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9/28/2016
09:02 AM
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Improving The Security Conversation For CIOs, CISOs, & Board Members

Cybersecurity is a top priority among enterprise leaders, but it's difficult for them to communicate with IT and security teams if they lack an understanding of key security concepts.

Cybersecurity has become top-of-mind for boards of directors, surpassing concern for business competition and financial risk. The heightened urgency has driven a gap between board members and IT security teams as they navigate threats.

These findings come from a new pool of research commissioned by Bay Dynamics and conducted by Osterman Research. Their goal was to learn more about the drivers making cybersecurity a top priority among corporate leaders.

Researchers surveyed IT and security executives to learn the security activities they share with board members, perceived effectiveness of their reporting, and feedback they receive. Participants were required to be on the board of directors for a US-based company with at least 2,000 employees. A total of 126 surveys were completed in August 2016.

Results indicate boards are approaching security with both greater resolve and greater unease. The report states 30% of board members consider security a high priority, up from 7% in 2014 and expected to reach 44% by 2018.

"For boards, [cybersecurity is] becoming more of an issue that they're aware of," says Jeff Welgan, executive director and head of the executive training program at CyberVista. "Post-Target breach, this became front-and-center for boards of directors as they started becoming more accountable for the actions and inactions of the organization."

Over the last year, Welgan continues, there has been a broad effort to increase security awareness among board members. However, corporate leaders are still challenged on how to actually tackle security threats.

Research supports his point. A study conducted by Osterman in April discovered 30% of board members didn't fully understand reports from IT. More than half (54%) agreed the data from IT and security teams were "too technical" for them to understand.

The lack of understanding can ultimately prove dangerous for organizations. A separate Osterman study conducted in February found only 39% of IT and security execs think they are getting sufficient support to address security threats. Only 37% agree their organizational risk is reduced as a result of board conversations.

It's time to improve the conversation, and part of the challenge is breaking down the cultural barrier between business and IT. Two-thirds of board members view cybersecurity as a problem to be balanced between the business and technical teams, as indicated in the latest report.

Welgan explains how IT and security execs must communicate using terms more familiar to enterprise leaders. The idea is to find a common language between the two parties so corporate decision-makers can understand risks and act on them.

"When the board pulls someone in for a briefing, they're looking for answers and clarity," says Welgan. "Whoever is communicating cybersecurity issues, they need to be able to explain solutions in a way it resonates with board members." In his role at CyberVista, Welgan focuses on infosec training for directors and C-suite execs. The program was created to educate board members on key cybersecurity topics and teach them how to approach security as an enterprise risk. 

Given the importance of cybersecurity for today's businesses, would it be more effective to elect more board members with technical backgrounds? The newest study found 60% of survey respondents believe at least one of their fellow board members should be a security expert. 

Welgan says this is a good start, but ultimately it's important for everyone to have a basic understanding of infosecurity. "You don't want it all to fall on one person," he notes. If more board members understand security concepts, they can have a more productive conversation with IT.

Business leaders don't require an intensive technical background because their role is to manage, Welgan says. Board members don't need to understand code to answer security questions. They need to know what does and doesn't sound right so they can ask more questions and ensure the correct policies are in place.

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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