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CSOs Say: 'Court' Your Middle Managers, Too

Security for Business Innovation Council (SBIC) members warn of 'disruptive' technologies for 2013 that will test enterprise security
Everyone talks about winning over the executive boardroom, but top security executives from the world's largest corporations say middle managers are also key to making information security part of the business plan.

A new report published today by the Security for Business Innovation Council (SBIC), which is made up of top security executives from Global 1000 companies, including ABN Amro, AstraZeneca, Coca-Cola, eBay, FedEx, EMC, Fidelity Investments, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart, calls for security teams to forge closer ties with their organizations' middle managers.

"At most organizations, the C-suite 'gets it' but security teams now face resistance from middle managers who don't want to expend their resources on security. Security teams must build these relationships, helping middle managers to understand security's value," the SBIC report says.

Cloud computing, social media, big data, and mobile devices are the big "disruptive" technologies facing security teams in the new year, according to the SBIC, and security pros must hone their risk management and business skills to address the inevitable infiltration of these technologies. They also must ensure that their IT supply chain is trustworthy and doesn't introduce new threats and risks into their organizations, the report says.

But bonding with middle management may be one of the surprising keys to good security amid a more mobile and cloud-dependent organization. "The growth of information protection regulations and the escalation of cyber threats mean that most of them understand the importance of information security and consider it a priority. Today, it is common for CISOs to meet regularly with executive leadership and the Board. In many cases, information security has attained the sought-after attention from the top," the SBIC says.

The challenge today is selling middle managers on security: "Middle managers don't want to use their resources on security. They are incentivized by timeline and budget; adding security doesn't fit into their objectives," the report says. "Security teams need to build relationships with middle managers, helping them understand the value of information security. It may be a harder nut to crack than the C-suite."

Eddie Schwartz, CSO for RSA Security, says courting middle management is crucial for a successful security strategy. "We've seen a lot of growth in creating security champions within the business at the middle level," he says. "Your business success in your IT area depends on doing this right from a security perspective. Getting them interested in things like secure coding and assurance processes" helps foster a culture of security from the ground up, he says.

Information security isn't only about IT anymore, says Martijn Dekker, CISO for ABN Amro, and a co-author of the report: "Trends like cloud computing and consumerization are quickly extending the information-security role. It’s about business. It’s about people. It’s about risk management."

The punch list of managing the security of cloud computing, social media, big data, and mobile devices is a tall order. Which is likely the top priority of the list? RSA's Schwartz says mobility is probably the top one.

"[Some of our CSO] peers look at mobility as the only way they are going to interact with consumers in the future. They look at the mobility channel as bigger than the Web channel," Schwartz says. "Today there's an enormous complexity accomplishing what most of us consider classical security objectives within that framework of mobility."

Big data also tops the list, he says. "Security has [to] actually integrate itself into the rest of the business and understand that all data may have some security [relationship] to it," Schwartz says. "Security needs to embed itself into different parts of the business."

The full SBIC report, "Information Security Shake-Up: Disruptive Innovations to Test Security’s Mettle in 2013," is available for download here (PDF).

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