December 29, 2017 By Reto Zeidler 3 min read

If you are a chief information security officer (CISO) in a midsized or large organization, you might be familiar with this problem: The marketing department just launched a campaign and is collecting customer information on an unverified partner system. In addition, another business unit is launching a digital sales channel and has established its own processing and data storage. Of course, all these activities bypass the current security strategy and take place without security or even IT involvement.

As a security leader, you are under intense pressure to transform your security strategy and digitize your traditional business model. Security is often a secondary concern at best and, at worst, considered a burden or even a roadblock. These factors have contributed to the rise of shadow IT, which has become a serious risk and can lead to exposed data, vulnerable systems and policy violations.

Unfortunately, there is no way to turn back the clock and eliminate the shadow IT that has run rampant throughout organizations around the world. Instead, it’s time to rethink your cyberdefense strategies and start the process of digital transformation.

The Art of Shared Responsibility

The first challenge to digital transformation is that many security organizations are structured like authorities, ruling via policies, monitoring and frequent audits. From security perspective, the business is seen as more of a risk than a partner. However, information security, by nature, concerns everyone within an enterprise, not just IT and security.

Digital transformation means building a partnership between the business and the security team by educating and sharing responsibility with nontechnical stakeholders. The aviation industry serves as a great real-world example of this shared responsibility: While the flight crew is ultimately responsible for the safety of the plane’s passengers, air traffic control (ATC) has authority over all traffic in a designated area and the flight crew must follow its instructions. But ATC is not the only authority, since the flight crew can request to climb or descend to another altitude to land on a different runway. It’s ATC’s job to accept or deny the request based on safety concerns and other restrictions. Think of the flight crew as the business unit that is ultimately responsible for the mission, while ATC is charged with assessing and maintaining the risk posture of the entire company.

In practice, this would mean that the security authority also becomes a service provider, delivering guidance to help the business comply with policies and regulations from the early stages of a given project. It also means shifting from hard policies to a more self-service approach. For example, the security team might implement an easy-to-use online portal for business units to register and assess their projects against security principles such as data security and privacy, third-party compliance and security by design.

Transform Your Security Strategy With an Adaptive Business Model

While a shared responsibility model can help to maximize a security team’s limited resources, it does not automatically adapt to a continuously changing business model. Digitization goes hand in hand with distributed organizations, but many security organizations are centralized, structured authorities. For these entities, it’s almost impossible to gauge the pulse of the business. Security cannot be distributed as easily, since this would produce too much overhead and lead to inefficient fragmentation.

Fortunately, this type of distribution is not necessary. It is sufficient to simply decentralize some functions and distribute certain roles. In a decentralized system of information security officers, for example, this role would act as a close adviser and partner to its assigned business unit in addition to governing security. Such a model enables security professionals to maintain close contact with the business and provide expertise at any step in the development process.

The digital transformation is not the final revolution your business will have to undergo. In the volatile technology landscape, adaptive organizations are more cost- and resource-efficient. As a CISO, your responsibility goes far beyond security assurance. In the long term, it’s your duty to establish and continuously transform your security strategy to adapt to the business’ ever-shifting mission.

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