The security industry — and the media organizations that cover it — does a thorough job of conveying the latest cybersecurity news of breaches and attacks, albeit sometimes to the detriment of the people whose job it is to set the security priorities that defend against them.
Perhaps no other information technology discipline gets the volume and intensity of media coverage as cybersecurity. While there are no definitive statistics about the volume of cybersecurity news, a Google Trends search on “cybersecurity” shows a fourfold increase in queries since early 2014, while a search for coverage of the recent ransomware attack on the city of Baltimore turned up nearly 400 unique articles.
Executives Are Paying More Attention to Cybersecurity News
These stories don’t escape the attention of senior executives, many of whom are taking a more active role in managing their companies’ cybersecurity defenses for reasons ranging from compliance to cost control. A recent report by vulnerability management vendor Tenable noted that cybersecurity news coverage is inducing frequent priority changes by senior managers that stress their security staff.
According to the report, alarming headlines can “completely derail a vulnerability management program,” even in organizations that aren’t affected, creating expectations and deadlines that are “unattainable and divert scarce resources from other tasks.” This is compounded by the constant drumbeat of new threats and marketing messages from security vendors with the latest technology to thwart them.
“As a startup, it’s almost irresistible to say the threat you’re defending against is the biggest, baddest thing,” said Ted Julian, vice president of product management and co-founder of IBM Resilient. “I don’t think it drives trust, but it does get somebody on the phone.”
To some extent, the situation is unavoidable.
“Organizations are in a warfare state,” said Tim Roddy, vice president of product management and product marketing at Fidelis Cybersecurity.
But panic can interfere with the ability of security organizations to execute on defined security priorities. Experts say the best defense against shifting demands is to establish strong communication between the chief information security officer (CISO) and other senior executives, put in place a set of solid baseline security practices, and stay informed about what’s going on at other companies.
Focus Leadership on Cyber Risk
Business executives may not understand buffer overflows, but they do understand risk, so a good security strategy is anchored in a risk management plan based on a consensus of opinion about the biggest threats to the organization by the company’s leadership.
“You have to focus leadership on what they have to lose,” Roddy said. If the security team can demonstrate that they’re executing against an agreed-upon set of security priorities, it reassures executives that the most important bases are covered.
“Knowing your infrastructure is built to withstand an attack no matter what is going to give your higher ups a lot of confidence,” said Adam Kujawa, director of Malwarebytes Labs.
Start by putting a solid set of cyber hygiene best practices in place, including documented procedures for applying updates and patches, setting file permissions, administering user directories and securely backing up data. Attending to these basics will protect against the most common vulnerabilities and enable rapid recovery.
Conduct simulations of high-risk scenarios to help reveal where you’re protected, but also where your current product or skills inventory may come up short. Sharing results with top executives can give them peace of mind — or give you the ammunition to seek additional funding. Basic practices should also include regular employee education. About one-quarter of U.S. data breaches are caused by carelessness or user error, according to the most recent “Cost of a Data Breach Study” from the Ponemon Institute.
Keep Your Ear to the Ground With SOAR
Perhaps the best defense against cybersecurity news whiplash is to stay informed. The industry is awash in research, but not all of it is of the highest quality.
“It’s easy to cut corners on research,” Julian noted. Look for studies that are conducted by trusted brands across large respondent groups, ideally over multiple years. There are also scores of security-focused news sites, which experts agreed do a better job than mainstream media of explaining threats and keeping them in context.
Meanwhile, the cloud has revolutionized the sharing of security information. Thanks to new regulations, most large organizations now use security information and event management (SIEM) systems for intrusion detection. A companion solution called security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) enables security teams to synthesize threat data from multiple sources to contextualize and automatically respond to events.
According to Julian, SOAR makes it “much easier to understand how you’re managing all your incidents. Without it, it’s a mess trying to sort through all that data.” SOAR platforms also give security teams a window into the security operations centers (SOCs) at other companies, so they can determine the severity of a given threat and share that information with senior managers.
“Having data about your incidents is one great way to response to requests” from above, Julian noted. Threat intelligence services are another excellent way to triangulate security priorities.
The silver lining of growing executive scrutiny is that cybersecurity managers are in a better position than ever to get the funding they need. As Julian puts it, CISOs and other security leaders should take advantage of the opportunity while being careful to avoid the appearance of “panhandling.” After all, crisis can also contain the seeds of opportunity.