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Careers & People

7/22/2019
10:00 AM
Rick McElroy
Rick McElroy
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CISO Pressures: Why the Role Stinks and How to Fix It

CISOs spend much less time in their role than other members of the boardroom. It's a serious problem that must be addressed.

Look around the boardroom. The average tenure of a CEO is 8.4 years. A CFO will spend approximately 6.2 years in the position, while a COO lasts 5.5 years. In stark contrast, a CISO will spend an average of 1.5 to 2 years before leaving behind the constant stress and urgency of the job.

There's a serious problem in the cybersecurity industry, and all too often, it's ignored because it's uncomfortable to address. Now is the time to acknowledge the issue and understand the true challenges and repercussions of the modern-day CISO role.

A Running List of Immediate Challenges
When CISOs come to work, there's a growing list of issues to face. Perhaps the most ominous is the constant cyberattacks threatening organizations of all sizes and spanning all industries. Add to this dilemma the fact that today's cyberattacks are increasingly sophisticated, with many fueled by geopolitical tension and clever cybercriminal techniques such as lateral movement, island hopping, and counter-incident response to stay invisible. We recently found that the average organization's protected endpoint was targeted by two cyberattacks per month throughout 2018. At this rate, an organization with 10,000 endpoints is estimated to see more than 660 attempted cyberattacks per day — leading to immense pressure for CISOs and their teams at the front lines.

In many organizations, there's also an assumption that security is the sole responsibility of the CISO. In reality, it's a business imperative — everyone from the CEO to the seasonal intern should prioritize secure best practices to keep the organization protected. This could be as simple as attending regular cybersecurity trainings and learning not to click on the suspicious phishing link shared via an unknown email alias. These small steps can aid security teams immensely and take some pressure off of the CISO.

Add to these challenges the accelerated rate of evolving business technology. With most organizations laser focused on digital transformation efforts, the constantly shifting legal and regulatory environment consisting of legislation such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act, and the fact that everyone thinks they're an expert at the job, you have a recipe for a burned-out CISO with no finish line to the job's responsibilities in sight.

The Daunting Repercussions
While these CISO challenges sound daunting, what's even more alarming is the repercussions they're having on the people in the role. With 60% of CISOs admitting that they rarely disconnect from work, and 88% working more than 40 hours — (some much more, since most cyberattacks seem to strike on weekends — mental health is often ignored. In fact, nearly 17% of CISOs are either medicating or using alcohol to deal with job stress. Others give up altogether, with less than a third remaining in their job for more than three years.

What can be done to change these devastating effects? To begin, let's examine the talent gap. CISOs need support and they must fill this gap — but not just by looking for external candidates. Look internally for support, and ensure all candidates are being onboarded/trained properly. Next, offer continual education from internal and external resources, and retain by advancement — reward a job well done and be a regular advocate for promotions and/or raises in the industry before it's too late.

CISOs also need help from other business leaders and functions. CISOs are known to support every department, but that support isn't always returned. Look to leaders in finance, marketing, customer service, and HR, who often take priority when allocating budgets, for support, not only financially but for sound business advice based on what they're seeing across the organization.

Most importantly, from a CISO's perspective, the role requires a mindset shift. It's time to change traditional strategy because it's not effective. First, let's stop buying technology because the bells and whistles sound promising, especially as the industry careens toward $124 billion in global security spending, according to Gartner, this year. Instead, let's start understanding where the true security problem lies within the organization and work from there.

Finally — and this holds true across the board — CISOs must understand that sometimes being "perfect" in the role is impossible. It's OK to fail, attempt new ways to solve problems, and explore other options. While this won't immediately solve the burdens, it does provide an opportunity to breathe during the never-ending battle against the bad guys.

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Rick McElroy, Head of Security Strategy for Carbon Black, has 20 years of information security experience educating and advising organizations on reducing their risk posture and tackling tough security challenges. He has held security positions with the US Department of ... View Full Bio
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