Risk Security

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. 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.

Impacts are easier to talk about, but you need to explain the real potential impacts to your business.

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.

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.

Source: DARK Readings

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