IMHO: Security can never be just part of the business

Security has gone from afterthought to priority in the Board's eyes. That's a good thing, right? But it brings with it a new kind of risk – when security is viewed as simply part of business as usual

changed priorities
Credit: R/DV/RS

In my humble opinion. It’s an easy way to say that what I say here is just my opinion. It’s a gut instinct, if you will. But as with many of you, I’ve learned to rely upon that gut instinct, and that instinct is beginning to scream lately. It’s not because of any particular issue, but rather a trend I am encountering.

As I hear from many of you, your Boards of Directors have been taking a far greater interest in your efforts to manage cyber risk. More time in meetings, more attention to details, more questions. All of these are nice because they usually result in more budget and more legitimacy across the business. But to get here you had to take advantage of others missteps. The Targets, Home Depots, TJXs, Anthems…the list goes on and on. They garnered their Boards’ attention because of unfortunate cyber security incidents that happened at their own businesses. But as luck would have it, your Board members read the press and wanted to make sure that your organization doesn’t become the next up on Brian Krebs’ hit parade. Cyber risk finally has the Board’s attention.

What does that mean? Many of you will find yourself spending more time with the Board or one of its various committees (like Audit, or Risk). It also means that the questions they ask, and the answers you give, might well resonate throughout your organization, signaling that cyber risk is a priority for the business. The Boards sets priorities and goals for the CEO, who in turns passes them down to his/her direct reports, and so on down the line. I’ve always believed that good cyber risk management is a top-down model. Well, good cyber risk management is becoming an expected part of the business.

The attention of the Board is like being in the sunshine, and for many IT security organizations, that’s quite a change from the shadows they’ve been relegated to. But like a castaway adrift in a lifeboat, you may find that all that sunshine can burn you if you’re not careful. When most security leaders are dealing with the Board, at least in the early stages of this “new engagement” they need to be as careful as though they were testifying before Congress: Yes. No. I don’t recall. These are skilled examiners and missteps can come back to haunt you down the road. But once you’ve gone through the honeymoon period, your interaction with the Board should become commonplace as you have been able to frame their perspectives about the realities of cyber risk and what can or cannot be expected.

So here is where my alarms go off: at what point does cyber risk lose the myriad attention that’s been placed on it, and become just another part of the Board’s agenda? That’s the real risk, because it’s a special kind of complacency but one that is very dangerous. Cyber risk isn’t something that can be treated as just another part of the business. Its responsibilities are company wide and even extend beyond the enterprise and into the chain of partners and suppliers, contractors and customers. IT Risk is inherent in every one or every entity that the business touches.

I don’t have an easy answer to avoiding this from happening, and in some businesses we may never evolve to this, but it concerns me nonetheless. I share it with you in the hopes that you can help to stave off such an end result in your organization.

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