How can the C-suite support CISOs in improving cybersecurity?

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Among the individuals charged with protecting and improving a company’s cybersecurity, the CISO is typically seen as the executive for the job. That said, the shift to widespread remote work has made a compelling case for the need to bring security within the remit of other departments.

improving cybersecurity

The pandemic has torn down physical office barriers, opening businesses up to countless vulnerabilities as the number of attack vectors increased. The reality is that every employee is a potential vulnerability and, with the security habits of workers remaining questionable even amid a rising number of data breaches, it’s never been more important to foster a culture of security throughout an organization.

Improving security with culture

We continue to see different data breaches in the news, with hundreds of millions of users on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube having their accounts compromised in the latest breach. These instances, and countless others, are a testament to the critical importance of strong security behaviors – both at work and home – and the training and attentiveness they require.

The shared responsibility in security is closely tied to how employees at all levels perceive the importance of security. If this is ingrained within the culture, they will have the abilities and tools to protect themselves. This is, of course, easier said than done.

Creating and maintaining a security culture is a never ending and constantly evolving mission and influencing people’s behavior is often the most challenging part of the effort. People have become numb to the security threats they face, and although they understand the potential risks, they don’t do anything about it. For example, recent research revealed that 92 percent of UK workers know that using the same password over and over is risky, but 64 percent of the respondents do it anyway. So, how do we get through that dissonance and get people engaged in security?

Encouraging cyber-secure practices from the top

As security continues to grow in importance, organizations absolutely need an executive at the top to vocally and adamantly advocate for security.

CISOs typically lead this charge. They are often tasked with leading a security team and a program responsible for protecting all information assets, as well as ensuring disaster recovery, business continuity and incident response plans are in place and regularly tested. In addition, CISOs and their teams are usually responsible for evaluating new technologies, staying updated on compliance regulations, overseeing identity and access management, communicating risks and security strategies to the C-suite and providing trainings.

Today, CISOs are also focused on protecting a highly distributed workforce and customers – in offices, at home or a mix of both – and meeting the new security challenges and threats that come along with this hybrid environment. That’s why it’s more important than ever for other C-suite executives to help promote and drive the organization’s security culture – especially through communications, training and enforcement of best practices.

While CISOs continue to spearhead the development of the organization’s security program and define the security mission and culture, other C-suite executives can vocally support these programs to ensure their integrity throughout the whole process, from vision and development to implementation and ongoing enforcement. The participation of the C-suite can also help CISOs focus on the most important security issues and adjust the program to ensure it is aligned with broader business plans and strategies, thereby helping to get broader support without compromising security.

One likely companion for this type of cross-department alignment is the Chief Operating Officer (COO). As this role typically reports directly to the CEO and is considered to be second in the chain of command, the COO will be able to provide the authority needed to advocate for security and how it can impact employees, customers, products and ultimately the business. This means a good COO today needs to encourage a business culture that supports security efforts thoroughly, while also ensuring security is prioritized at a tactical level.

However, the COO is not the only one that needs to serve as a security advocate. All C-level executives have a critical role to play in establishing a strong security culture. Because of their connections to different stakeholders, they will be able to share diverse insights.

For example, the COO can better incorporate input from the board, which is vital to ensuring the CISO understands the company’s risk tolerance which will directly impact innovation and revenue. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) could share insights into the spending priorities and various obligations needed to protect financial systems and the Chief Human Resources Manager (CHRM) could get valuable data from employees. The CHRM is instrumental when driving the development of the security culture; their level of engagement often determines the overall success of developing a successful security-conscious culture.

Security-conscious C-suite executives will be able to step in to support the CISO’s mission that security needs to be a top priority.

Think security-first

Having model behavior fed from the very top will help to underline an organization’s collective commitment to cybersecurity. In doing so, employees are empowered by a sense of shared responsibility around their role in keeping a company’s corporate data secure. To this end, it’s crucial that the C-suite of modern companies are trailblazers of security, particularly in the current landscape.

The techniques employed by cybercriminals are becoming more and more sophisticated, and the risk of data breaches and stolen information being offered for sale on the dark web has never been higher. As the pandemic continues to influence developments in information security, senior leadership, middle management and junior staff members must all work together towards a collective aim of securing their workplace.

Fostering a culture of security awareness is by no means an easy feat, but the long-term gains outweigh any teething issues and will serve to make businesses watertight in the midst of a growing threat landscape.

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September 10, 2020