Measuring security performance may not sound like the most exciting exercise on the CISO\u2019s agenda, but the right metrics can deliver significant value to security leaders and go a long way to helping them tackle a diverse set of challenges. The intersection of modern security and business means there are multiple metrics that CISOs can use to not only measure and improve the effectiveness of their security efforts but also demonstrate valuable strategic alignment with an organization, among numerous other benefits.\n\nHowever, to get true value from any security performance metrics, it\u2019s important that CISOs avoid drowning in metrics that lack meaning or context, focusing on those that show how security is enabling the business.\n\nThere are thousands of things that can be measured in terms of security performance, and it takes serious time, effort, and resources to extract those measurements and report on them, says Richard Absalom, principal research analyst at the Information Security Forum (ISF). \u201cThe important thing to always consider is: Why are we measuring this? How is this measurement helping? What is the question that it can help to answer? If the measurement does not help to answer something that the stakeholder\/decision-maker needs to know, it is likely to be ignored.\u201d\n\nCISOs need business-relevant, risk-focused, and \u2014 most critically \u2014 evidenced-based metrics, Brian Contos, CSO at Sevco Security, tells CSO. \u201cThe highest priority areas that require metrics include business continuity, regulatory compliance, asset protection, operational efficiencies, and business mission enablement.\u201d\n\nHere are 10 benefits that the right security performance metrics can offer CISOs:\n\n1. Objective decision-making\n\nIncident response metrics \u2014 such as mean time to detect (MTTD) and mean time to respond (MTTR) \u2014 offer quantitative data that helps CISOs make objective decisions. \u201cBy tracking and analyzing key security indicators, CISOs can prioritize efforts, allocate resources, and focus on areas that need the most improvement,\u201d says Frank Kim, fellow at the SANS Institute and lead of the Cybersecurity Leadership Curriculum.\n\n2. Demonstrate ROI\n\nSecurity investment metrics \u2014 such as the percentage of key business initiatives with embedded security processed \u2014 allow CISOs to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of security initiatives to executive leadership and stakeholders. This helps to justify budgets and investments by showing how these efforts contribute to risk reduction and incident prevention. \u201cRegarding risk, it\u2019s not cyber risk that stakeholders are concerned with; it\u2019s the business risk from cyber,\u201d Contos says. More specifically, it\u2019s risks associated with revenue, brand, operations, and environmental, social, and governance, he adds.\n\n3. Effective communication\n\nSecurity awareness metrics \u2014 such as the percentage of business units with regular ambassador program engagement \u2014 help convey whether an organization is building a security-aware and risk-aware culture, providing \u201ca common language for communicating security risks and improvements to non-technical stakeholders,\u201d Kim says. CISOs can use metrics to explain the effectiveness of security measures and the overall security posture of the organization, something that has traditionally been a challenge for a lot of security leaders.\n\nBear in mind, CISOs that present very technical metric readouts to the board many times miss the mark as board members cannot contextualize them, says Fred Rica, partner at accounting and consulting firm BPM and former head of KPMG\u2019s cyber practice \u201cTelling the board you\u2019ve blocked 100,00 events at the firewall is meaningless. Board members need to be asking (and CISOs need to be answering) three simple questions: What are we doing? Is it enough? How do we know?\u201d\n\n4. Risk assessment\n\nVulnerability management metrics \u2014 such as the window of exposure \u2014 help CISOs better understand an organization\u2019s risk profile, and by monitoring trends and identifying potential vulnerabilities, they can proactively address security threats before they escalate.\n\n\u201cUltimately, vulnerability management is about addressing the broken windows and unlocked doors of an enterprise, Kim says. \u201cThese metrics convey how long these doors are potentially open for and serve to roll up day-to-day operational activities like scanning coverage, time to analyze and prioritize, as well as time to patch,\u201d he adds.\n\n5. Continuous improvement\n\nSecurity process improvement metrics \u2014 such as the percentage of incidents with the same repeat root cause \u2014 track progress over time, enabling CISOs to set specific goals. \u201cThis data-driven approach helps drive continuous improvement in security practices and fosters a culture of accountability,\u201d Kim says. These risk-based metrics can then make their way into annual reports, corporate governance documents, and committee charters, as they should because security is strategic to the business, says Contos.\n\n6. Benchmarking\n\nSecurity maturity metrics \u2014 such as capability maturity scores \u2014 can be compared with industry benchmarks like the various Center for Internet Security (CIS) Benchmarks, or even past performance, to help CISOs understand how their organization fares in terms of security maturity. This information can guide the development of realistic security targets and strategies.\n\nFor the board, the five pillars of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework often seem to resonate, Absalom says. Security leaders should look for indicators and metrics that help to answer how well the organization:\n\n7. Regulatory compliance\n\nAs many regulations and standards require organizations to report on specific security metrics, having compliance metrics \u2014 such as the percentage of systems compliant with necessary standards or regulations \u2014 readily available makes it easier to meet compliance requirements, and avoid potential penalties, Kim says.\n\n8. Early detection of issues\n\nThreat detection metrics \u2014 such as the number of incidents detected by internal versus external entities or false positive\/negative rates \u2014 can serve as early warning signs of potential security incidents or weaknesses in the security infrastructure. CISOs can proactively address these issues to prevent larger-scale breaches.\n\n9. Resource optimization\n\nResource utilization metrics \u2014 such as the percentage of time spent on proactive versus reactive security tasks \u2014 can enable CISOs to identify areas of inefficiency or redundant security controls, leading to better resource allocation and cost optimization. This can prove crucial to helping security leaders manage the much-maligned cybersecurity skills shortage.\n\nA recent report from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) found that half of UK businesses are suffering from a basic cybersecurity skills gap, with a third battling more advanced skills shortages in relation to aspects of security such as forensic breach analysis, storing or transferring personal data, or detecting and removing malware.\n\n10. Building trust\n\nSecurity transparency metrics \u2014 such as the number of security incidents communicated to the business or feedback scores from internal stakeholders on security communication \u2014 can enhance the level of trust between the security team and other business units. When the effectiveness of security measures is quantified and communicated transparently, it boosts confidence in the security program, says Kim.