The chief information security officer (CISO) ensures the end-to-end (E2E) security operations of an organization. Together with their security team, they handle all security operations, enforce policies, and evaluate and address system vulnerabilities to ensure that a company's information assets are safe from both internal and external threats.
This chapter will cover a typical day of a CISO and their E2E security operations and present the CISO activities that make up this security strategy. By the end of the chapter, you should be able to understand the reasons behind all the CISO and team's security activities and why they need to address all sectors of an organization without neglecting any.
We will cover the following topics in this chapter, which also form a list of the main CISO roles in an organization:
- Evaluating the information technology (IT) threat landscape
- Devising policies and controls to reduce risk
- Leading auditing and compliance initiatives
- Managing information security initiatives
- Establishing partnerships with vendors and security experts
Evaluating the IT threat landscape
A CISO is responsible for company security, and the entire process begins with an evaluation of the threat landscape before implementing any tangible solutions. Evaluating the IT landscape helps reveal the various vulnerabilities present in a system and the various attack surfaces present in information assets that can be exploited by attackers. Threats to a company's information assets may come from users who are authorized to use the system or from external attackers. The evaluation process needs to determine all the threats facing a company before it can determine avenues to address these vulnerabilities.
We have now addressed the need for CISOs to evaluate the threat landscape before they can brainstorm solutions to address identified issues. In the next section, we will look into the importance of CISOs gaining in-depth knowledge of company operations to create effective solutions.
Knowledge of company operations
An evaluation of the IT landscape of a company requires in-depth knowledge of the company's operations. With the evolving nature of modern businesses, the duties of a CISO are also evolving, requiring them to have unrestricted access to all departments of a company. Accessing all sections of a company allows a CISO to thoroughly understand all company operations and enables them to perform an effective evaluation of all internal processes. Attackers perform an exhaustive evaluation of a company's system to find vulnerabilities. For CISOs to effectively counter such efforts, they also need to have a full view of a company's systems and operations to determine all avenues and attack surfaces an attacker may use to infiltrate the company's system.
A CISO also needs specialized tools to conduct a thorough evaluation of a company's systems. These specialized tools should be sourced from proven vendors who trade in network tools for system evaluation purposes. These tools aid a CISO in the assessment of a system including penetration testing and other ethical hacking processes. The result of penetration testing is a report that establishes all attack surfaces as well as revealing all possible vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers.
Internal evaluation of the threat landscape also encompasses an evaluation of a company's own internal control mechanisms in place to protect a company's information assets. A CISO needs to objectively evaluate a company's internal controls that are meant to safeguard the company's system from attacks. These controls apply to both external threats and internal threats. To ensure the effectiveness of the threat landscape evaluation, the internal processes should be evaluated with the standards of external vulnerability assessments. In many cases, companies tend to be complacent about internal systems where company employees are involved. However, reports continue to show that disgruntled employees are one of the leading causes of cyber threats to organizations.
Trends in cyber threats
Understanding trends in cyber threats is an important skill for all CISOs. The IT sector is ever evolving. New attack vectors keep coming up, and CISOs need to be updated about current trends in the IT sector as this will enable them to have an understanding of all the threats they are likely to face and take measures to mitigate such threats. An organization needs to be safeguarded from all common attack vectors as a minimum requirement. Since security mechanisms get outdated quickly, CISOs must keep abreast of changes in the threat landscape. Continuous improvement of skills and knowledge are key traits of an effective CISO in the current times.
This section has addressed the important role of evaluating the cyber threat landscape. The next section will address the role of devising policies and security controls as measures to keep a company safe from threats.
Devising policies and controls to reduce risk
To ensure E2E security in an organization, a CISO is tasked with devising policies and setting up security controls to help mitigate any threats facing a company. The CISO role is an executive role in the management sphere and should have the influence to create policies that safeguard a company's operations. These policies affect a company's internal operations and mainly focus on the company's staff members. A CISO also reviews all interactions of all users within a system and the threat level from all these users. These users also include vendors of all software used within an organization. Some vendors may not be trustworthy and may provide an organization with software that is insecure or that has unaddressed security patches unknown to buyers.
We now have an idea of how security leaders devise security policies and controls in the implementation of their security functions. The next section highlights some of the internal staff policies developed by the security team.
Internal staff policies
Internal staff can be supportive in helping a company address internal threats. Staff members should be subjected to security controls that ensure that they do not have unlimited access to information assets within an organization. Access to information should be on a need-to-know basis to allow them to perform their functions effectively. Database administrators, who are part of the team that works directly under the CISO in an organization, are tasked with assigning privileges in the accessing of information within a company. These restrictions should be strictly reinforced. If an employee is terminated from an organization, their access privileges should be revoked immediately. Disgruntled employees are a known source of internal threats to an organization and have the capability to do major damage to a company's information assets.
Internal policies should be printed and pinned on a board where all employees can access them for reference to remind them of all the security policies. This should include the consequences of failing to adhere to these security policies. Consequences should be in the form of termination, fines, suspension, or legal action against employees violating these policies. These policies should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they continue to effectively safeguard internal operations and ultimately safeguard the company's information assets. In addition, the security team should ensure that employees respect these security policies and thus develop a culture of security. Employee culture is an integral factor in the implementation of security policies. While internal policies should be meant to safeguard company operations, they should not make staff members' execution of their duties unnecessarily difficult.
Other company policies
Aside from internal staff policies, CISOs also create policies that affect customers and other people that interact with the company, such as vendors. The main security policies that safeguard a company's information assets from non-staff members come in the form of physical security controls. Organizations will restrict sections of the company from customers and other non-staff members as a form of basic security control to limit the access of unauthorized people to sensitive information assets or simple theft. These are usually implemented through the use of security cards to access some rooms meant for staff only. These security cards can also have privilege access controls to limit even junior staff members from accessing rooms meant for only senior or authorized personnel. The security team is tasked with devising these security policies and continually reviewing them to ensure that they are effective in enforcing security measures within a company's premises.
We have addressed how a CISO devises policies and security controls to keep a company safe. The next section handles the role of auditing a company and ensuring it is compliant with laws and regulations, as the security controls must be able to enforce compliance.
Leading auditing and compliance initiatives
A CISO and an organization's security team are tasked with leading auditing efforts of the company's security systems and ensuring that a company complies with all the security standards and regulations that govern its operations. Auditing efforts include a thorough review of a company's assets to ensure that they perform as they should. It also includes taking an inventory of all the company's infrastructure and information assets to determine all possible attack surfaces. Evaluation efforts also ensure that all software is up to date with the latest security patches to reduce a company's exposure to risk and exploitation of vulnerabilities.
We've touched on how CISOs lead in the auditing and compliance initiatives. The next section addresses examples of some of the IT components that CISOs seek to confirm whether they are functioning properly in enhancing a company's security posture.
Anti-malware and anti-spyware software
These series of software, in addition to firewalls, are critical components of securing a system from cyber-attacks. These series of software are not foolproof on their own but need additional security features. However, they are effective in helping protect an organization against simple and common attacks. Malware is among the most common attack vectors that attackers will use against a system to help gain access. Anti-malware programs and anti-spyware software help organizations in protecting their systems and information assets from many external threats. For internet-facing information assets, these types of software will help in the mitigation of risks and possible malware getting into the system.
An auditing process carried by the security team ensures that these anti-malware programs, as well as firewall programs, are working as intended and that they are up to date. Updating the software ensures that new malware definitions have been included in a database to help a system fight off newer forms of malicious programs that attackers may use.
Compliance with international regulations
Modern companies are regulated by many organizations that have been created to protect consumers, as well as firms, from malicious attacks. Many firms engage in the collection of data from their consumers that they use in the dissemination of their services, as well as to improve their products. However, without management, firms have been known to misuse this information. Therefore, governments have been forced to step in to ensure that firms engage in data-collection exercises in a regulated manner that ensures that the data collected is only used for the purposes it was collected and that users are aware of all the purposes. In addition, these users need to provide their consent to these firms before they can use their data. Most of the regulations involve the collection and use of consumer data.
Examples of regulations and regulatory bodies
Some of the bodies whose regulations affect many operations include GDPR and HIPAA. GDPR is an acronym standing for General Data Protection Regulation. These are statutes created by the European Union (EU) to protect European citizens from exploitation by companies that engage in the collection, use, and storage of their data. Any company, regardless of whether they operate within the EU or not that collects information from an EU citizen, is required to adhere to these rules. HIPAA, on the other hand, is an acronym that stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This is a statute that was created to ensure that health and insurance information was protected within the United States (US), and its laws and regulations affect all companies that directly or indirectly through business association deal with such information. These two are some of the many regulations that affect company operations globally, and modern firms need to ensure that they comply with these laws, which the CISO and their team are tasked with.
Consequences of non-compliance
A failure to comply with these laws and regulations jeopardizes a company's existence, and it may be suspended or fined heavily. For instance, all federal firms that deal in health information are governed by the HIPAA statute, and a failure to comply will deny them subsequent federal funding. For other firms, such as those governed by GDPR laws, a failure to comply may lead to heavy fines that could lead to millions of US dollars' (USDs') loss to the company. Adherence to some of the laws is possible through the implementation of various security measures, such as the secure storage of data to keep it safe from possible breaches. While ensuring compliance, a firm also benefits from such actions by protecting itself from successful attacks that could threaten the continuity of operations.
We have now addressed the role of a CISO in terms of auditing the company to ensure safety and compliance with laws and regulations. The following section handles their role in managing various information security initiatives.
Managing information security initiatives
A CISO and their security team are tasked with managing a company's security initiatives to ensure that the firm is safe from threats and that attackers fail in their endeavors to infiltrate the company's systems. Security initiatives come in the form of an evaluation of the threat landscape, taking the necessary measures to address identified vulnerabilities and implementing policies and security controls to ensure information assets are fully protected.
This section has introduced a major CISO role in managing information security initiatives in an organization. The next section will show how CISOs manage these initiatives.
Strategic security planning
A company has a strategic plan that addresses its long-term plans of continuity and business direction. A company's information assets and system infrastructure are critical components to the success of a company's operations. Therefore, planning for information assets and the infrastructure that safeguards these assets is part and parcel of the long-term planning of any company. The CISO is an integral component in the management of a company due to their critical role in the management of information assets and any plans relating to these assets. Both long-term information asset planning and long-term strategic business planning have to go hand in hand. While strategizing for long-term business operations, the CISO is tasked with determining how long-term plans will affect information assets and any changes to security requirements resulting from those plans. These determinations will then be included in the discussion to decide on the direction of the business.
While engaging in strategic planning for security operations within a company, the CISO needs to ensure that security plans fit the business's strategic plans, both in the short term and the long term. If a business wants to perform a full overhaul of its IT or introduce a new system as a means of improving its business operations, it needs the CISO's input in the strategic planning. This shows that the CISO, in this day and age, plays a critical role in business operations and is poised to play core roles in most businesses' long-term strategic planning.
After learning how CISOs manage information security initiatives through strategic security planning, we will next address the hiring of security team members and how this affects information security initiatives.
The hiring of a security team
The hiring of a security team is a direct responsibility of the CISO. The critical nature of the responsibilities of the CISO and the impact of the security team's work on the business risk calls for direct involvement of the CISO in hiring their team members. The CISO often has to delegate responsibilities to various team members to handle various facets of security operations. The security team members need to be individuals with both the integrity to perform this sensitive job without compromise and the technical skills to implement various security responsibilities within the company.
We have addressed the CISO's role in handling various security initiatives within a company by showing how the hiring of security team members is an important security initiative. The next section will provide more insight into their relationships with vendors and the importance of this relationship.
Establishing partnerships with vendors and security experts
CISOs need to establish partnerships with vendors and security experts. A CISO is the overall head of the IT security docket in any organization and is tasked with creating a network with possible vendors and security experts that can help in situations where security expertise and implementation are required.
The following sections will show how to establish these partnerships and how beneficial these partnerships are from a security perspective.
Creating partnerships with vendors of software tools is a critical component that helps a CISO in offering effective security to their organization. With good partnerships, the CISO can purchase tools and software from vendors at friendly prices. These friendly prices enable an organization to make cost savings on issues such as purchasing antivirus programs that are necessary for safeguarding the networks in an organization. Other tools that come in handy in CISO security operations are the testing tools and software that an ethical hacker needs to attempt to gain access into a firm. Ethical hackers are hired by the CISO to attempt hacking into the system. The tools used for such exercises may legally be available on the market. Access to these tools is a basic requirement for CISO executives' work, so getting access to these tools is crucial. Partnerships with such vendors ensure that CISO executives have access to such tools so that they can use them to conduct tests on the internal system to identify any system vulnerabilities.
Security experts as a knowledge resource
Security experts are an important resource for CISO executives who need to update their knowledge of the latest trends in the market. Partnerships with security experts will benefit an organization immensely, ensuring that any updates to the current systems will easily be communicated to the CISO, who can then subsequently make the required changes to update their systems. Security experts can also help in informing a company of the weaknesses of using a specific system and possible solutions to a problem. Security experts are informed people who are normally tasked with providing the security field with research and information regarding changes to the security market, and possible ways of adopting changes to the security requirements of any business. Partnerships with such a team can only help an organization in its quest for better security initiatives. These experts can also help a CISO in educating the team of experts working under them on the best way to complete their work in that current environment.
One way for experts to help the CISO is for the CISO to organize refresher courses with security experts, helping give the security team guidance on matters to do with security. Security experts are likely to know more about security aspects in the market and can offer guidance to the CISO on trends in the market, how an organization can benefit from various resources, and where to get these resources. A partnership with security experts is therefore important and ensures that CISO executives can continue to carry out their role effectively amidst a challenging environment that is filled with hackers and malicious individuals.
System security evaluation tools
CISO executives need software tools that are critical in the offering of their services. Vendors develop and sell tools that CISO executives need to carry out their normal routines. Penetration testing is an important exercise for CISO executives. With penetration testing, CISO executives hack into their systems as a means of determining weaknesses inherent in the systems. This exercise is normally done by ethical hackers who perform hacking voluntarily under the permission of the security team as a means of identifying vulnerabilities in the system and subsequently tweaking the system to correct any errors that the system has.
To perform effective penetration testing, a CISO and their team rely on specialized tools that are not readily available on the market. Partnering with such vendors and experts in the market offers a CISO a chance to access these tools easily and at affordable prices. This helps security departments keep their budgets low. Renting or subscribing to some of these tools offers cost advantages to CISO executives. However, pricing is favorable for firms that develop partnerships with these vendors. Budgeting is an important aspect of any business, and the opportunity to get tools that are necessary for business functions at competitive prices helps lower the costs of managing the business and increases profitability levels.
Creating long-term working relationships with vendors
Selecting vendors to work with is a critical part of vendor choice. In general terms, choosing a popular vendor and a market leader is often the best way to go about choosing vendors. Market leaders ensure CISOs will have proven tools that can help them in effectively carrying out their duties. On the other hand, choosing vendors based on marketing gimmicks is likely to backfire. A CISO needs to choose a vendor that can assure them that their tools can meet the demands of the organization. In this case, it is advisable for the CISO team to meet with the actual vendors and not with the sales team, who are more interested in making a sale for the commission than the actual work of the product in question. Meeting the actual team also helps the CISO to explain their organizational needs. Explaining these needs helps get the best response from vendors on whether their tools can meet the demands of the organization. It is also important to factor in the growth potential of the company in question. If an organization is expected to grow soon, a CISO must choose a vendor that has tools that can also meet its increasing demands. Consistently using the same vendors helps a CISO establish trust with vendors and establish a long-term working relationship and partnership that is mutually beneficial.
Establishing clear communication channels
The establishment of clear communication channels is an essential part of building an effective vendor relationship for CISOs. A CISO should anticipate situations where they need to urgently get hold of vendors in case of emergencies. In such cases, the CISO must have a clear system of communication with the vendor. This is not the point where the CISO is supposed to figure out how to get in touch with the vendor and stress about whether the vendor will be reachable or respond in time. Good and effective vendors have customer liaisons on their payroll that are tasked with solving emergency problems quickly. These staff members are also tasked with developing customer rapport, hence increasing customer success and loyalty. In most cases, these customer liaisons are responsible for creating strategic partnerships with clients to boost sales and retain customers in the long term. One way of obtaining customer loyalty is the ability to quickly fix a customer's problem. A CISO develops long-term strategic partnerships with vendors through these customer liaisons. The goals of the company should be clearly and transparently communicated by the CISO to the vendors. This clarity ensures that the customer liaison can make the best decisions and give the best fixes for problems that may arise during their mutual partnership.
This section explained the importance of creating a clear communication channel with vendors and other security experts. The next section will address the importance of CISOs joining customer advisory groups.
Customer advisory groups
Customer advisory groups are a great way to build long-term partnerships and relationships with vendors. Vendors often develop these customer advisory groups as a means to acquire feedback from their trusted customers on features and system updates. These groups offer vendors feedback on features they have already developed and also allow vendors to solicit suggestions from customers. These groups are an important route for a CISO to develop a long-term partnership with a vendor. The CISO can use these advisory groups to gain valuable information regarding the use of the tools from their vendor. They can also learn about challenges facing other customers and use that information to avoid those challenges or be better prepared to face them.
Cybersecurity challenges are risks that need all the information a CISO can gather from the security industry, and arming themselves with this information can only help in improving the perspectives of the CISO. Investing time in creating effective partnerships with the right vendor and having the right resources is worthwhile as this can immensely benefit an organization, in terms of both the short-term and long-term strategic plans.
This section provided insights into the important roles of CISOs that is rarely given much thought, and into how they help enhance the security initiatives in an organization. Creating partnerships with vendors and other security experts helps improve CISOs' knowledge of current trends as well as helping them get the best out of their vendors' software, hence improving the security posture of an organization.
This chapter has addressed five important roles of a CISO executive. Firstly, we evaluated the IT threat landscape, which entails assessing both the internal and external aspects of the company to identify potential risks and take measures to mitigate them. Secondly, we looked at devising various policies and controls, such as granting various security privileges to users to reduce risk. Thirdly, we considered leading auditing and compliance initiatives whereby the CISO assesses all security aspects of an organization and ensures they comply with regulations and international standards. Then, we touched on how CISOs manage an organization's information security initiatives, such as securing servers and purchasing up-to-date anti-malware programs; and lastly, we explored establishing partnerships with vendors and security experts to enable a CISO to obtain effective software tools for threat identification and mitigation of threats, as well as keeping abreast of current threats in the IT threat landscape.
The next chapter will address various regulations and laws that govern the IT industry that CISOs need to comply with to enable the effective dissemination of their duties. The focus will be on international standards that govern the security of stored data, the transmission of data, and ensuring the privacy of user data.
Here are some resources that can be used to gain more knowledge about the topics discussed in this chapter:
- The Overlooked Key to CISO Success: Maximizing Effective Security Partnerships: https://www.tenable.com/blog/the-overlooked-key-to-ciso-success-maximizing-effective-security-partnerships
- What CISOs really want from security vendors: https://www.csoonline.com/article/3617809/what-cisos-really-want-from-security-vendors.html
- The Chief Information Security (CISO) Role Explained: https://www.bmc.com/blogs/ciso-chief-information-security-officer/
- Three Cyber Security Issues Organizations Face: https://online.maryville.edu/blog/three-cyber-security-issues-organizations-face/
- 10 Common IT Security Risks in the Workplace: https://www.ccsinet.com/blog/common-security-risks-workplace/
- GDPR Compliance: Should CISO serve as DPO?: https://www.bankinfosecurity.com/gdpr-compliance-should-ciso-serve-as-dpo-a-13722
- The CISO's resource: https://www.youtube.com/c/erdalozkaya