For True Cybersecurity, Executives Must Become Hands-On

By Special Guest
Chris Riley, President of U.S. Operations, SSH Communications Security
April 21, 2017

Of course cybersecurity is critical today – yet many organizations view it as a huge expenditure that slows the flow of business and frustrates employees, users and customers alike. C-level executives need to be aware of how their organizations’ security measures affect the flow of business. At its best, cybersecurity infrastructure runs quietly in the background, unnoticed. Rather than being considered a cost center,

cybersecurity can be re-envisioned as a growth enabler or differentiator, enabling enterprises to make innovative investments that spur growth.

Data security is so important that mishandling it can spell disaster for an enterprise. It is a potentially ruinous mistake for executives with non-technical backgrounds to simply assign responsibility for cybersecurity to the chief security officer, chief information security officer or IT team. C-suite executives might see the iceberg ahead, but do they really understand the size of the problem below the surface?

Taking Responsibility

Cybersecurity leadership must come from the top down if it is to successfully involve everyone. If the top executives are not involved directly, it can give the impression that cybersecurity is not a No. 1 priority; employees can do it tomorrow or whenever they have time. When the board or CEO starts asking the management team about what measures the company has in place to avoid becoming a headline, then there’s a much bigger chance of real change taking place.

Members of the C-suite who are not tracking with current events may be in for a rude awakening. The boardroom is placing the responsibility for cybersecurity squarely on the C-suite’s shoulders. As we have seen in recent headlines, a particularly bad public data breach can ruin a CEO’s career. As enterprises and government agencies are required to follow NIST and other cybersecurity guidelines, more than just the CEO will be targeted for replacement.

Cybersecurity Awareness Best Practices

For the sake of the enterprise—and their careers—those in the C-suite must become intimately familiar with the company’s cybersecurity efforts. The following best practices are a good place to start:

  • Start with the experts: Ask the cybersecurity team questions and assess: What are they working on? What is their security posture, and what solutions are currently in place? What is the critical business decision-making process used to determine what infrastructure MUST be secured?  Where are the weak spots? How can the team see, control and maintain a more secure environment? Attend conferences and seminars to learn about what steps your peers are taking to protect their own companies. Make sure that you have knowledge of your current systems and the opportunities to improve – and as quickly as possible. Don’t wait for the next quarter or next year’s budget, because it might be too late.
  • Become a culture change agent: Create a cybersecurity culture by building security hygiene and compliance into compensation and reward packages (if they aren’t already). Make everyone in your organization aware of the risks and how they can keep the company safe. The goal is for everyone to understand the importance of cybersecurity to the company and your customers, and to underscore the importance of cybersecurity as a personal responsibility.
  • Look ahead and evolve: Leaders must adopt a totally new way of thinking to address today’s evolving cyber threats. Companies need to adopt practices that don’t affect their workflow and don’t disrupt the actual business in any way. Look to what universities, incubators and startups are producing, as they are the best sources for cybersecurity solutions and talent, and hire the expertise you need from that pool. Make sure your team is evolving with the threats.
  • Know when enough is enough: Are employees bypassing security measures in order to access business applications more easily? Have they created a shadow IT environment of unauthorized systems and solutions for their convenience? When used properly, cybersecurity can be an enabler of new business, protecting data in the cloud and allowing the company to take advantage of the cloud’s cost-saving agility and flexibility, for example. Finding ways to minimize the risk of human error, such as automating as many security processes as possible, can also help increase business efficiency.

Maintaining Business Trust

Clearly, these best practices require significant time and attention, but the rewards are real. There are measurable business benefits for greater involvement in cybersecurity – and measureable downsides if you don’t. For instance, if your network gets infected and your servers go down, that downtime will have a disastrous effect on your company’s bottom line, not to mention the sustained operational costs and damage to reputation.

Without trust, business doesn’t happen. Your company’s solutions, products and services must be trustworthy. By leading from the top down, the C-suite can help ensure that the organization is protected appropriately while maintaining performance and ensuring that security measures do not disrupt operations in any way. Once the C-suite has established a security game plan for the organization and is confident that the team is performing on the right level, you can trust in your critical information flow and sleep better at night.

Cybersecurity from the C-suite

Trust has become a precious commodity in this era of mega breaches. Once lost, trust is difficult if not impossible to regain. C-level executives have a responsible and opportunity to maintain and even expand the trustworthiness of their enterprises. This means that they cannot delegate cybersecurity responsibility to someone else; they must take the issue up themselves and get hands-on experience and information on safeguarding critical data. If not, loss of trust, share prices and even careers are possible.

About the Author

Chris Riley has worked in IT and information security for more than 20 years. His experience in markets for identity assurance, data security, governance and risk management is extensive. At SSH, Chris is responsible for all U.S. business operations, including customer success and marketing. Chris is passionate about the work being done by SSH customers and associates regarding governance for trusted access and how that makes the world a safer place given the evolving threat landscape. Prior to joining SSH, Chris spent more than 10 years at RSA Security in various leadership roles around enterprise sales and customer success. Chris is a graduate of Merrimack College in North Andover, MA, where he majored in finance and minored in economics. He also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Northeastern University in Boston.




Edited by Alicia Young


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