Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is famous for his saying, "skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been." The phrase has made its way across industry for years, with many leaders such as Warren Buffett touting its strategic relevance. Naysayers claim that if everyone looks long-term, then the advantage cancels out. Bogus, I say! As it relates to cybersecurity, especially if you're at a large company or government agency, you can't afford to ignore this advice. Instead, you'd better dissect how this phrase applies to your world. Let's break it down.
Why Chasing the Puck Is Hard (Being Evolutionary)
You know that feeling of always playing catch-up? Where no matter how hard you prioritize and "crush it," you feel like you're making literally no progress at all? And whether you're an executive leader or operational cybersecurity guru, I'll bet that you feel like you're always "chasing the puck," as Gretzky would put it. CISOs and other cyber leaders are constantly battling — and struggling — to obtain buy-in from business leaders on the value proposition of the cyber mission and resources to help execute it.
Likewise, security practitioners are dealing with a seemingly endless barrage of challenges in gaining appropriate asset visibility, monitoring for worrisome activity, playing whack-a-mole with incidents, and implementing security mechanisms that allow the business to quickly adapt and grow in line with market demands. This is the evolutionary approach, where security programs are working to make incremental progress as they see the world around them changing. It's largely reactive, and terrifyingly exhausting. And today, many security and risk management professionals are finding it to be a fool's errand. For all this churn, the return on investment just isn't surfacing, nor are security leaders and practitioners getting the respect they deserve.
Why Staying out in Front Is Better (Being Revolutionary)
If what you're reading so far doesn't jibe with your experience, please suspend your disbelief for the moment. At the core, being revolutionary in this context isn't purely about new, groundbreaking ideas. It's about anticipating, outpacing, and influencing your external world. It's a radical shift in how to approach the challenge, including moving:
- From here and now … to future oriented: You're actively looking over the horizon from the business perspective. You see where the ship is heading — the changing business models (e.g., shift from products to service platforms), required infrastructure, new partnerships, and overall strategic priorities. You'll orient security around this reality.
- From consumer … to designer: You're no longer figuring out enterprise business and technology strategies after the fact and bolting on security reactively. Instead, security has a seat at the relevant tables as a top-level, heavily valued influencer. In this scenario, security is shaping decisions based on risk and reward, for overall business health and prosperity. Focus topics will include back-end IT infrastructure, product and service design, production, and business partner selection.
- From static … to dynamic: The security program moves beyond a "set it and forget it" capability and organizational configuration. It's now an agile, living instrument that lives for energizing the business. The connective tissue that binds the security program and the business is so strong that it acts as one. Interpersonal relationships are very strong between the two sides, the cyber value proposition is mutually understood, and communication about needs and priorities flows back and forth seamlessly.
- From cost center … to profit enabler: The mindset shift needs to occur inside and outside of the security program. Gone is the perception of business having to pay the "security tax," or a CISO having to get by on a woefully unrealistic budget. Instead, the enterprise sees the value of infusing cybersecurity "goodness" up and down the value chain to increase brand value and guarantee the product and service promises made to downstream customers.
Five Ways to Help You Get There
Don't get me wrong; I recognize that what I've laid out above is a profound shift from today's reality. It won't be easy, but the benefits are significant. If you're a security leader (or simply an advocate) and want to unlock a future more like this, here are mechanisms to start employing:
1. Continuously scan for major muscle movements in the business. Look for indicators of major shifts in the business. Find ways to get insider knowledge on how the business model, products, services, and partnerships are changing. There are all sorts of forces that will cause such shifts, such as global megatrends, geopolitics, and industry competition. Your job is to obtain proactive insights into the business ecosystem in order to understand what effects these forces will have downstream on security, and position accordingly.
2. Become best friends with people guiding technology strategy. I'll bet that there are a select few people that are making the major technology decisions in the areas of IT infrastructure (inclusive of outsourcing and cloud decisions), manufacturing, customer-facing products and services, and even facilities (e.g., smart buildings). Learning future direction as early as possible gives you time to react, and, most importantly, influence.
3. Gauge alternative cyber futures. As you learn about macro-level business and technology shifts, you can start to understand your cybersecurity requirements and solution options. Given the likelihood of your business evolving in a certain way, plus your knowledge of how adversary activity, security capability, and the regulatory landscape is likely to evolve, you can begin to sketch out alternative futures. Will your industry be under heavy attack? Is the board likely to view cyber as a top enterprise risk? How do you see your budget evolving? These factors all matter, and they'll help you steer the security program toward the right design.
4. Acquire a seat at the table. Let me state clearly that the security program leader needs to have a prominent position within the enterprise. It's key to unlock yourself from suboptimal organizational positioning and establish influence at key steering committees. Know your value. Get obsessive about communicating and fine-tuning it.
5. Make agility an obsessive focus. Business models and the cyber threat landscape both evolve exceptionally faster than they used to. Ensuring your program has the processes in place to reprioritize objectives and shift/surge resources is critical to staying out in front.