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The Evolving Security Budget: 3 New Ways CISOs Prioritize Spending

New report shows increased spending and shifting priorities

A new study based on a comprehensive interview survey of dozens of top CISOs by academics with the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security at Southern Methodist University shows that as security spending continues to spike, security executives are evolving in the way they justify spending and prioritize their budgetary allocations.

Funded by IBM, the study took a close look at CISOs across a range of industries and geographies. Here's some of the insight researchers gleaned from their efforts.

Frameworks Driving Decisions

Security frameworks are growing in importance as CISOs start to recognize that using compliance as the main way to sell security spend to executives across the enterprise will leave the organization open to greater risk. By utilizing security frameworks as a way to justify increased budgets and prioritize spending, CISOs on the whole are able to better move the needle on security.

One CISO told the researchers, "Security has to be able to have a basis to argue its point of view in a compelling story with some thought behind it, rather than ‘I want to get these things because it’s the next cool security thing that’s out there’.”

As he put it, a framework facilitates the articulation of what a security strategy is from a project and monetary standpoint.

Still Lagging On Quantitative

Nevertheless, even though at least one CISO told researchers he'd been' recruited to bring more planning and science into where his company spent its security dollars, CISOs still lag on quantitatively explaining the impact of budget allocations.

Among the top prioritization approaches for security spending, "quantitative measures" such as ROI came in fourth behind industry best practices, frameworks and information from past attack on the company.

"The use of true quantitative metrics to guide investment decisions has been very rare," the report said. "Only a few subjects have mentioned using a numeric ROI-type metric as a way of prioritizing investments."

Cold Calls Don't Drive Vendor Decisions

About 85 percent of CISOs told researchers they had all the information they needed to select appropriate security controls. In most instances, that information didn't come from cold calls from vendor sales reps. Nevertheless, CISOs still have to field requests by senior management asking for a look at technology included in some puff piece or another featured in mainstream business press.

"What I always want to say, but don’t, is if we have to change a strategy because of an article you read in the Wall Street Journal, you should probably fire me," one CISO told researchers.

In many instances, beyond the typical work of scanning through analyst reports and comparing products based on actual strategic needs, CISOs lean heavily on peer groups for advice. Groups like ISACs not only offer threat information sharing opportunities, but also a community for trading experience about tool efficacy.

"Peer feedback on products has been reported to be valuable in both winnowing down the field of contenders and for helping to select among finalists," the report said.

[IBM’s Security VP Bob Kalka shares his insights about the survey in Bad News is Good News For Security Budgets But Not Skills.]


Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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