Understanding the CIO’s Role in Security

The chief information officer’s (CIO) role in security extends beyond managing the systems and processes that run the enterprise. Certainly, it’s important to assure that operations are effective and data is properly housed. Even though the direct line of responsibility for data security may lead to the chief security officer (CSO), the CIO has several important roles to play alongside and in support of these efforts.

Boosting the CIO’s Role in Security

The CIO should take charge for two reasons. First, he or she is in the best position to understand the complexities and specifics of the IT infrastructure and services that run the business. This level of understanding allows the CIO to consider all implications, even those stemming from or affecting operations, technology and events outside the enterprise.

Secondly, CIOs are often held responsible for high-profile breaches. This extra pressure is excellent motivation for a CIO to make enterprise security a personal top priority.

Specifically, the CIO’s role in security should extend to three different areas to maintain a strong security posture.

1. Understand Key Vulnerabilities

Running enterprise IT demands a working knowledge of business operations. But identifying business vulnerabilities requires deeper knowledge of line-of-business operations. Each business practice has its own nuances and, consequently, its own vulnerabilities. As Kris Lovejoy wrote in a previous article, the CIO “must be attuned to countless technology threats, but also to strategic business issues.”

As a key security leader, the CIO needs to understand how business facilities can provide opportunities for intrusion or disruption. Then he or she must devise methods to counter any efforts to capitalize on those weaknesses.

2. Create Internal Awareness Programs

Nontechnical users may not know it, but their actions can be instrumental in preventing or enabling cyberattacks. CIOs must constantly advise employees regarding their online activities and make them aware of known threats, scams and red flags. The advice should be delivered in simple terms and in contexts all staff members can relate to. These advisories should be distributed on a regular basis to reinforce the message.

3. Maintain Ongoing Communication

As CIOs develop understandings of their enterprise operations, they should align that with knowledge of current events involving data breaches around the globe. It is the CIO’s responsibility to analyze the information gained from these arenas to create intelligence specifically pertinent to his or her enterprise. This information must be shared as an ongoing dialogue with top-level management, including senior-level executives and the board of directors.

CIOs should increase their visibility and authority by delivering regular updates about security through internal communication media. They can take advantage of existing internal newsletters, social media or project communication presences such as Slack to become part of ongoing conversations. They need to participate in this conversation on a regular and ongoing basis to build and maintain credibility. This has the added bonus of constantly reminding employees of security, which will only serve to enforce best practices and build safer habits.

As organizations are breached at higher frequencies and with greater impact, they need more and deeper information to help them plan for and prevent damage. The CIO is the right person to assemble the knowledge resources and create a clear-cut strategy for preventing and responding to data breaches.

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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.