Why the Role of the CISO Is Vital in Every Company

Should every company have a chief information security officer (CISO)? The short answer is yes, there should be one in every company.

The position can be a unique, stand-alone role or fall under the remit of another member of the executive team who is willing to take on responsibilities related to information security. So what is the remit and value of having a role dedicated to leading and managing information security implementation and risk mitigation?

Why a CISO?

Today’s collective operating environment is much different than it was in 2000, often referred to as the year of the dot-com boom. The maturation of criminals’ online capabilities is the most striking difference. Cybercriminals have evolved their ability to conduct network surveillance, launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and evolve both broad phishing attacks and spear-phishing attacks all designed to either monetize that which is accessed or extend their criminal capabilities.

While the criminals were adjusting their modus operandi, operating environments adjusted as well. Computing resources evolved from the centralized computer centers of the 1970s and ’80s to the client-based applications of the ’90s. Then, they progressed to cloud-centric offerings, which include the evolution of software-as-a-service, cloud storage, browsers that act like operating systems and a workforce of technology-savvy users. An organization’s CISO must not only analyze, formulate and mitigate information security risks, but he or she must also forge alliances and partnerships with the supporting business operations teams.

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What’s the Value?

The valued CISO leads the information security efforts first, then manages those efforts. Today’s CISO cannot and will not be successful in his or her efforts without buy-in from both the corporate leadership team and those who are most affected by the information security policies and procedures: the operations teams. There are many ways to positively affect buy-in, including forming an enterprise-wide advisory board or council or ensuring the operations teams are included in the creation and review of the policies that are directly impacting their team’s efforts. It should come as no surprise to any security practitioner that users will construct work-around solutions when security policies and processes get between management’s directives and individual performance metrics. Aligning security policies and procedures and business outcomes is a must.

The key value provided by a CISO is in the role of business leadership, as the CISO must drive the information technology and security education of the workforce. In so doing, the efficacy of the various information security policies becomes clear, and the journey toward moving the workforce into a collaborative engagement with respect to information security begins. This collaborative effort goes beyond putting technological solutions on an employee’s client device(s) or network nodes. It must also include comprehensive training and awareness efforts. These efforts will go well beyond the “one-and-done” nature of new employee security orientation, or placing posters and coasters around the workplace.

Similarly, an annual and mandatory security briefing or training session is largely insufficient when it comes to aligning employees with new security concepts. All of these are useful pieces of the awareness training puzzle, yet they are not the solution. The real value lies within the opportunity to influence employee behavior when using these technologies and giving employees a method to triage the myriad threats that arrive on their doorstep every day.

With these steps, CISOs and their teams will be able to successfully evolve the perceived role of the information security department from the ” ‘No’ Police” to the “Business Enablers.” The educated workforce understands how information security practices can evolve; they understand how customers and clients evaluate companies with whom they engage not only by the goods they provide, but also on how well they protect customer and partner data. Once this perception hurdle is cleared, the value of the CISO as a business enabler becomes even more evident.

Christopher Burgess

CEO at Prevendra

Christopher Burgess is the CEO of Prevendra, a security, privacy and intelligence company. He is also an author,...