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Risk vs Threat vs Vulnerability: What’s the Difference?

Risk, Threat, and Vulnerability are three fundamental terms in the realm of cyber security. It is a common misconception in people to think that these terms are synonymous. They are interconnected with one another but are different. 

To briefly describe, a threat is a circumstance or a potential action that can cause damage to an IT infrastructure. A vulnerability is a weakness in the infrastructure that the threat can exploit. Lastly, a risk is the probability of a threat using a vulnerability to harm an organization.

As more people adopt DevSecOps best practices, it is essential to understand the differences between these three terminologies: Risk vs. Threat vs. Vulnerability

What is a Risk in Cyber Security?

A risk in cyber security is the potentiality of a threat exploiting a weakness or vulnerability in an IT environment to cause harm. Risk is calculated by measuring the likelihood of a threat affecting a company as well as the magnitude of damage it might cause. 

Remember the window example?

The act of leaving your window open (vulnerability) increases the risk of a robbery at your house (threat). Cyber security experts choose to analyze risks and level them from high to low using risk management tools.

This helps to determine which vulnerability needs to be addressed first, with the least risky vulnerability put off to be patched for a later time. 

Types of Risk

Types of Risk

Risks to an organization can come in two different ways, internally and externally. Read on as we explain these in detail. 

Insider Risk:

Employees play a big role in letting in cyber attackers by becoming victims of phishing or ransomware attacks. This increases the risk of your system being exploited. Attacks like these can be prevented with basic cyber security training.

However, some employees also have malicious intent as they choose to harm the company to benefit themselves. 

External Risk:

External risks are the potentiality of a threat coming from outside the system. This could be a threat actor trying to gain access to your system using malicious code or bring the system to a stop using DDoS attacks

What is a Threat in Cyber Security?

A threat is a harmful act that has the intent of causing harm to an organization. A perfect threat definition would be the ability of an actor to gain control of a system. The act is carried through by exploiting the company’s cyber defenses or infrastructure vulnerabilities. 

In contrast to popular opinion, threats to an organization do not always come externally. It is widespread for companies to have employees who are either dishonest or careless and might open up vulnerabilities intentionally or unintentionally. Threats in cyber security can cause a company to sustain financial, legal, and reputation damage. 

Types of Threat

Types of Threat

Cyber threats to organizations may come in various types, including ransomware, phishing attacks, and malware. Threat actors use various vulnerabilities and infiltrate the system using the mentioned methods. Cyber threats to a company can have three categories. 

Intentional Threat:

Remember us mentioning malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks? Using these methods to affect or harm an organization directly is known as an intentional threat. Intentional threat actors have the potential and capability to cause severe damage to a company for personal gains. 

Unintentional Threat:

Unintentional threats are situations created by human errors or lapses in security. A good example is leaving sensitive information somewhere others can access it. Or not patching and updating the firewall and antivirus software. 

Natural Threats:

A company’s assets can also be damaged by natural events such as fires, hurricanes, or thunderstorms. This threat might not be related to cyber security, but the category is still essential to consider. 

What is a Vulnerability in Cyber Security?

A vulnerability is a medium that threats use to access a system. Vulnerabilities can be any weakness in a component of a cyber strategy, networks, databases, devices, system settings, software, or even basic processes that run in a company. 

Imagine leaving the windows of your house open. This is a vulnerability that can be made use of by threat actors like robbers to steal your prized possessions. Vulnerabilities in systems function the same way. Cyber attackers use these flaws to easily bypass the security features of a company and get inside the system. Though vulnerabilities can be patched, an undetected exposure is just a ticking bomb waiting to explode. 

Types of Vulnerability

Types of Vulnerability

There are two primary forms of vulnerabilities in organizations. Humans or technicalities either cause these in the system.

Human Vulnerability:

Vulnerabilities that open up due to human errors are generally termed human vulnerability in an IT environment. Often, employees in a company fall for phishing, ransomware, or other malicious attacks that can prove to be fatal for a company. 

Technical Vulnerability:

Technical vulnerabilities are often created due to an error in one of the components of an IT environment. It can be a misconfiguration or even poorly developed software that can provide easy access to threat actors. 

Risk vs Threat vs Vulnerability: Difference Between Risk, Threat and Vulnerability

Check out the table below as we summarize these three terms’ differences. 

What Are They?The probability of a threat taking advantage of an exposure to cause harm is a risk in cybersecurity. The act of exploiting vulnerabilities to damage a system is how you can define a threat. Weaknesses in a system that can be used to gain access to a system. 
Can It Be Controlled?It can be controlled by monitoring internal factors in the security system.The system cannot control it.It can be controlled by regular monitoring. 
Intent Of HarmAll risks possess an intent to harm your system.Threats or threat actors always have an intent to harm your system.Vulnerabilities may or may not have an intent of harming your system. 
Can It Be Fixed?This can be fixed by regularly monitoring the system, the employees, and failed attack patterns to improve defenses. It can be fixed by patching all the vulnerabilities in a system to block any potential threats from attacking. It can be fixed by using vulnerability management tools and resolving all the vulnerabilities. 
Can It Be Detected?It can be detected using threat monitoring tools. It can be detected using vulnerability scanning tools. Penetration testing can be carried out for even better results. It can be detected using risk assessment tools. 

How to Calculate Risk, Threat, and Vulnerability

Calculating risk, threat, and vulnerability is possible by regularly monitoring and analyzing the amount of effect each of them is having on the system. The factor influencing these calculations is the amount of harm your system would need to sustain, even if one is used against you. 


Risk can be easily calculated using the formula below,

Risk to a system = (Probability of a threat exploiting vulnerabilities) * (Cost of the damage)

Risk assessment systems can measure this using qualitative and quantitative methods. Calculating risk is essential to bypass resources to the spot in your system that needs urgent attention. You can classify risks from high to low and then move on to mitigate them in that order. 


There are a few different methods that you can apply to calculate vulnerabilities. They can either be a vulnerability management tool, or you can choose to test the effectiveness of your cyber security measure by hiring a security expert to carry out penetration testing.

There are often vulnerabilities that vulnerability scanners cannot detect; this makes it important to carry out third-party threat and vulnerability assessments to get an unbiased review of your cyber defenses. 


Threats can only be calculated based on the amount of damage they can cause or the potentiality of making use of a vulnerability in your system. This can be computed side by side as you measure the exposures in your system.

Another great way to assess your system’s probable threats is by analyzing the industry. A threat to an industry similar to yours is also a threat to you. 

Managing Risk, Threat, and Vulnerability

Managing risk, threat, and vulnerability is crucial for ensuring a robust security posture in your organization. Keeping a few factors in mind can help you achieve that to ensure a productive work environment. 

Calculating Risk, Threat, and Vulnerability:

You must conduct regular assessments and analyses of all the risks, threats, and vulnerabilities that might affect or affect your organization. This helps you to stay prepared by minimizing the risk equation and taking action when your system is at stake.

Planning Your Next Move:

The best way to address an issue is by staying ahead of it. You can construct a proper plan to handle all the problems that might affect your system. Implementing security policies and building a risk management system will help you achieve this quickly.  

Enhancing Protection:

Take help from various tools available in the market to meet your security demands. IAM, risk analysis, firewall, and vulnerability management are some of the tools that you can consider installing.

Many CNAPP platforms, such as CloudDefense.AI, help you scan for vulnerabilities, protect your system from threats, and provide real-time risk assessment data that can help you upscale your security infrastructure. 

Conducting Training For Your Employees:

Employees are one of the most vulnerable access points in your IT system. Regular training on the basics of cyber security can create security awareness and counter any threats to your organization. 

Monitoring The System:

Regularly monitoring the system using vulnerability management tools helps you to mitigate them in time. This helps keep out threats and significantly reduces any other risks to your organization. 

Implementing A DevSecOps Approach:

Integrating DevSecOps into your software development cycle allows you to collaborate with your teams. This can help significantly to counter risks together and quickly mitigate vulnerabilities created during the development process. 


Below are some frequently asked questions on risk, threat, and vulnerabilities. 

What is an example of an internal threat? 

A good example of an internal threat in an organization can be an employee selling sensitive data that contains the company’s secret to a competitor. Another example may include an employee unintentionally clicking a phishing link, opening up access to the system. 

Are all vulnerabilities equally critical?

All vulnerabilities seem harmful on paper, but in reality, most vulnerabilities cannot be exploited. This can be due to a need for more authority or the amount of skills needed to use them. Vulnerability management tools help assess the severity of vulnerabilities and mitigate the most critical ones first. 

What is an example of risk avoidance?

An excellent example of risk avoidance measures for an organization can be not wanting to work with a third-party vendor that is not compliant with industry security standards. This reduces any risks of external threats from the vendor itself. 

What Are Some Examples Of Risk Management Tools Used By Cyber Security Experts?

Cybersecurity experts tend to use a range of tools for upscaling their security efforts and counter vulnerability vs threat vs risk. This can include Firewalls, intrusion detection, vulnerability scanners, and risk assessment tools. There are many third-party vendors, such as CloudDefense.AI, that provide these. 


A vulnerability, threat, or risk to your system can be very costly for your IT infrastructure. With rising cyber crimes and new methods being implemented by threat actors, it is necessary to understand the three terms and their differences to safeguard your organization from any harm. 

Conducting regular risk assessments can be crucial to create an impenetrable system. Having a security team is always a great way to do that, but getting help from third-party security vendors can be a big plus for your security posture. 

For that, CloudDefense.AI can be your security guardian, providing state-of-the-art security solutions used by some of the biggest companies around the world. It helps you to track and mitigate vulnerabilities in real-time thanks to its AI-powered vulnerability management system and also keeps out potential threats. A tool like this is essential to create a fortified security infrastructure. Book your free demo with us right now. 

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
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