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A Roadmap for CIOs & CSOs After the Year of the Mega Breach

The journey starts with three steps: Engage the C-suite, think like a hacker, and look at the big picture.

As high-profile data breaches make headlines, CIOs and CSOs often stand between the C-suite and the next public IT failure. Some may wonder: Is "scapegoat" now a part of IT's job description?

Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report shows a 62% increase in the number of data breaches in 2013 from 2012. Further to that, the number of mega breaches -- a term Symantec uses for breaches that expose more than 10 million identities in a single incident -- went from just one in 2012 to eight in 2013. These massive breaches impact brand reputation, reduce trust, spawn legal and compliance liabilities, and disrupt customer relationships.

Data breaches saw a 62% increase in 2013 over the previous year. (Source: Symantec)
Data breaches saw a 62% increase in 2013 over the previous year.
(Source: Symantec)

No silver bullet
As CIO at Symantec, I'm often asked, "Isn't there some new 'thing' that can prevent these breaches from happening?" Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. The overwhelming complexity of today's technology makes it unlikely that there could ever be single solution to keep us secure 100% of the time.

Breaches often involve increasingly sophisticated hacker attacks that exploit the weakest links in an organization's security posture -- at the data center, messaging gateway (like email), the endpoint (mobile devices, laptops) or even employees themselves. A company's security, as we have seen with the retirement of Windows XP and the discovery of the Heartbleed bug in OpenSSL, is also inevitably linked to an evolving global information technology ecosystem.

In other words, as our IT landscape changes new risks to our information arise. Although security remains a top priority, IT departments are driving mobile, cloud, big data, and the Internet of Things initiatives that will enable workforce productivity but also present new potential security risks. Effective partnerships between the CIO and CSO are so critical because security is inherently tied to IT's productivity efforts; one cannot come at the expense of the other.

So what's the path forward? Here are three important steps CIOs and CSOs can take to protect their organization's information:

Engage the C-suite
CIOs and CSOs need to proactively counsel their colleagues on the C-suite about information risks and explain in plain language what resources they need to transition from older, vulnerable systems, and partner with the right organizations to identify and protect vulnerabilities in their organization's information supply chain. Engaging the CEO and CFO can help IT get the security resources it needs to be successful, the CMO can help IT understand what data it is obtaining and storing from customers and the CTO can help IT understand the most critical IP it has that deserve the greatest attention to security. Engaging the c-suite is critical to getting out in front of issues like the retirement of Windows XP and developing a company-wide incident response plan in case of a breach or emergency.

Think like a hacker
Hackers are like water, they flow to the path of least resistance. Consider your organization's IT structure from a hacker's vantage point -- where is our most valuable data stored and backed up? Where are the vulnerable points that I could exploit? What offers the greatest ROI for my hacking efforts?

To gain this perspective, consider enlisting the help of partners outside your organization. Facebook recently launched a bounty program to identify vulnerabilities not only on public sites but in their internal infrastructure, so they can patch vulnerabilities before the next hacker finds and exploits them. Also, security vendors keep their eyes open 24/7 for threats and vulnerabilities all over the globe. Maintaining a threat intelligence network requires significant resources that IT departments typically do not have. Partnering with the right experts allows IT to receive the benefits of their threat intelligence infrastructure so they can secure systems far faster and more effectively that they could by themselves (disclosure: Symantec is one of several information security vendors who provide this type of threat intelligence).

Look at the big picture
A multitude of different services in our everyday lives help protect the things we care about. We count on banks to store our money, we hire security services in dangerous times and we insure our most valuable belongings like our homes.

To protect corporate data, a strong global security program will need to include five critical components: Discover, Prevent, Detect, Respond, and Recover. Historically, organizations have been focused on the first two, which largely play a role to prevent an attack. But what we all know now is that successful cybersecurity programs should assume that an incident is not a matter of if, but when, and that these other facets are also critically important. From a Detect, Respond, and Recover perspective, tools like data loss prevention, incident response and implementing a company-wide risk management program, can greatly diminish (or eliminate) potential damage should a successful attack occur -- marking the difference between incident and catastrophe.

Let's not fear our times. IT is much more than a cost center or scapegoat. There may not be a silver bullet to cybersecurity but there are proactive steps we can take to protect our information so we can focus on the things that matter most.

Sheila Jordan is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Symantec Corp. She drives Symantec's information technology strategy and operations, ensuring that the company has the right talent, stays ahead of technology trends, and maximizes the value of technology ... View Full Bio
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Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
6/16/2014 | 3:29:44 PM
Engage the C-suite
Sheila -- I suspect at Symantic, as CIO, you have the full attention of your C-suite. But what strategies do you recommend for CIOs and CSOs at companies that aren't so tuned in to the problems and challenges of security? How do you get through to an executive management team that views InfoSec as a cost, not a benefit. 
User Rank: Ninja
6/16/2014 | 3:41:31 PM
The Hacker CIO/CSO
Over the past 15+ years, I've noted that CIO/CSO candidates for companies I've worked at were not "hackers" (traditional sense) - in fact, they had less cyber criminal instincts about them and more the ladder climber in them.  I'd argue that, similar to a development management/director role, what we need more of are CIO/CSO candidates with killer instincts, who not only are hackers in their own right, but have no problem switching the gear from a tech hacker to cyber criminal mindset to keep steps, if not leaps, ahead of the enemy.

When an average engineer at your company can poke a hundred holes in the security architecture within 15 minutes of their first day, you've opened the door for finding a new CIO/CSO.  The alternative is to train these candidates, or those who already hold the position, but from my perspective, data integrity is too precious to trust to a ladder climber, a salary-chaser, or even a mid-range tech manager with good intentions, but who can't make the leap from having academic security knowledge (often dated) to being able to pop open their personal GNU/Linux intrusion system and take on cyber criminals at their own game, using current knowledge and techniques.

Management in tech, at least from a development and security perspective, needs to change.  DevOps attitudes and multi-specialty engineers/managers are the new norm.

Sara Peters
Sara Peters,
User Rank: Author
6/16/2014 | 4:24:54 PM
Great stuff, Sheila. I'm still not sure I know the answer to this question though: "Is "scapegoat" now a part of IT's job description?"  ]

Let's say that CIOs, CSOs, and CISOs do a great job communicating with the rest of the C-suite. They've convinced those other execs to let them secure the organization as they see fit. 

But then, there's a breach event anyway. Is the company going to support the IT/IS people they've built such a good relationship, or are they going to point the finger and show them the door?
User Rank: Author
6/16/2014 | 5:34:53 PM
Re: Engage the C-suite

Great question and one that is important for all of us. In order for the execs to see Security and Infosec as a benefit and not a cost, we have to start delivering benefits to the organization and then communicating them in a way that is meaningful. I love the way we think of security now in five steps: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover.  I love the fact we can now explain what we are doing to add value at each stage. The ultimate, of course, is when we can Protect, Detect and Respond without the business being seriously impacted.

User Rank: Ninja
6/17/2014 | 7:44:47 AM
Re: Engage the C-suite
The real problem today is that security is still perceived as an additional cost to reduce or eliminate. The economic crisis and the globalizations have exaggerated this aspect.

On the other side, we have a that the cyber threat is increasing in complexity, cybercrime is even more profitable and has low risks for criminals.

As a result the number of data breaches is increasing, and it will continue to do it. The overall losses will continue to increase and new technologies like IoT with be source of further problems if we don't start to think to security by design.

We need a change of mentality and CIOs are responsible for this.
Ed Moyle
Ed Moyle,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/17/2014 | 9:00:51 AM
Sympathetic practitioner, frustrated consumer
As a securtiy practitioner, I can heartily relate to the issues that face enterprise security teams and I get it why these breaches keep happening.  

However, as a customer who's information has been comprimised time and again (leading to multiple incidences of identity theft against me), I'm extremely frustrated with the state of security in enterprise.  When it comes to personal data about me, it seems like if you can name it, somebody's lost it: financial data, health records, passwords, sensitive personal information, etc.  

I'm frustrated by this.  Firms continue to fail to take basic "blocking and tackling" security measures until they get burned. Until someone -- consumers or regulators -- start to hold organizations accountable for this, I'm not sure there's an economic incentive for organizations to care.  In fact, right now the situation arguably favors poor security: since there's no correlation between company valuation and breaches (there isn't, see acquisti - http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/~acquisti/papers/acquisti-friedman-telang-privacy-breaches.pdf), by avoiding the cost of implementing basic security measures, the economic impact of that is almost entirely absorbed by customers.  

Maybe that's cynical, but it seems to me it'll get worse before it gets better.
Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
6/17/2014 | 11:23:55 AM
Re: Engage the C-suite
Thanks, Sheila. How exactly do you commnicate the steps you are taking and the progress (or lack of progress) you are making? Regular meetings, presentations, status reports. And do you have specific metrics that you look at to measure results.

I'm also wondering how much two-way communication there is from the CSO/CIO upward to the corner offices and in the opposite direction -- from top management to the folks who are taking care of business in the SOC.

Kelly Jackson Higgins
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
6/17/2014 | 11:43:39 AM
What happens if the C-suite isn't receptive, though? I'm sure that's not an issue at Symantec, but some less tech-savvy firms may have more challenges here, I would think.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/17/2014 | 7:22:28 PM
Re: Engage the C-suite

Not Sheila, but I am a long time security leader and executive. I would highly recommend that your first step in "engaging the c-suite" is to make certain that you understand your business, how it makes money, what the corporate strategies are, and what the key drivers for the critical executives are. Gather all sorts of intelligence on them. It's crucial when you show up to engage them, that you be able to do so rapidly. Over the years I have always found that I needed to engage these folks very rapidly and that I couldn't so if I didn't know what motivated and drove them. 

Next, put together a very crisp, clear and compelling message about the risk to the company's ability to make money, execute on strategy or meet the important objectives of senior executives. Security is not important in and of itself, but rather in how it either enables or disables the abiltiy of the organization to execute. 

Finally, find a champion who can help you to gain the attention of senior leaders. It might be the CIO, or General Counsel, Audit, or perhaps you have some kind of a relationship opportunity with one of those executives. Now, you need to spend time with your sponsor and work through the compelling message and the understanding of what's important to your company. If your sponsor finds your position critical, they will help you to engage the senior execs. 

Hope this helps
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 9:39:19 AM
Re: pushback
That is a situation often seen in organizations, and here are two main obstacles that cause this predicament. First is the inability of the CIO or CISO to effectively communicate the benefits of comprehensive IT security to their colleagues. Either they are technologists who have risen into management and do not possess the proper communication skills to present their case convincingly and from a business perspective, or non-technologists who have the communication skills, but do not completely understand the technical aspects and how they relate to the business goals of the organization. Additionally, that lack of expertise prevents them from seeing things from a hacker's perspective, leading to an inaccurate description of the threat landscape. Secondly, it could be that the C-suite received the appropriate communications but decided that the cost is too great, and the risk of potential loss based on the probability of a compromise is acceptable. Obviously there is room for improvement in both scenarios. I realize that this is quite simplistic a view, but I do not believe it is too far from the target.
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