A manufacturing company on the West Coast was seeking to automate and expedite its processes. In order to achieve this goal, the company secured useful sets of software and infrastructure, which were either procured from third parties or developed in-house. This resulted in considerable improvement in productivity. The company was thriving and all was well until one midnight the CEO received a call stating that some of the machines were not manufacturing as per the specifications and some weren’t functioning at all.
Does this sound familiar? This is one of the many examples where the business continuity of a company is impacted. Sometimes, machines malfunction as they are controlled by hackers, and in some cases, the private data of the customers is stolen. This results in their customers switching to their competitors due to distrust, which eventually results in a loss of revenue for the company.
What’s common about these companies? It’s the absence of customized, solid security and compliance measures, and all they lack is ‘a designated person’ whose role is to take care of this, a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).
Hackers are always looking for some vulnerabilities and loopholes in organizations. Once the vulnerabilities are found, hackers exploit and misuse the stolen data or start controlling the processes. If you don’t want any interruptions in your daily business operations, you need a role responsible for the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data and infrastructure.
A CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) is an official in the company, responsible for information security and compliance. CISO is an information security specialist who understands the latest threats and vulnerabilities, various compliance frameworks, and how to tackle them.
In big companies, multiple people may be responsible for security and compliance. In smaller companies, these functions are usually handled by only one person. Security and compliance needs depend on the nature of the company’s operations irrespective of its size. In fact, a company’s size does not necessarily determine its security and compliance needs. Although not every company requires a full-time CISO, every company has to protect its sensitive data and comply with applicable regulations. A small company may have greater security and compliance exposure than a large enterprise. For example, a healthcare startup may process Protected Health Information (PHI) data from multiple large customers, aggregately exceeding the security risks and compliance footprint of each individual customer. Any business that deals with sensitive data has to have information security and compliance management functions. To effectively manage these functions, a CISO is a necessary role in these organizations.
The CISO creates and owns the strategy to maintain security policies, procedures, technologies, and frameworks. A CISO is generally accountable for the information security program including:
There is no certification required to be a CISO, however, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) is the de-facto standard looked for in the job market, in addition to related experience and education. But other certifications are also useful when seeking a CISO job. Some of them are:
A CISO’s duty is to ensure that the organization is protected from unauthorized access, vulnerabilities, malware, etc. so that it does not experience a data breach and is compliant with security requirements that come with regulations like HIPAA, PCI, GDPR, etc., depending on the industry and legal requirements. CISOs also ensure that the organization is compliant with contractual requirements, that are often above and beyond regulatory requirements.
Some companies have sensitive data that is top-secret for the company and has to be protected from competitors and the intelligence services of other countries. This data may be related to finances, trade secrets, Intellectual Property, business models, and other secret information. It is CISO’s responsibility to keep the secrets intact.
Currently, a CISO is not an executive role in many companies which is a concern. BODs often do not take regular reports from CISOs as they do for other executives. This is due to the fact that a CISO’s job is not related to revenues directly. But let’s ponder for a moment, if the security breach happens, it accounts for millions of dollars in revenue lost as well as a suboptimal public image, loss of customers, and partners. Some reports say that for publicly traded companies, a breach costs the fall of a share price by an average of 7%. Therefore, preventing the loss of revenue must be treated as revenue-generated and CISOs should be treated as a more integral part of the senior leadership team.
As we learned, a CISO is a must-have for almost any company irrespective of the nature of business and the size of your company. A CISO is a critical role in your company if you handle sensitive data or business-critical infrastructure. However, it may be unnecessary for some companies to retain a full-time CISO. What may help is having a CISO on-demand basis. A Virtual CISO or vCISO is a service on as needed or an interim basis. The goal of such services is to provide part-time or interim help in managing information security and compliance programs to businesses that lack an internal role with such responsibilities and expertise. The advantage of having a vCISO is reduced costs. You could have a top-quality CISO without having to pay (him/her) full-time. A virtual CISO usually requires no training, can hit the ground running, and doesn’t feel obliged to play into office politics. When your company grows and you need additional help, you could choose to hire a full-time CISO.