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5 Tips for Setting Up A Security Advisory Board

When a company needs to up its game in security, forming a security board can help.

Security vendors have had security advisory boards for several years, but ever since the high-profile Target, Sony, and JP Morgan data breaches, other software companies and even mainstream companies are taking a serious look at forming boards of their own.

Take data management and data analytics vendor DataGravity, which this week said it has formed a security board mainly as a way to gain expertise across vertical industries such as financial, retail, healthcare, and education, as well as to learn from experts who have done business in Europe.

“I can’t be an expert at every security discipline,” says DataGravity CISO Andrew Hay. “People ask me all the time when security boards make sense, the answer is if the company wants to focus on security. Our board is basically set up to look at security, compliance, and privacy.”

Hay adds that each one of the verticals DataGravity seeks expertise in is a separate universe unto itself. For example, healthcare has its own special lexicon with HIPAA requirements, as does retail with PCI , and higher education with FERPA and financial reporting regulations.  

Wendy Nather, research director at the Retail Cyber Intelligence Sharing Center, says Hay sought her out for his company's security board because she understands retail, but has also worked as a security professional in the financial industry and in the government.

“As a former CISO, I have tried and deployed a lot of security technologies and have also covered them as an analyst,” she adds.

With input from Hay and Nather and a blog post by DataGravity CEO Paula Long, here are five considerations for setting up a security board:

1.      Objectivity. Too often companies select “yes” people who will do nothing more than validate the product development the company has worked on for the last six months to a year. This is a mistake. You want people who will ask tough questions. Overall, you want people who are smart, dependable, and accessible. Sometimes companies get well-known industry people, but they are rarely available enough.  

2.      Vertical industry and geographic region expertise. DataGravity looked for people with experience in the financial, healthcare, retail, and education industries. Decide what’s important to you and get that expertise on your board. And if you want to expand into Europe, for example, find someone with experience working in Europe who understands the difference between the compliance regulations in England versus Germany. The same holds true if the company looks to expand in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East.  

3.      Broad security backgrounds. Find people who have multiple years in security, understand the issues from the CISO’s perspective and possibly as a consultant, and look for people who find your product interesting and understand what you’re trying to accomplish.  

4.      Understanding of cloud-based file-sharing technologies. The board members need to understand how cloud-based file sharing tools such as Box and DropBox can introduce the company to risk. Today, seemingly innocuous content such as a list of the local baseball or soccer team an employee coaches can open the company to risk if PII somehow gets leaked. Your board members need to identify these risks and have experience at their own companies protecting the organization from the risk of cloud-based file sharing tools.  

5.      Availability. Before you bring on a person, validate that their employers have approved them joining your board. And, both parties should be clear about the time commitment required and what the board members can actually offer. Typically, a few hours a month per board member works well. In addition, even if you only meet only once every quarter, get the board members in a room talking to each other. The conversation between the members will spark ideas that would never come out during one-on-one sessions via phone or videoconference.

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Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience, most of the last 24 of which were spent covering networking and security technology. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio

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