Cybersecurity vs Cyber Risk Management: What are the Similarities and Differences?

7 min read


Cybersecurity and cyber or IT risk management are essential components of any organization's strategy to navigate the complex and ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. 

But while the two terms – cybersecurity and cyber risk management-- are often used interchangeably, they are two distinct practices that work in conjunction to protect an enterprise from cyber attacks. As the threat landscape evolves further, it is crucial to have calculated and robust strategies for both to maintain a strong, secure, and proactive digital environment. And to do so, it is important to clearly understand the similarities and differences between the two.

Understanding Cybersecurity

As the word implies, cybersecurity practices aim to protect and safeguard not just information/data, networks, and digital infrastructure but also physical devices and even premises from malicious attacks and damage. 

Cybersecurity includes a set of people, methods, processes, practices, and technologies that are put in place to protect an enterprise’s data, systems, and networks from threats ranging from unauthorized access and damage to attacks, disruptions, and theft, among others. Cybersecurity is a broad strategy that includes factors like infrastructure security, data protection, network application security, disaster recovery, and end-user education and awareness. It focuses on threat prevention, vulnerability management, and incident response to protect information and information systems and ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data.

Specifically, this includes four key aspects:

  • Physical security

    or measures to protect computer systems and networks from unauthorized physical access and/or damage from events like fire or vandalism, and to safeguard from breaches resulting from theft. Some methods employed include security guards, access controls, fencing, and boundaries, among others.

  • Network security

    that focuses on protecting computer networks from unauthorized access. This is achieved through measures like firewalls, antivirus systems, intrusion detection systems, and encryption. 

  • Application security

    that aims to protect software applications from attacks and manipulations. Modern applications are being developed with intrinsic security measures – where security is built into the design rather than being added on later. Despite this, there can still be vulnerabilities within an application that hackers can exploit. Cybersecurity strategies are designed to protect applications from such attacks/manipulations. 

  • Information/Data security

    that protects enterprise data – which includes the enterprises’ own information and even customer and third-party data. Cybersecurity practices focus on protecting sensitive enterprise data from unauthorized access, disclosure, or modification, and some methods to achieving this are encryption, access control, firewalls, authentication protocols, backups, and regular purging, among others.

Understanding Cyber/IT Risk Management

Cyber and IT risk management involves identifying, assessing, prioritizing, managing, and responding to the various risks associated with information/data, IT assets, and the use of digital technologies, and their potential impact on an organization. Identifying and mitigating risks of this nature requires strategic planning and informed quick decision-making.

The key steps/processes involved in cyber / IT risk management are:

  • Identify

    – In this step, it is crucial to identify and inventory the digital assets, potential threats, and vulnerabilities, and to determine the criticality and value of each asset in terms of its impact on business operations.

  • Risk Assessment

    – This is a systematic process that evaluates an organization's vulnerabilities, threats, and potential impacts related to its information systems and digital assets. It involves defining the scope, identifying critical assets, and pinpointing potential threats. The assessment also includes examining system vulnerabilities and analyzing risks based on likelihood and impact. Mitigation strategies are then developed to reduce or address the identified risks, and an action plan is created. Ongoing monitoring ensures the effectiveness of implemented controls and the need for adjustments. Through this process, organizations can gain a clearer understanding of their cyber risk posture, enabling informed decisions and improved resilience against cyber threats.

  • Risk Mitigation

    - This is followed by risk mitigation or the development and implementation of strategies to address identified risks. These may include measures like implementing robust security controls, adopting best practices, creating processes to be followed, and even inculcating a risk-aware culture within the enterprise.

  • Risk Monitoring and Response

    – This stage involves continuous monitoring of assets, systems, and networks to detect potential cyber incidents. It also includes the implementation of a bespoke incident response plan and processes to analyze incidents and contain and remediate them, communicate with essential stakeholders, and conduct post-incident analysis.

  • Review and Update

    – in this stage, regular review and updates to the cyber risk assessment should be carried out to account for changes in the threat landscape, technology landscape, and business environment. Cyber risk teams must assess the effectiveness of implemented controls and adjust mitigation strategies as needed and consider conducting periodic comprehensive assessments to ensure ongoing risk management effectiveness.

Examining the Similarities

Evidently, there is some overlap and similarities between cybersecurity and cyber risk management strategies, and they complement each other:

  • Protection

    - Both practices aim to protect enterprise assets—including systems, devices, networks, and data—from cyber threats. 

  • Threat Awareness

    - Both practices aim to improve threat awareness as they require a thorough understanding of the evolving risk landscape and the threats facing the organization. 

  • Minimize Impact

    - Both practices aim to minimize not just the likelihood of threats and risks, but also their impact on the organization.

Understanding the Key Differences

For all the similarities, there are significant differences between the two. They vary significantly in their focus, strategic approach, and scope, as listed below:

Point of DifferenceCybersecurityCyber Risk Management
Scope and FocusPrimarily focuses on protecting computer systems, networks, and data from unauthorized access, attacks, and damage. It involves implementing preventive measures, such as firewalls, encryption, access controls, and security patches, to safeguard against potential threats.The focus is broader and involves the identification, assessment, and prioritization of potential risks and vulnerabilities in an organization's digital infrastructure. It encompasses not only technical aspects but also the business impact and financial consequences of cyber threats. It aims to manage risks proactively, considering a range of factors such as threat likelihood, potential impact, and risk tolerance.
ObjectivesTo establish a secure environment, protect sensitive data, maintain confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information, and prevent unauthorized access and malicious activities.To identify, assess, and mitigate potential risks to the organization's information assets. It involves understanding the likelihood and potential impact of various cyber risks and implementing strategies to minimize or transfer those risks.
ApproachFocuses on implementing security measures, policies, and technologies to prevent and detect security breaches. It involves deploying firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion detection systems, and other security controls to protect against known threats and vulnerabilities.Takes a holistic approach that goes beyond technical controls. It involves risk assessment, risk analysis, risk treatment, and risk monitoring. This includes identifying and prioritizing risks, implementing risk mitigation strategies, developing incident response plans, and regularly monitoring and updating risk management practices.
PerspectiveTypically takes a narrow view from a technical standpoint, emphasizing the protection of systems and networks. It focuses on defending against specific threats and vulnerabilities using technical controls and measures.Takes a broader organizational perspective. It considers business objectives, regulatory compliance, legal implications, reputation management, and financial consequences.

One can consider cyber risk management as the strategic foundation that assesses a wide variety of risks and identifies ways in which to mitigate each one, while cybersecurity is a tactical, hands-on approach to defending assets against whatever threatens them. Managing cyber risk requires a deep understanding of the potential consequences of a cyber incident and effective implementation of risk mitigation strategies to minimize the impact on an organization's objectives and stakeholders. 

Cybersecurity and cyber risk management align in their objective of safeguarding organizations against cyber threats, yet they adopt distinct perspectives and methodologies. The practices complement each other and have equally important roles in ensuring comprehensive protection and effective risk mitigation. By integrating both disciplines into their overall cybersecurity and risk management strategies, organizations can build a robust and proactive defense posture against a continuously evolving risk landscape.

Proactively Manage Cyber Risk with MetricStream

MetricStream’s IT and cyber governance, risk, and compliance solution, CyberGRC empowers organizations to connect all types of cyber risk data from across the enterprise and leverage actionable business intelligence to make data-driven decisions to build cyber resilience. With CyberGRC, your organization can:

  • Gain a single, consolidated, and comprehensive view of your cyber risk posture across all risk areas and objects 
  • Complement the cyber security tools to reduce the risk of cyber breaches with active risk management 
  • Ensure compliance with cyber-related regulations and frameworks, thereby reducing compliance risk 
  • Streamline the management of IT and cyber policies and documents and ensure compliance with all 
  • Identify, assess, mitigate, and monitor third-party IT risks, while also proactively managing vendor compliance 
  • Measure cyber risk exposure in quantified terms, leading to better investment decisions and effectively determining ROI on controls and tools
  • Continuously monitoring IT controls and processes for improved compliance and security

Want to learn more about how CyberGRC can help your organization build an effective and resilient cyber risk management program? Request a demo now. 

Check out our latest eBooks on cyber risk:

Cyber Risk Management for Energy Companies

7 Top Cyber Risk Strategies for Banking and Financial Services 

5 Connections Every Cyber Risk Leader Must Make for Driving Cyber Resilience

Agnishwar Banerjee

Agnishwar Banerjee Product Marketing, MetricStream

People call me AB and I am part of the CyberGRC Product Marketing team at MetricStream, where I handle the messaging, product go-to-market plans, and analyse market trends. Having witnessed the transition from offline to online firsthand (80’s child), for most of my life, I have been an avid enthusiast in the domain of technology and cyber security including personal cybersecurity. Over the last 10 years, I have been involved in developing and marketing risk-focused, SaaS products. I have a good mix of right brain and left brain and love reading, learning new things and am generally a big believer in the power of looking inward, effective processes and people.