Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Partner Perspectives  Connecting marketers to our tech communities.
SPONSORED BY
6/23/2017
11:00 AM
Raymond Pompon
Raymond Pompon
Partner Perspectives
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
50%
50%

Talking Cyber-Risk with Executives

Explaining risk can be difficult since CISOs and execs don't speak the same language. The key is to tailor your message for the audience.

On March 7, a bipartisan bill was introduced to the Senate called the Cybersecurity Disclosure Act of 2017. The bill’s purpose is to “promote transparency in the oversight of cybersecurity risks at publicly traded companies.” It adds Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirements for public companies to disclose what cybersecurity expertise is present within the board of directors.

If no expertise is present, then the company must disclose in its SEC report “what other cybersecurity steps” are being done by the board nominating committee. Whether this bill succeeds in becoming law or not, it is a shot across the bow to executives.

With all this going on, it’s likely that boards and executive leadership are going to be buttonholing their CISOs into cyber-risk conversations. Just a few years ago, security professionals struggled for executive interest (let alone support), but now we are in the hot seat for answers. And what a hot seat it is! A recent survey from Osterman Research reveals that 66% of fired IT professionals were terminated for reasons of security or compliance failures. That’s why we need to make sure leadership understands the relevant security issues and how to help mitigate them.

Explaining risk can be difficult since CISOs and execs don’t speak the same language. You need to tailor your message for your audience. We’ve talked about using operational risk to frame the conversation, but there is value in a straight-forward approach as well.

To do this, you focus on the top cyber risks and provide just the information the board needs to know. A good place to start is the state of company culture regarding security. You can produce metrics on alignment to desired security policy with numbers around security awareness training attendance, patching completeness, audit findings, vulnerabilities, incident counts, and backup coverage. You can even make a nice radar chart to show the percentages and quickly make the deficiencies apparent.

Beyond the overall status of the program, you need to explain cyber-risk. Keep it simple and remember this important nuance: many ordinary people don’t realize that risk has two components: likelihood and impact. For example, some people tend to react to catastrophic impacts (What are we doing about Pottsylvanian hacker-spies?) that are rare while overlooking more likely risks like ransomware.

It shouldn’t be hard for you find likelihood data. In addition to industry statistics and open source threat intelligence, you can gather information internally. Sources can include data used to create the radar chart above as well as firewall, intrusion detection, web and mail system logs.

Impacts are easier to talk about, but you need to explain the real potential impacts to your business. Talk in terms of tangible and intangible losses that resonate with them, including:

Tangible costs:

  • Breach disclosure costs (PII record count x disclosure cost/record)
  • Customer SLA fines
  • Revenue loss during system downtime and recovery
  • Compliance and audit fines
  • Potential litigation and fines down the road
  • Incident response costs, including internal resources (OpEx), third party breach experts, required remediation controls, and effectiveness testing

Intangible costs:

  • Impact to brand (the business puts a value to this—usually found as an asset line item in your financial books)
  • Current and future customer perception and loss
  • Loss of business value in acquisition discussions
  • Competitive advantage loss
  • The board’s personal reputation and/or job

When presenting likelihood and impact, stick to the simplified High/Med/Low model. Everyone is aware that there are more layers, and most execs would understand a more complex model, but their time is limited. In matters where the risk is high, they will probably press for details.

Lastly, you should never present a problem without a solution. Make sure you have a solid mitigation plan (with proposed budget numbers) to resolve anything rated high risk. Executives will also want clear lines of responsibility. They’ll want to know who’s responsible for remediation, and who is paying. The chances are likely the board has already dealt with high risk non-cybersecurity scenarios before. If you’ve done your job well in explaining, you can sit back and watch them decide. As you are the cybersecurity expert, you should still be prepared to give them guidance or validation.

This might seem like a lot of work but for effective CISOs, it is routine. Risk assessments and reporting with the board should be happening annually, at least. As cyber-risk is better understood and managed, you might need only to present updates if something significant or material happened. This is the ideal position—not only does it mean everyone is sleeping it at night, it means the board trusts you.

Get the latest application threat intelligence from F5 Labs.

Raymond Pompon is a Principal Threat Researcher Evangelist with F5 labs. With over 20 years of experience in Internet security, he has worked closely with Federal law enforcement in cyber-crime investigations. He has recently written IT Security Risk Control Management: An ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
Dr.T
50%
50%
Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
6/27/2017 | 4:23:20 PM
Re: Reporting/communicating to whom?
"to whom do you think the CISO should report"

The CFO? I would just avoid CISO reporting CFO. Security should not be all about money.
Dr.T
50%
50%
Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
6/27/2017 | 4:20:49 PM
Re: Reporting/communicating to whom?
"to whom do you think the CISO should report"

this is a good question, I personally would like to work for a company where this does not matter.
Dr.T
50%
50%
Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
6/27/2017 | 4:19:21 PM
Cyber-Risk
One of the ways taking the risk to the executives is to provide examples, we can mention the companies hacked and fines they were charged.  That would get their attention.

 
dunsany
50%
50%
dunsany,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/27/2017 | 2:48:57 PM
Re: Reporting/communicating to whom?
Really good question. I'm actually got a blog post coming out on the F5Labs site on that very subject in the next few weeks. Sneak preview: The CISO should report outside of IT and as close to the top as they can to increase effective risk communication and maintain segregation of duties. And it seems the industry is heading in that direction.
Joe Stanganelli
100%
0%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
6/26/2017 | 7:02:24 PM
Reporting/communicating to whom?
@Raymond, bearing these interests and issues in mind, to whom do you think the CISO should report in a typical organization so as to best give his/her office an appropriate platform, to be best understood, and to be best supported? The CIO? The CFO? the CEO? the General Counsel/CLO? the Board? Someone else?
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/9/2020
Considerations for Seamless CCPA Compliance
Anurag Kahol, CTO, Bitglass,  7/2/2020
Introducing 'Secure Access Service Edge'
Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions, Omdia,  7/3/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-12421
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
When performing add-on updates, certificate chains terminating in non-built-in-roots were rejected (even if they were legitimately added by an administrator.) This could have caused add-ons to become out-of-date silently without notification to the user. This vulnerability affects Firefox ESR &lt; 6...
CVE-2020-12422
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
In non-standard configurations, a JPEG image created by JavaScript could have caused an internal variable to overflow, resulting in an out of bounds write, memory corruption, and a potentially exploitable crash. This vulnerability affects Firefox &lt; 78.
CVE-2020-12423
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
When the Windows DLL &quot;webauthn.dll&quot; was missing from the Operating System, and a malicious one was placed in a folder in the user's %PATH%, Firefox may have loaded the DLL, leading to arbitrary code execution. *Note: This issue only affects the Windows operating system; other operating sys...
CVE-2020-12425
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
Due to confusion processing a hyphen character in Date.parse(), a one-byte out of bounds read could have occurred, leading to potential information disclosure. This vulnerability affects Firefox &lt; 78.
CVE-2020-12426
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
Mozilla developers and community members reported memory safety bugs present in Firefox 77. Some of these bugs showed evidence of memory corruption and we presume that with enough effort some of these could have been exploited to run arbitrary code. This vulnerability affects Firefox &lt; 78.