As data breaches continue to escalate, organizations, regardless of size or industry, need a new mindset to rise to the pervasive challenge of cybercrime and cyber espionage. Despite the fact that the FBI claims that their number one criminal priority is cybercrime, less than five percent of computer intrusions are successfully prosecuted, according to the Department of Justice and FBI. With jail time and other penalties few and far between, corporate decision makers are on their own when it comes to protecting corporate reputations, intellectual property, finances, and customers.
Facing this challenge boils down to risk management and financial investment. But with only 8 cents of every corporate IT dollar allocated towards security, the current picture isn’t reassuring, especially given the hostility and unregulated nature of cyberspace. Worse, today’s security investment deficit is jeopardizing corporate brands and exacerbating their risk of serious reputational damage.
Board-level mandate beyond the datacenter
Typically, organizations serious about cybersecurity appoint chief information security officers (CISOs) to lead the charge. Historically, a CISO answers to the chief information officer (CIO). The problem with this model is that the CIO role is similar to that of a football offensive coordinator, a position that is concerned primarily with increasing efficiencies, access, and resiliency within the IT realm.
While important, none of these elements aid the CISO, (continuing our football analogy, the defensive coordinator), whose principal job is to improve security and risk management across all operational silos within the enterprise. From a governance perspective, the CISO needs a broader mandate than that of a defensive coordinator, a mandate befitting an executive with more far-reaching responsibilities and reporting to the COO or CEO.
In the modern enterprise, all corporate leaders should be held accountable for their cybersecurity posture, even though their position might be far from managing the datacenter. For instance, chief marketing officers are typically focused on the actual use of the Web, such as email campaigns, mobile app development, website updates, blogs and search engine optimization. Even though these responsibilities may seem like strictly promotional endeavors, they can leave the door open for malware or other cyberattacks against unsuspecting customers’ systems. It’s not a good outcome for the company or the constituency.
Preventing the systemic spread of malware
Malware infections often times migrate from one part of the enterprise to the other, even from a third-party partner. Once a network is compromised, an attack can become widespread throughout the entire IT infrastructure supply chain in a practice known as “island hopping.” A classic example of island hopping was the infamous Target breach, which ultimately resulted in the resignation of both the CEO and CIO. A holistic mentality toward cybersecurity will mitigate the systemic risk of the spread of threats across an IT infrastructure.
The subsequent investigation at Target also revealed that thieves had infiltrated a third-party vendor to steal the retail giant’s credentials. The result? Cybercriminals successfully gained access to approximately 40 million customer credit cards, potentially affecting more than 100 million individuals. The repercussions are still being felt throughout the retail sector today.
As Target shows us, third-party partnerships are another overlooked aspect of many security strategies – strategies that demand attention and support from the corporate leadership team to be effective. Organizations looking to strengthen security should examine the policies of their partners -- including law and accounting firms -- particularly if a company is publicly traded. These partners have access to sensitive information that make very attractive targets.
A new level of safety in the digital world
For two decades, corporate focus has predominantly been on cutting cost, improving access and increasing efficiencies to goods and services. The same commitment should now transition to policies that make customers, partners and investors feel safe in the digital world created for their convenience. Just as a customer at a shopping center should expect a level of safety from the landlord and retailers, an online environment should have the same trust factor.
To accomplish this, a concerted effort should be made to elevate cybersecurity to an operational and reputational risk management priority. It is the obligation of boards of directors to improve oversight and governance for cybersecurity. This translates to analyzing investment strategies regarding information technology, cybersecurity and drastically improving training in order to stay ahead of sophisticated cybercriminals.
The Internet is not a comforting environment. Proper due diligence of cybersecurity is not only a risk management function but also a reality of modern-day brand protection.