Increasing Security Preparedness and Awareness Among Board Members and Top Management

Corporate boards generally understand cyberthreats and preparedness at a high level and constantly look for indications of how well-prepared their information security managers are. As cybersecurity gains public attention, upper management and board members look to security leaders for signs of company health. Chief information security officers (CISOs) and other security professionals need to learn how to present the real status of their preparedness so board members can assess the capabilities apart from the more general fears of cyber disruption.

Improving Security Preparedness Among Executives

The security awareness gap is wide and deep, but that’s to be expected in any highly technical discipline. Security professionals have both an opportunity and a responsibility to bridge that gap and convey confidence to board members and top management. Management needs the right information and depth of understanding to present the enterprise accurately, but it also needs to understand and appreciate the challenges the security team faces in protecting the company. This becomes all the more important when a breach happens.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important steps for bringing senior management up to speed.

Build Real Relationships

Meetings with board members and senior leadership tend to be formal and impersonal, but these executives are in their roles because they care about their company and its employees. Top management wants to support and understand people and their positions — especially those who can help the company thrive. Because cybersecurity has become such an important and defining component of the corporate environment, the CISO and the rest of the security staff are more critical to this endeavor than ever.

CISOs should work to develop personal relationships with as many board members and senior managers as possible to learn the specifics of their responsibilities and their level of security awareness. Casual meetings over coffee or lunch can go a long way toward creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding about roles and objectives.

Deliver Real Explanations

The majority of board members are not familiar with attack vectors or even the preventative measures employed by the CISO, but they are highly concerned about the safety of the company and how it can be protected.

News reports of breaches, particularly when they affect a company in the same industry, can raise questions about how an organization is protecting itself from similar threats. The CISO’s explanation must be presented in simple terms with enough specifics to create a realistic understanding of the company’s vulnerability. The key is to minimize the use of jargon and stick to business language.

Generate Real-World Comparisons

CISOs should constantly review their cybersecurity preparedness on two fronts: internal and external. Internal comparisons should look at historical versus current states. Part of this evaluation can be performed by reviewing the measures taken to harden defenses through changes in technology within the company. But security leaders should also commission periodic third-party vulnerability testing services to both validate the steps being taken and discover unknown threats that need to be remediated.

External comparisons can be accomplished through industry groups that contribute to a common pool of knowledge and develop best practices. But company leaders may resist divulging their internal knowledge for a variety of reasons. CISOs may need to turn, once again, to third-party assessors to gather information from industry segments and create threat intelligence resources that provide accurate, current and anonymized information to protect each contributing organization.

A Little Communication Goes a Long Way

The bottom line is that CISOs are finding themselves in front of boards of directors more frequently to explain cybersecurity. How and what they communicate can make a huge difference in how well board members are able to carry out their responsibilities.

Listen to the podcast: Directors Are From Mars, CISOs Are From Venus

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Scott Koegler

Freelance Writer and Former CIO

Scott Koegler practiced IT as a CIO for 15 years. He also has more than 20 years experience as a technology journalist covering topics ranging from software and services through business strategy. Scott publishes ec-bp.com, a supply chain industry newsletter and has written for publications including Network Computing, Forbes, Internet Evolution, and many others.