Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The CISO role in cybersecurity: Solo or team sport?

The average length of time in the commercial sector between a network security breach and when the detection of that breach is more than 240 days, according to Gregory Touhill, deputy assistant secretary of Cybersecurity Operations and Programs for the Department of Homeland Security. What could happen to your company during that eight-month period? Could your company survive?
This alarming statistic is just one of the reasons why the National Cybersecurity Institute at Excelsior College (NCI) undertook the task of surveying the nation’s chief information security officers. With the support of social media campaigns from Dell cybersecurity and the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, also known as ISC(2), NCI was able to collect a statistically significant number of responses across eight industry verticals. Although a formal analysis of the data is still being conducted, some important early revelations have already been identified.

While the overall survey broadly covered the domain, one of the most interesting insights for me came from a high-level response from just three questions:
  • What are the top three items/resources you need to accomplish your job?
  • Which of the following are the top five sources of application security risk within your organization?
  • Which of the following five skill sets best prepares someone to become a chief information security officer?
The survey designers worked hard not to focus just on the technical aspects of the CISO role. To that end, respondents had to choose from nine job resources, 10 security risk options and 11 specific skill sets. They also enjoyed the option of writing in a response. Although every option on each of these three questions had some takers, the most predominant answers were:
  • The top resource needed to accomplish the CISO job is the support of other management leaders.
  • The top source of application security risk is a lack of awareness of application security issues within the organization; and
  • The best skill set for preparing someone to become a CISO is a statistical tie between business knowledge and knowledge of IT security best practices.
Some may find it surprising that neither technical knowledge, technical skills nor the technology itself is an overwhelming favorite for the surveyed professionals. So with that observation, what truths can we learn from this answer set?

To be sure, additional analysis and rigor are needed, but from a personal point of view this early data hints that technical knowledge is not the primary CISO skill requirement. It also tips a hat toward the need for robust internal education as well a focus for reducing application security risks. For me, it also shows that a good CISO must also be a collaborative and communicative teacher across his or her organization. Is it me or do these traits describe a team leader or coach?

If you are a CISO, do these traits describe you? Are education and collaboration a core part of your company’s cybersecurity plan? Have you enabled management to give you the support needed for your own success? Can you describe yourself as the cyber team coach?

(This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.)

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