NewsNovember 16, 2017 @ 8:30 AM

Educating Fortune’s Most Powerful Women on Looming Cyberthreats

This week, I had the opportunity to talk cybersecurity to a slightly different audience than I’m used to — a room full of some of the most successful women in wide-ranging fields, from top executives, entrepreneurs and innovators in business to leaders in government, philanthropy, education and the arts. These women were gathered as part of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit to learn from each other on the big issues and impacting today’s businesses and society. Considering the current threat landscape and the cyberthreats we’ve seen this year alone, cybersecurity falls squarely into this category.

Many of these leaders have heard about cybersecurity and were aware of its importance through what they’ve read in the news, but lack deeper knowledge of the greater challenges and issues we’re facing as an industry. However, as events of 2017 have shown us, cybersecurity is no longer relegated to an IT issue: Cyberattacks have shut down entire operations of businesses, as well as critical infrastructure and services that our society relies on. Cybersecurity is now everyone’s problem, and the goal of our panel was to educate these leaders on what they need to know to arm themselves and their organizations in the battle against cybercrime.

Battling Today’s Cyberthreats

Part of this education involved a discussion around security basics that all business leaders should be aware of yet continue to be pitfalls that we see with clients. By establishing a fundamental understanding of things like regular and frequent patching, ensuring critical data is backed up frequently and available offline, and more, these leaders can better understand their organization’s risk management posture.

We also discussed the importance of having an incident response plan documented. It should be regularly tested with both technical teams and executive stakeholders. Organizations also need to identify key departmental points of contact with security teams so that they can work together quickly in the event of an emergency.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion was around where the industry will be in 10 years and how the role executives play in cybersecurity will likely see a big change moving forward. My guess is that 10 years from now, almost every executive at a major company will have had previous experience with a computer security breach in an organization they’ve worked for. Though ominous, this will likely drive awareness and change in a positive manner for the capabilities we build to respond to attacks. It should also improve the processes and awareness of personnel in leadership roles with the ability to truly affect change.

A Fresh Perspective

Engaging with nontechnical audiences on cybersecurity always brings in fresh perspective, and interacting with so many strong women throughout my time at the conference was a great privilege. We hope to have empowered these women with the knowledge needed to have a seat at the table when it comes to cybersecurity and cyberthreats in the future — topics that have firmly moved from just an IT issue to wider societal challenges that we must all work together to overcome.

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Wendi Whitmore

Global Lead for X-Force IRIS, IBM

Wendi Whitmore is a technical leader with 15 years of diverse experience in incident response, proactive and strategic information security services, intelligence and data breach investigations. At IBM, Wendi was instrumental in creating IBM X-Force IRIS which includes the global X-Force Incident Response, Proactive Services and Threat Intelligence practices. In her role, Wendi leverages people, infrastructure, data and technology to drive the capabilities of detection and defense against targeted threats for client organizations throughout the world. Before joining IBM, Wendi served as the vice president of CrowdStrike Services. While at CrowdStrike, she was responsible for all professional service offerings and engagements delivered by the company. Wendi and her team responded to critical security breaches within Fortune 500 companies from verticals in technology, defense industrial base, energy, critical infrastructure, and the U.S. federal government. In this role, Wendi was also responsible for managing P&L, sales and business development, and recruiting efforts.