6 Things Every CISO Should Do the First 90 Days on the Job

A CISO's responsibilities have evolved immensely in recent years, so their first three months on the job should look a different today than they might have several years ago.

James Turgal, VP of Cyber Risk, Strategy & Board Relations, Optiv

October 10, 2022

4 Min Read
Source: Panther Media GmBH via Alamy Stock Photo

Not too long ago, the role of chief information security officer was a purely technical position designed to help an organization overcome cybersecurity challenges. Today, however, the CISO role has evolved — growing both in responsibility and stature within a company. The CISO is now a critical member of the executive team, responsible for tying not only cybersecurity, but overall risk management, to the company's business strategy and operations.

The modern CISO is involved in strategic decision-making, for example, ensuring the business securely embraces digital transformation while assuring the board, clients, and investors that cyber capabilities and defenses are active and evolving with current threats. And they are responsible for leveraging people, processes, and technologies to enable their organization to fulfill its overarching business objectives securely.

Given this evolution in responsibilities, a CISO's first 90 days on the job should look a lot different today than it did even several years ago.

The First 90 Days

While many CISOs want to immediately demonstrate value by jumping in with big ideas and projects on day one, they will be able to make much more of a long-term impact if they first take the time to understand the company's mission, values, and business objectives. They also need to get up to speed on core activities, products, services, research and development, intellectual property, and merger and acquisition plans. And they need to understand all potential issues, previous breaches, regulatory or external obligations, and existing technical debt.

With this in mind, here are a few recommendations on what a CISO's focus should be during their first 90 days on the job.

Gain An Understanding of the Organization's Larger Mission and Culture

The very first day, begin to deploy a collection of interview and interrogation techniques with a goal of understanding the business, its purposes and its priorities. Interview your employees, midlevel business leaders, and customers to get a sense of all key stakeholders, initial pain points, and how mature the cybersecurity culture is within the organization. Finally, gently interrogate your partners, suppliers, and vendors to determine who is just selling and who is a trusted advisor. Going through this process will open lines of communication, uncover challenges, and help build a 90-day action plan and road map.

Identify the Crown Jewels

Determine which data and systems underpin the company's strategic mission and core competencies, represent intellectual property, differentiate the enterprise from its competitors, or support major customer segments or revenue lines. These crown jewels are the digital assets that are most likely to be targeted by threat actors, and thus must have their cyber-hygiene efforts accelerated. If the C-suite and board understand these critical areas, they can tell you their risk appetite, and you can implement security strategies accordingly.

Develop a Plan Based on the Company's Current IT and Business Landscape

Once assets are identified and prioritized, develop a written risk management plan with checklists for deliverables, structure and communication between key internal and external stakeholders. On this latter point, the CISO always must act as an information broker and as a partner to all the key organizational decision-makers. One effective way to do this is to establish formal and informal communication with these roles, so the organization can move forward strategically.

Master the Basics

There are many technologies needed to secure the modern company, but there are a few must-haves that should be implemented right away, if they aren't already. These are baseline controls, including vulnerability management and anti-malware defenses for the endpoint, and non-negotiable controls, including multifactor authentication, sensitive data encryption, application whitelisting, 24/7 security monitoring, file integrity monitoring, privileged access management, network segmentation, data loss prevention, and a rigorous assessment and audit function connected to vulnerability and patching strategies.

Implement Benchmarks

Prove the value of security plans, processes, and technologies to the C-suite, business unit executives, and the board by implementing benchmarks and maturity assessments that show how the company stacks up against competitors, how security strategies stack up against industry best practices and frameworks, and how security initiatives are enabling the business with secure operations.

Always Treat Security as a Business Problem

Security incidents can result in myriad consequences on the business, and conversely, strong security can help the business succeed in a secure fashion. This is why it's so important that IT and security teams always remain integrated with the business side of the organization. As part of this, ensure ongoing communication and collaboration between executive leaders, the board, and security leaders. When management understands the business risks posed by cybersecurity threats, they'll be more apt to pay attention and participate in security efforts.

At the end of the first 90 days, a CISO should be able to answer questions such as: How well protected is the organization? What is our capability maturity against industry standard frameworks? What are our most critical vulnerabilities and cyber-risk scenarios? What data is most important to the organization? What data risks could have the most significant negative impact on the organization? And what will it take to improve the organization's security posture, and do we have a road map?

While this may seem like a lot to get to the bottom of in a three-month timespan, following these six steps will set your company up for both short- and long-term security and business success.

About the Author(s)

James Turgal

VP of Cyber Risk, Strategy & Board Relations, Optiv

James Turgal is the former executive assistant director for the FBI Information and Technology Branch (CIO). He now serves as Optiv Security’s vice president of cyber risk, strategy, and board relations. James has personally helped many companies respond to and recover from ransomware attacks and is well versed in speaking with top-tier media.

James draws on his two decades of experience in investigating and solving cybercrimes for the FBI. He was instrumental in the creation of the FBI’s Terrorist Watch and No-Fly Lists.

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