Attend enough security conferences and you're bound to hear solemn advice about the importance of building a strong security culture across an enterprise. But what exactly does that mean? And how can it be accomplished? The leaders at (ISC)2 recently endeavored to define what it means to build a resilient cybersecurity culture. They put together a survey of tech leaders at 250 companies with a solid cybersecurity track record to get an idea of the common traits, practices, and thought processes among security-focused organizations.
For longtime security pros, none of the findings were particularly surprising. But it did confirm what a lot of professionals have recommended to their peers for a long time with regard to developing security staff, educating users, and engaging with the business. The following are four key traits that both the recent survey and other experts say are common among the companies with the strongest cybersecurity cultures.
Employ a CISO
One of the strongest commonalities among companies with a solid cybersecurity culture is that they have a definitive and highly placed executive in charge of security. The study found that 86% of companies performing well in security employ a chief information security officer (CISO).
Now, this might seem like a gimme, but the truth is that almost half of average companies today still don't have a C-level security executive in place. According to a study done earlier this year by PricewaterhouseCoopers, just 52% of global organizations have a CISO. This is particularly troubling because the CISO is the person who typically develops better support from the CEO and board.
"The CISO must help the board understand where the company stands in providing cybersecurity for the company networks," Keith Alexander, CEO of IronNet Cybersecurity and former head of the US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, told PwC. "The information provided should include any cyberattacks that have occurred, as well as shortfalls in training, equipment, and tools in the cyber domain."
Quality Relationship with the Business
The relationship between resilient cybersecurity culture, presence of a CISO, and support from top management is so tight that it's hard to say which of these factors begets the other. The (ISC)2 study showed that 97% of cyber-resilient organizations have top management that understands the importance of strong cybersecurity, and 96% indicate their policies align with their board of directors' cybersecurity strategy.
To gain and maintain that kind of buy-in, security organizations must work hard to establish a quality relationship not only with those stakeholders in the upper echelon but also across the business.
Experts recommend frequent meetings and check-ins with business counterparts to ensure that the security team is setting its course according to business priorities.
"Monthly meetings with key stakeholders to ensure cybersecurity and risk decisions align with your firm's business needs; this isn't likely to happen if operations and governance are handled by cybersecurity and IT staff," says Bart McDonough, CEO at cybersecurity consultancy Agio, who explains that regular meetings ensure that business-unit managers participate in planning. "These monthly meetings should review, certify and update your firm's data map, any new business processes or 'shadow-IT' activities that could create new exposures, ensure that cyber-event activity logs and incident-response plans are updated as appropriate, decide where to make strategic investments in cybersecurity, and develop ways to integrate cybersecurity procedures into work processes with minimal disruption."
Formalized Risk Management Policies
According to the (ISC)2, one of the top reasons cited for confidence in cybersecurity preparedness is a strong risk management policy. Organizations need to have repeatable, rationalized processes, and those are based on policy that is set by the close relationship just mentioned.
Security experts recommend that risk policies should be largely driven by data and identity context.
"IT security departments should refine and enhance their risk-based strategies to ensure they fully understand the impact of where data resides, the criticality of that data, and how we’re managing risk to an acceptable level regardless of where it's stored or processed," says Robert LaMagna-Reiter, senior director of information security for First National Technology Solutions. "Data-centric enhancements to the risk management process should be further enhanced by incorporating identity-driven enforcement."
Long Tenures within the Security Team
One of the biggest indicators of a strong security culture is how well the organization can not only recruit but also hang on to security talent. The recent study showed that 79% of security-centric firms keep their security staff on the roster for three or more years, and 37% of them report an average tenure of longer than five years.
"Organizations that want to recruit — and more importantly retain — the best security talent need to provide a growth path and continued learning opportunities to keep their security staff engaged," says Drew Nielsen, CISO of Druva, a cloud data protection firm. "The other option organizations have is to grow talent from within. If organizations have IT talent that is champing at the bit to make a career move, training them in security is an excellent to start to fill this gap. Growth can come in many forms, such as through a security career path or training and skills development, but the most important part here is accessibility and options for employees to achieve that personal and professional growth."
The survey numbers echo this recommendation. About 70% of the best-performing security firms train and promote staff from within, 57% offer training and certification opportunities to employees, and 55% cross-train IT workers in cybersecurity skills.
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