InfoSec teams share keys to CISO success

February 10th, 2017

Tech expertise and business engagement are critical for CISOs who want to strengthen security but lack authority in their organizations.

CISOs promise to protect critical business data, but many lack the influence they need to be effective. High-performing infosec teams combine technical expertise and organizational engagement to do their jobs well.

This is the key takeaway of a new research report from IANS entitled “CISO Impact: The 5 Secrets of High-Performing CISOs.” For more than two years, researchers collected diagnostic data from more than 1,200 businesses to assess their security posture.

Diagnostics were structured by two best practice models: 8 Domains of Technical Excellence and 7 Factors of Organizational Engagement. The expansive collection of data was boiled down to 75 best practices shared among high-performing businesses and their leaders. 

In this report, IANS takes a step back from the granular details of its research and highlights five high-level lessons CISOs should adopt as they aim to build greater influence within their organizations.

Cloud growth is driving the importance of security, says Leonovus CEO Michael Gaffney, but CISOs don’t have enough influence to drive change. Most report to CIOs, which are usually trained in basic security but may not be fully up-to-speed on web-based security.

“Security pros don’t have enough of a seat at the table,” he says. “Boards of directors want to hear from more than the CIO; they want to hear from someone about what’s going on. If you’re not at the table from a security perspective and the C-suite doesn’t recognize it, that’s a vulnerability.”

Despite this concern, most infosec pros have to accept they will need to lead without authority, says Stan Dolberg, chief research officer at IANS. Most security managers aren’t given full access to the staff, processes, and technologies they need to fully protect data.

“The CISO and security team make a promise to safeguard critical assets, but they have little control over the resources to make it happen,” he explains. “Security isn’t an isolated function. It stretches over every operation.”

Security leaders can build authority by building alliances for a risk-based approach to security through which the business owns risk. All high-performing organizations in the study hold business leaders accountable for the risk of their actions, says Dolberg. 

CISOs must connect the dots across businesses, goals, strategies, and results, and handle situations at the technical and negotiation levels. These skills are important because CISOs need to inform boards of exposures, collaboration, and steps taken to secure assets. This data is owned by the business, and CISOs must convince them to work together.

The second key is to embrace the role of change agent. CISOs and their teams are responsible for changing many things; for example, how software is developed, or how people click on emails. It’s important to prepare for pushback.

“Change encounters resistance,” says Dolberg. “People don’t like to change. It costs money; it takes time. Embrace the role of change agent, otherwise, you’re going to get very frustrated.”

Engagement is also important here as security pros have to build relationships to understand what motivates other parts of the business. They can use this research to introduce more informed change recommendations.

 

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