December 16, 2014 By Fran Howarth 3 min read

Faced with an evermore challenging threat landscape with more complex methods and sophisticated attackers, IBM has recently published a report that outlines the key steps security leaders should put at the top of their agendas to fortify their organizations. According to the report, around 60 percent of security executives surveyed stated that the sophistication of attackers is outstripping that of their organizational defenses, and more than 80 percent have seen threats from external actors increase over the past three years, which makes responding to external threats the greatest challenge they face.

Organizations are also more open than ever to external constituents, collaborating with business partners and suppliers and increasingly interacting with customers through digital means. For 62 percent of respondents, this has greatly increased the risks that their organizations face, making effective, enterprise-wide risk management more imperative than ever. As this continues to expand in importance, security leaders are becoming more vital for their organizations. They are playing an even more important role in the overall business, and skills in this area should be emphasized as much as technology prowess.

Second only to the importance of external threats for security leaders is the challenge posed by regulations and industry standards. There is already a dizzying array of mandates with which organizations must comply, especially for those operating in multiple countries or in heavily regulated industrial sectors. Security executives must not only keep on top of existing regulations and standards, but must also anticipate areas in which governments are likely to impose even higher security standards and guidelines to maintain preparedness. To ensure they are in a position to do this, it is important that security executives listen and talk to their peers in the industry and in related leadership positions. Among respondents surveyed for the report, 42 percent are already members of a formal industry-related group, but it is anticipated that this will rise to 86 percent within the next three to five years.

Insights from the 2014 CISO Assessment – See the infographic

Areas of Concentration for Security Leaders

To help security leaders prepare to take on a more strategic leadership role within their organizations, IBM has identified the top four areas on which they should concentrate their efforts:

  1. Enhance education and leadership skills, placing emphasis on pure business skills in line with the growing influence of security leaders in organizations, which will continue to increase as executives in charge of security take on more of a leadership role.
  2. Shore up cloud, mobile and data security, placing emphasis on security technologies that are available today to minimize security gaps rather than waiting for new technology capabilities to be developed. Attention must be placed on securing cloud environments and mobile devices to gain the full benefit that they offer today and to be prepared for further disruptive technologies, including the Internet of Things. Focus on the most important data in the organization and look to invest in more advanced analytics and real-time security intelligence. In order to do this, look for ways to automate or outsource security capabilities that are mature and well understood.
  3. Engage in more external collaboration in order to build trust and understand the impact of new risks and technologies in order to be able to access the entire security ecosystem of the organization. Understanding the entire ecosystem is becoming increasingly important as more information is shared and greater levels of collaboration are undertaken with business partners, suppliers and customers, increasing an organization’s risk level. Security can no longer stop at the organizations’ network perimeters.
  4. Plan for multiple government scenarios by ensuring security leaders maintain regular dialogue with their peers and with executives outside of the security function, including chief privacy officers and general counsels, in order to anticipate likely future directors for regulations with regard to cybersecurity.

As the security landscape is set to become even more challenging, security executives need to step up to the challenge and raise their contribution toward the overall leadership of the organization to ensure risk management is given the priority it deserves and to drive a culture of security throughout the organization. Their role is to safeguard the organization against increasingly complex and sophisticated threats and risk so that the organization can weather even the most acute storm and continue to thrive.

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