10 Security Essentials Every CIO Needs to Know

Update: This post was updated on Nov. 2, 2015, to reflect the latest industry statistics and news.

An Executive Guide to Embracing Innovation With Confidence

New streams of information continuously flow into corporations, and with the use of business analytics, enable them to make smarter, real-time decisions. Employees, customers, contractors, and systems are all connected as never before, across a multitude of devices, platforms and technologies. While this connection fosters insight, these sprawling and overlapping networks pose daunting security challenges. The complexity is dizzying, and the possible points of attack near limitless. CIOs are grappling with growing frustrations — and questions.

Is Strong Security Even Possible in the Hyper-connected IoT Era?

The answer is yes, but it requires fundamental changes in processes and attitudes.

As the sun rises in New York, the VP for sales rolls out of bed, glances at her tablet and sees that a big opportunity has surfaced in Malaysia. This news sets off a cascade of communication. Before breakfast, six members of the worldwide team are on a teleconference, some of them via VoIP (voice over IP) connections around the globe. Three contractors call in on cell phones and two executives participate on calls using the Bluetooth enabled hands-free voice support in their cars. Throughout the day, emails, texts and Hangout messages crisscross the globe, about half of them on the corporate network, others on Gmail and Yahoo. By evening in New York, the deal is closed. In the following hours, a few of the participants friend and follow each other on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.

It’s no secret that managers today can summon brainpower and gigabytes of data in an instant, and use analytics and now cognitive computing to help them to make faster and far better informed decisions. Yet the very strengths of these interconnected networks — their speed and openness, the easy access anywhere on the planet — also create a myriad of vulnerabilities. And the job of securing a corporation’s network grows infinitely more complex as information pours in from thousands of devices and through scores of public Web-based services and cloud service providers.

In a 2015 study, the Ponemon Institute reported:

  • Nearly 40 percent of large companies, including many in the Fortune 500, aren’t taking the right precautions to secure the mobile apps they build for customers
  • Only 5.5 percent of the mobile app budget is currently being allocated to ensuring that mobile apps are secure against cyber-attacks before they are made available to users
  • 50 percent of these organizations were found to devote zero budget whatsoever towards mobile app security
  • 55 percent state their organization does not have a policy which defines the acceptable use of mobile apps in the workplace
  • 67 percent of companies allow employees to download non-vetted apps to their work devices

Think mobile devices aren’t susceptible to attacks? An Arxan study showed that the number of mobile cyber-security attacks is continuing to grow. At any given time, malicious code is infecting more than 11.6 million mobile devices.

Growing Challenges

In such an environment, access is easy for everyone involved — all too often including organized criminal operations. In fact, upwards of 80 percent of cyberattacks are now driven by highly organized crime rings in which data, tools and expertise are widely shared. And those crime rings regard Internet-connected devices and things – like cars and televisions – as prime real estate. By infecting devices with hard-to-detect malware, they extend their bases of operations.

For thieves, corporate networks are bursting with digital treasures, including personally identifiable information, passwords, user IDs, intellectual property, and business secrets. Digital intruders also target strategic assets, from government ministries to communications networks. Some are out to disrupt business operations. Gartner’s estimate is that 20 to 30 percent of consumer PCs have been compromised by botnets and malware that can be used as infrastructure for criminal operations. And in October this year, hundreds of closed circuit security cameras were turned into a botnet. With many firms considering the enterprise use of personally-owned or BYO devices, the potential for infection is a very real concern.

A single infected computer can cause serious damage. One of the most dramatic examples to date is Stuxnet, a highly sophisticated worm engineered to cripple industrial software and equipment. In the spring of 2009, the worm began spreading through machines, most of them in Iran. Someone, it seemed, had introduced it through a contaminated thumb-drive. Developed to target machines running a Siemens software program, the worm wreaked havoc on numerous industrial systems.

The lessons for corporate security leaders are clear. If a worm can make its way into a heavily protected ICS (industrial control systems) environment, how much easier would it be to find an opening in a globe-trotting workforce of Twittering, Facebooking, texting and Skyping professionals? What’s more, if a worm can disable industrial equipment, couldn’t others shut down supply chains, reroute traffic and damage electric grids, among other catastrophes? In a word, yes. To face these growing challenges, corporations require a new breed of security leader.

Naturally, they must be attuned to countless technology threats, but also to strategic business issues. They need to be able to answer tough questions like: Which information should be shared broadly? Who should have access to certain corporate crown jewels? and How will those jewels be protected? Together, the technical and strategic challenges are incredibly complex. And while the temptation may be to respond with solutions every bit as complex, far-sighted executives realize that such escalation is untenable, unaffordable and, ultimately, fruitless.

The only answer is to change – at a fundamental level – the way companies operate. It starts with expanding the mission of enterprise security, from the tech staff and their machines to every person within the company, and everyone who does business with it. This is only fitting: since each person poses a potential breach point, each one must also represent a piece of the solution. In the end, success hinges upon creating a strong and persistent awareness: a hyper-connected, risk-aware culture.

Creating a Hyper-connected, Risk-Aware Culture

This type of culture demands more than up-to-date technology and extends far beyond best practices. It represents a new way of thinking; one in which a pragmatic approach to security informs every decision and procedure at every level of the company. Organizations must recast the way people handle information, from the C-suite to summer interns. In such a culture, secure procedures for data become second nature, much like fastening a seat belt or storing matches in a safe place.

The time to act is now. Enterprise security is fast approaching a tipping point. Consider the elements. In the criminal class, organized professionals have taken over for amateurs. That drives up the threat. At the same time, companies have gained productivity and “empowered” workers by broadly distributing rivers of digital data on operations, marketing, sales and customer service across myriad mobile devices and through the cloud. This multiplies vulnerability. And because the near totality of a company’s business is now managed digitally, the consequences of a break-in can rock the entire firm.

In sum: the thieves are more skilled, they have innumerable digital doors and windows to crawl through, and the stash inside is priceless.

When the stakes are high, the path to security can appear daunting — and confusing. While there is no lack of security products and services on the market today, our customers often tell us they are frustrated by a security market they perceive as lurching from headline to headline, seeking relevance in the latest security crisis or compliance dictates. Many don’t know where to start or what to believe, often describing security and compliance as an investment with unquantifiable value, a dubious ROI, and all the appeal of speed bumps on a freeway. This confusion often leads to indecision–or worse, the decision to forgo innovation based on fear.

There’s no getting around the fact that to secure an enterprise is a formidable undertaking, one that is never complete. What’s more, changing a culture is hard. But this work is essential. Strong security is the cost of staying in business, and achieving it is within reach.

10 Security Essentials

Finding the balance between innovation and the need to control risk, a comprehensive security strategy should include technology, process and policy measures. Here are the ten essential security practices that we think every CIO needs to know to achieve security intelligence in the 21st Century.

1. Build a Risk-Aware Culture

The idea is elementary. Every single person can be the infection point for the enterprise, whether it’s from clicking a dubious attachment, plugging in the wrong USB stick or failing to install a security patch on a tablet. So the effort to create a secure enterprise must include everyone. Building a risk-aware culture involves defining the risks and goals, and educating all users by spreading the word. But the important change is cultural. Think of the knee-jerk reaction — the horror — that many experience if they see a parent yammering on their phone while a child runs into the street.

That same intolerance should exist, at a company level, when colleagues are careless about security. If you see something, say something. Management, of course, needs to push this change relentlessly from the very top down, while also implementing tools to track progress.

2. Manage Incidents and Respond

Say that two similar security incidents take place, one in Brazil, the other in Pittsburgh. They may be related. But without the security intelligence needed to link them, an important pattern — one that could indicate a potential incident — may go unnoticed. A company-wide effort to implement intelligent and cognitive analytics and automated response capabilities is essential. Creating an automated and unified system will enable an enterprise to monitor its operations — and respond quickly.

3. Defend the Workplace

Cybercriminals are constantly probing for weaknesses. Each connected device, whether it’s a laptop or a smart refrigerator, provides a potential opening for malicious attacks. The settings on each device must not be left up to individuals or autonomous groups. They must all be subject to centralized management and policy enforcement. And the streams of data within an enterprise have to be classified, each one with its own risk profile and routed solely to its circle of users with a business need to know. Securing the work force means vanquishing chaos and replacing it with confidence.

4. Security by Design

Imagine if the auto companies manufactured their cars without seat belts or airbags, and then added them later, following scares or accidents. It would be both senseless and outrageously expensive. In much the same way, one of the biggest vulnerabilities in information systems — and wastes of money — comes from implementing services first, and then adding security on as an afterthought. The only solution is to build in security from beginning, and to carry out regular automated and human-assisted tests to track conformance and compliance. This also saves money. If it costs an extra $60 to build a security feature into an application, it may cost up to 100 times as much — $6,000 — to add it later.

5. Keep It Clean

It happens all the time. People stick with old software programs because they know them, and they’re comfortable. But managing updates on a hodgepodge of software can be next to impossible. Additionally, vendors often stop making patches for software that’s no longer supported. Cyber criminals know this all too well. In a secure system, administrators can keep track of every program that’s running, can be confident that it’s current, and can have a comprehensive system in place to install updates and patches as they’re released.

6. Control Network Access

Consider urban crime. Policing would be far easier if every vehicle in a city carried a unique radio tag and traveled only along a handful of thoroughfares, each of them lined with sensors. The same is true of data. Companies that channel registered data through monitored access points will have a far easier time spotting and isolating malware.

7. Security in the Clouds

Cloud computing offers enormous efficiencies through economies of scale. But it can come with some risk. If an enterprise is migrating certain IT services to a public cloud data center, it will be in close quarters with lots of others — possibly including scam artists. In that sense, a cloud is like a hotel in which a certain percentage of the customers have bubonic plague. To thrive in this environment, guests must have the tools and procedures to isolate themselves from the others, and to monitor possible threats. In addition, as more and more employees use third-party cloud-based apps to share and access information, the enterprise needs visibility and control to protect its data.

8. Patrol the Neighborhood

Say a contractor needs access to the system. How do you make sure she has the right passwords? Leave them on a notepad? Send them on a text message? Such improvising has risk. An enterprise’s culture of security must extend beyond company walls, and establish best practices among its contractors and suppliers. This is a similar process to the drive for quality control a generation ago. And the logic is the same: security, like excellence, should be infused in the entire ecosystem. The ruinous effects of carelessness in one company can convulse entire sectors of society.

9. Protect the Company’s Crown Jewels

Somewhere in the trove lie the company’s critical jewels, perhaps its scientific and technical data, maybe some documents regarding possible mergers and acquisitions, or clients’ non-public financial information. Each enterprise should carry out an inventory, with the critical data getting special treatment. Each priority item should be guarded, tracked, and encrypted as if the company’s survival hinged on it. In some cases it may.

10. Track Who’s Who

Say a contractor gets hired full time. Six months pass and he gets a promotion. A year later, a competitor swoops in and hires him. How does the system treat that person over time? It must first give him limited access to data, then opening more doors before finally cutting him off. This is managing the identity life cycle. It’s vital.

Companies that mismanage it are operating in the dark and could be vulnerable to intrusions. This risk can be addressed by implementing meticulous identity and access management (IAM) systems to identify the people, manage their permissions, and revoke them as soon as they depart.

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Kristin Lovejoy is the former general manager of the IBM Security Services division, where she developed and delivered managed and professional security services to IBM clients worldwide.