Risk management challenges for CISOs and how to proceed

As a chief information security officer, you must juggle many variables, from anticipating the next ransomware threat to justifying annual budget requests to ensuring employees are properly trained.

Here are the top risk-related challenges a CISO may face, ways to address those challenges head-on, and engage with other CISOs who may be encountering similar issues.

1. Communication with stakeholders.

The Chief Information Security Officer job is unlike any other C-suite position. It can often be difficult for a CISO to explain in plain English to other members of the executive team why more staff needs to be hired, why existing employees need additional training, or the importance of certain types of threats.

“CISOs face a unique hurdle as they are often the newest C-suite executive in the room at senior leadership team meetings, reporting on a business sector that is often the least understood,” risk-assessment firm AuditBoard wrote in a blog post from February 2022.

Such miscommunication can have serious consequences. Insufficient training of security teams or failure to shift to new defense tactics can increase the risk of unwanted incidents such as data breaches or ransomware attacks.

However, the CISO must be committed to proactively defending against attacks rather than reactively implementing such measures afterwards. When you’re a CISO, you never want to fight the last war over the next—but it can be difficult to argue in front of the board.

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The solution is to learn to speak the language of the C-suite and the board and behave accordingly. CISOs who have risen through the ranks of security teams may need to adjust their fashion sense, manners and conversational skills to better suit the suits.

More importantly, CISOs must learn to communicate with other leaders on their own terms. Instead of getting bogged down in technical details, present your wants and needs in the form of known key performance indicators (KPIs) and measurable goals. Explain that attacks that your organization has not suffered are still a quantifiable risk and should be part of the overall risk profile.

“The most successful CISOs are able to quickly explain their area to colleagues and provide data that is helpful and informative to the rest of the organization,” AuditBoard wrote.

2. Budget fight.

Most of the executive team likely have MBAs and understand business lingo. You may have a CISSP and think in terms of cybersecurity threats, risks and mitigations. Still, you’ll need to convince the C-suite and board of directors to increase your budget, buy new tools, or bolster your security team — all to thwart hypothetical attacks the rest of your executives may not have heard of.

“When successful, organizations fund required CISO-led security initiatives and then never see exactly why they needed that security,” wrote AuditBoard.

Once again, the way to get your budget requests is to use KPIs and measurable numbers, but also extend the company’s business risk profile to include cybersecurity by using probabilities that other executives can understand.

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Show how the average response time would be significantly reduced by moving from EDR to XDR or how much the organization would save by moving from perimeter-based security to SASE/SSE. Skip the technicalities and talk dollars and cents.

“Stakeholder engagement is particularly important for CISOs,” wrote the British Standards Institution in an August 2019 white paper to get broad approval.”

3. Keep your employees happy and informed.

Retention is a constant headache for CISOs, especially in larger organizations, as talented members of the security team are always at risk of being poached. An understaffed, underskilled security team is a quantifiable risk that can be mitigated.

You want to give every valued member of your team reasons to reject recruiters. Here are some methods:

— Make sure your security guards are paid fairly. You may not be able to match every salary offer they receive, but you definitely don’t want them to feel underpaid.

— Present them with clear paths to career advancement, e.g. B. Possibilities of becoming a team leader or even, well, being ready to take your job.

— Make sure they are not burned out. Combating cybersecurity threats can take a psychological toll on defenders, and you want to have enough staff so the workload is spread out in human quantities.

— Provide them with opportunities for professional development, particularly in relation to education and training. Every security worker understands the importance of keeping up with the latest threats and techniques, both to do their own job properly and to be able to be hired when opportunities arise elsewhere.

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4. Stay in the know.

It’s not just the security staff who need to keep up to date with the latest threats, compliance regulations and industry developments – their manager does too. A CISO who doesn’t keep learning new things falls behind, and the risk profile of the entire organization can suffer.

“Faced with evolving cyber threats, CISOs need to educate themselves, their security teams, and all relevant team members on how to protect against existing and emerging data breach threats,” AuditBoard wrote.

Don’t assume you know everything just because you’re the CISO. Attend training seminars, attend conference presentations, read white papers, and keep up to date with the latest industry and regulatory standards.

Most importantly, you’ll network with other CISOs both in your industry and outside of it to share knowledge and experience. Leverage network organizations like the Cybersecurity Collaborative, which develops new risk assessment standards, or the Cybersecurity Collaboration Forum, which facilitates information sharing between like-minded security team leaders. A crowd of peers will always know more than a single individual.

5. Share what you know.

Once you’ve learned to communicate with other members of the organization’s executive team, use those skills to talk to the rest of the organization. Host seminars using next-generation training methods, including short, frequent sessions and dynamic team exercises. Human error is often the biggest cybersecurity risk factor that an organization faces, and spreading your security knowledge only helps to lower your risk profile.

“Underlying all of the challenges facing CISOs is the need to create a culture of security awareness within the organization,” wrote the British Standards Institution. “The more people understand it, the better equipped your organization will be.”

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