Many non-techies use cybersecurity and other information technology terminologies interchangeably during casual conversations. Risk and vulnerability management terminologies are some of the most misunderstood terms in cybersecurity today. Many blends, interchangeably use and confuse the terms risk, threat, and vulnerability. Confusing these terms can lead to clouding your ability to understand the working of vulnerability management processes, programs, and tools. Every cybersecurity term has its own specific meaning, importance, and applicability. In this article, we will try to explain the difference between risk, threat, and vulnerability and why these terms should not be used interchangeably.
Risk vs. threat vs. vulnerability
To simplifying things before going deeper, in cybersecurity, a risk is nothing but the likelihood of a potential loss or damage of data, equipment, and other physical and digital assets caused by a cyber or physical threat. A threat on the other hand is the likelihood of occurrence of an unwanted event that can have negative consequences. For businesses, such events can include business disruptions, security breaches caused by the exploitation of a security vulnerability, and so on. Lastly, a vulnerability is a security gap that can allow cybercriminals to bypass any security parameters set by a company or an individual to protect sensitive information/data and other digital assets. An organization can have security vulnerabilities in its digital infrastructure, networks, devices, security systems, applications, etc. that can expose the organization to many threats.
In a nutshell, a threat exploiting a vulnerability in your organizational infrastructure can result in risks of damage to your organizational assets.
Let’s go a bit deeper and analyze the difference between risk, threat, and vulnerability.
What is risk?
Risks are defined as the likelihood of a potential loss or damage to assets caused by a threat exploiting a vulnerability. Risk is calculated by: Risk = Threat x Vulnerability.
Examples of cybersecurity risks for businesses caused by the exploitation of security vulnerabilities include:
In the business environment, risks are anything that can damage your organizational assets and cause some form of loss. Businesses leverage risk management programs and often conduct risk assessments to identify and prevent potential risks to business safety and sustainability.
What is a threat?
A threat is a capability of an incident to negatively impact your organizational systems and other assets. Threats can be classified into three categories including:
Businesses face a host of security threats today that include ransomware, phishing, DDoS attacks, malware, and so on. It is common among organizations to invest in cyber threat assessments to better understand where to invest detection, prevention, and remediation efforts.
What is a vulnerability?
A vulnerability is a security loophole, a bug, or unprotected element that allows cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to your organizational data, devices, or other assets. An organization can make known and unknown vulnerabilities present in its organizational infrastructure that can lead to the risk of security intrusions and other complications. The common causes of vulnerabilities include:
Businesses conduct regular vulnerability risk assessments to identify potential security vulnerabilities present in the organizational systems, networks, devices, equipment, and so on. Timely identification of vulnerabilities can allow your business to patch potential security flaws and avoid a host of security risks and their accompanying negative consequences.
Threats, vulnerabilities, and risks are different and often interconnected when it comes to cybersecurity. Organizations throughout the world invest heavily in all three elements. It is important to understand the difference between them to learn the importance and applicability of each term.
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