In perhaps the most comprehensive experiment to study cybersecurity decision-making, MIT's Sloan School of Management last year paired a group of seasoned security executives with a control group of inexperienced graduate students to test who might fare best in a simulated threat environment.
While the two groups performed differently on various aspects of the simulation, overall there was no significant difference in the success rates of the two groups. The study's authors note that their conclusion is not to diminish the importance of expertise, but rather that security executives need better tools and training that provide clear visibility into the state of security on the ground. The disconnect, the MIT researchers observe, is in the "significant gaps between business managers' perceptions, and the actual state of the cybersecurity of their organizations," exhorting the cybersecurity community to design and adopt enhanced educational and training programs that challenge entrenched mindsets and encourage proactive cybersecurity capability development.
The results are not surprising. Hard-to-define "knowledge gaps" abound between IT leadership, the C-suite, and even boards of directors who are ultimately accountable for the security of data. This is the argument made increasingly by CISOs themselves. In a 2017 survey of 300 CISOs by the cloud-based software company ServiceNow, 81% of respondents say they are highly concerned that breaches at their companies are going unaddressed. Some 78% worry about their ability to detect breaches in the first place. Only 19% of security chiefs say their company is highly effective at preventing security breaches.
The situation is hardly hopeless, but it does require a mindset that begins with an acknowledgement of the fraught way IT and data management has evolved within companies. In the past, IT infrastructure was simply a production tool and source of tactical advantage. Data's use as a strategic tool came later.
Enter the Data-Driven Enterprise
Data security was always an issue for IT managers, but the squalls were smaller. Today's emphasis on cloud computing, distributed systems, native mobile apps, and the Internet of Things has created the perfect storm. Customer data, market data, intellectual property, resource consumption data, productivity data, and dozens of other categories are a new form and flow of currency in the data-driven enterprise. However, as data flow has achieved parity with cash flow, the CISO or the CSO has not achieved parity with the CFO.
Consider that companies have had decades to work out the metrics of finance: balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows. These are the standard tools that every CEO has been trained to read. They roll up detailed financial information from every corner of a business into brief, concise reporting that can be quickly consumed and watched over time to aid understanding of the health and progress of a business.
A similar reporting interface can be developed for commercial and business data — and the associated risks. It starts with three guideposts:
1. Establish a common language. Every executive knows what EBITDA is, or the difference between receivables and payables. Data must be characterized into groupings that executives can understand when they approach it from a compliance and risk perspective. Rather than using application names or table or column names, group data at the lowest level into buckets like "high-sensitivity personally identifiable information" or "customer payment information."
2. Draw a direct line between the user and the data. Financial reporting focuses exactly on who is spending what. Too often companies focus on the relationship between users and application access. This is important, but it doesn't take into account which applications have access to what data, and therefore ignores the direct relationship between users and data. Who is accessing what? Understanding that direct relationship and even enforcing policy focused on that relationship brings new clarity to data use.
3. Create digital truth. Financials are audited on an annual basis so that executives and regulators know that they can be trusted. Through new technologies like blockchain, data flows can be recorded directly as they happen, making the resulting audit trail immutable and virtually impossible for the record to be manipulated.
It's time that the business owners and the decision makers who are accountable for the integrity and security of their enterprise data have the tools on hand that correlate with this accountability. Just as financial statements deliver the truth about money, the intelligence on critical flows of data must be structured and organized to deliver concise truth about data.
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