system performance. The numbers don’t lie, so these data-driven ratings can give a clear, honest picture of your client’s current cybersecurity situation and what areas need improvement. 

Find more tools, along with their definitions and functionality, by browsing our cybersecurity center

Features to look for in cybersecurity assessment tools

There are 5 key features to keep in mind when searching for the right cybersecurity risk assessment tools for your MSP:

  • Purpose-driven. Make sure the tools you choose match the scenario you need them for. Your larger clients will have different needs than smaller ones. A small, “solopreneur”-style business may need anti-malware, while an enterprise organization may need more robust AI-driven tools.
  • Scalability. Your risk assessment tools should be able to grow along with your client’s organization. They should be able to accommodate increases in volume. 
  • Easy integration. Any tools you choose aren’t going to exist in a vacuum. They need to function properly with other downstream and upstream cybersecurity systems. Data should transmit seamlessly, and notifications and alerts must work without hiccups.
  • Compatibility. Any platform you choose should be compatible with your client’s current and future cybersecurity setup. You’ll also need to consider platforms you can quickly adapt to other clients as your MSP business scales. 
  • Strong support. Cybersecurity tools are constantly evolving. As a result, you’ll want to ensure your tool’s provider has in-depth support resources. If you’re working with a platform that’s open source, support typically comes from a peer forum or community thread. But, whenever possible, you may want to opt for premium support. It’s also a good idea to leverage any onboarding/software resources the company provides.

Use the information in this blog to guide you as you build your cybersecurity risk assessment stack. Ensuring your “toolbelt” covers the primary areas of the NIST framework, meets the 5 traits mentioned above, and covers the different tool categories is a solid plan for risk assessment success.

ConnectWise is here to help you as your business grows. MSPs looking to embrace intuitive cybersecurity risk assessment tools with innovative features should contact us or get started with a free Cybersecurity Suite demo today.

Security ratings are normally a tool for assessing third-party vendor performance. But now, many companies are leveraging them to assess their internal cybersecurity. Using these ratings properly can provide powerful insights into various areas of your client’s protection.

Consulting these ratings and acting on the feedback you receive can improve cybersecurity factors like threat identification and attack surface management. Many IT professionals have found that implementing these ratings as part of their assessments fosters a more holistic cybersecurity approach.