The 3 Questions CISOs Must Ask to Protect Their Sensitive Data

CISOs must adopt a new mindset to take on the moving targets in modern cybersecurity.

Asaf Kochan, Co-Founder and President, Sentra, and Former Commander of Unit 8200

August 29, 2022

4 Min Read
Book that says "Questions to be answered"
Source: Feng Yu via Alamy Stock Photo

The concept of cybersecurity will always be defined by moving targets. Protecting an organization’s sensitive and valuable assets boils down to a competition, with bad actors attempting to outperform their targets with novel tools and strategies.

While the cybersecurity industry has always been marked by changing trends and the sudden debut of new technologies, the pace of change is accelerating. In just the last year, enterprises and large institutions have seen their activities frozen by ransomware, while major data breaches have damaged the reputations of towering organizations such as Facebook and LinkedIn. The emergence of cloud-native and hybrid cloud applications, in particular, has led to renewed security concerns. According to Flexera's 2022 State of the Cloud Report, 85% of respondents see security as their top cloud challenge.

Dramatic headlines regarding attacks and ransomware can cause cybersecurity leaders to become hyper-focused on preventing a breach at all costs. However, despite the sensational headlines that often accompany cybersecurity attacks, a breach doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. With the right combination of defensive tactics and pre-positioning, cybersecurity leaders can build confidence in the strength of their systems.

CISOs must adopt a new mindset to take on the moving targets in modern cybersecurity. These three questions will help security leaders understand how to best defend their most sensitive assets.

1. Where Is My Data?

When cybersecurity leaders aim to prevent breaches by any means necessary, they're operating from a place of fear. This fear is caused by a lack of knowledge or understanding: When an organization doesn’t know where its sensitive data is kept and how well that data is protected, it can be easy to imagine any scenario in which the system is breached.

The first step toward achieving an effective cybersecurity posture is knowing exactly where data is being kept. Lack of awareness doesn’t just increase the risk of a data breach; it also increases the likelihood that an organization devotes critical resources to protect data that isn’t sensitive. CISOs must take steps to put data at the center of their security and prioritize the data that is most valuable to the business.

To protect their most valuable assets, organizations need to understand where data is stored within complex cloud architectures. After cataloging these assets, organizations must then classify whether the data holds real business value. Taking this data-centric approach to security ensures that an organization's most valuable assets are secured while spending less time on assets that require less security.

2. Where Is My Data Going?

While an organization may be able to catalog where data is stored within its own systems, the challenge of cloud computing is in keeping track of where sensitive data is going. Today, developers and other employees can make a copy of sensitive data with a single click, with the potential to take that information outside of a protected environment and make it vulnerable to attacks. Automated data pipelines and data services can also extract data and move it elsewhere, leaving organizations with no idea as to who has access to their most valuable information.

Once organizations understand where data is kept and which assets are most valuable, they must then tag that sensitive data and track where it is going. This type of research can reveal a wide variety of surprises. For example, sensitive data could be traveling to a foreign server, taking it out of compliance with geographic regulations, or a bad actor could be accessing a single asset at the same time every night. When data travels, it must travel with its security posture — knowing where it’s going is key to understanding and predicting potential threat vectors.

3. What Happens if I Get Hacked?

The constantly changing nature of cybersecurity, combined with the increasing number of attacks and breaches, means that it's highly likely that organizations will experience a breach during the course of their regular operations. However, this shouldn’t be reason to panic. Effective pre-positioning ensures that security teams can better manage risk and have the tools in place to ensure business continuity when a bad actor has gained access to their systems.

In this proactive approach to cybersecurity, knowledge is power. When organizations know which assets are most important and where these assets are located, it becomes much easier to protect them prior to being breached. CISOs and other security leaders must wade through an overwhelming amount of alerts and information; discovering and prioritizing high-value information makes it possible to triage operations and focus on what matters most.

In the constant battle between hackers and cybersecurity teams, the side that remains calm and projects confidence will be the winner. Focusing on preparation and knowledge allows cybersecurity leaders to remain confident in the strength of their systems, knowing that even the inevitable breach will not have any catastrophic impact.

About the Author(s)

Asaf Kochan

Co-Founder and President, Sentra, and Former Commander of Unit 8200

Asaf Kochan is a leading practitioner of state-level cybersecurity, and has actively engaged in planning, coordinating, and implementing national policy in cyberspace. He is a respected and sought-after speaker on global cybersecurity issues, and he has presented at major technology and security events throughout the world. Sentra, a cybersecurity startup that enables cloud-driven organizations to regain control and secure their data, was founded in 2021 with a seed funding round of $23 million.

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