Cybersecurity and the C-Suite: What Executives Need to Know

Until recently, CEOs received information and reports encouraging them to consider information and cyber security risk. However, not all of them understood how to respond to those risks and the implications for their organizations. A thorough understanding of what happened, and why it is necessary to properly understand and respond to underlying risks, is needed by the CEO, as well as all members of an organization’s Board of Directors, in today’s global business climate. Without this understanding, risk analyses and resulting decisions may be flawed, leading organizations to take on greater risk than intended.

I want to call specific attention to three prevalent areas of information security that all CEOs need to be familiar with in the day to day running of their business. Note that each of these threats are not mutually exclusive and can combine to create even greater threat profiles. While they are not the only threats that CEOs should be mindful of, they are the ones that they should be keeping a close eye on.

Risk Management

Cyberspace is an increasingly attractive hunting ground for criminals, activists and terrorists motivated to make money, get noticed, cause disruption or even bring down corporations and governments through online attacks. Over the past few years, we’ve seen cybercriminals demonstrating a higher degree of collaboration amongst themselves a degree of technical competency that caught many large organizations unawares.

Today, CEOs must be prepared for the unpredictable so they have the resilience to withstand unforeseen, high impact events.  Cybercrime, along with the increase in online causes (hacktivism), the increase in cost of compliance to deal with the uptick in regulatory requirements coupled with the relentless advances in technology against a backdrop of under investment in security departments, can all combine to cause the perfect threat storm.  Organizations that identify what the business relies on most will be well placed to quantify the business case to invest in resilience, therefore minimizing the impact of the unforeseen.

A Need to Avoid Reputational Damage

Attackers have become more organized, attacks have become more sophisticated, and all threats are more dangerous, and pose more risks, to an organization’s reputation. In addition, brand reputation and the trust dynamic that exists amongst suppliers, customers and partners have appeared as very real targets for the cybercriminal and hacktivist.  With the speed and complexity of the threat landscape changing on a daily basis, all too often we’re seeing businesses being left behind, sometimes in the wake of reputational and financial damage.

CEOs need to ensure they are fully prepared to deal with these ever-emerging challenges by equipping their organizations better to deal with attacks on their reputations. This may seem obvious, but the faster you can respond to these attacks on reputation, the better your outcomes will be.

Employee Awareness and Embedded Behaviors

Organizations continue to heavily invest in ‘developing human capital’. No CEOs  annual report would be complete without stating its value. The implicit idea behind this is that awareness and training always deliver some kind of value with no need to prove it – employee satisfaction was considered enough. This is no longer the case. Today’s CEOs often demand return on investment forecasts for the projects that they have to choose between, and awareness and training are no exception. Evaluating and demonstrating their value is becoming a business imperative. Unfortunately, there is no single process or method for introducing information security behavior change, as organizations vary so widely in their demographics, previous experiences and achievements and goals.

While many organizations have compliance activities which fall under the general heading of ‘security awareness’, the real commercial driver should be risk, and how new behaviors can reduce that risk. The time is right and the opportunity to shift away from awareness to tangible behaviors has never been greater. CEOs have become more cyber-savvy, and regulators and stakeholders continually push for stronger governance, particularly in the area of risk management. Moving to behavior change will provide the CISO with the ammunition needed to provide positive answers to questions that are likely to be posed by the CEO and other members of the senior management team.

Stay Ahead of Possible Security Stumbling Blocks

Organizations of all sizes are operating in a progressively cyber-enabled world and traditional risk management isn’t agile enough to deal with the risks from activity in cyberspace. Enterprise risk management must be extended to create risk resilience, built on a foundation of preparedness, that evaluates the threat vectors from a position of business acceptability and risk profiling.

From cyber to insider, organizations have varying degrees of control over evolving security threats and with the speed and complexity of the threat landscape changing on a daily basis, far too often I’m seeing businesses getting left behind, sometimes in the wake of reputational and financial damage. CEOs need to take the lead and take stock now in order to ensure that their organizations are better prepared and engaged to deal with these ever-emerging challenges.


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