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A CISOs End to End Security Operations

by Dr. Erdal Ozkaya on

Leading auditing and
compliance initiatives

A CISO and an organization's security team are tasked with ensuring that a company complies with all the security standards and regulations that govern its operations. They also lead auditing efforts of the company's security systems.  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 and define all possible threats and 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.

With regard to how CISOs lead in auditing and compliance initiatives, the next section considers some IT components CISOs need to assess to confirm whether they are functioning properly and if they are currently enhancing the company's security posture.

Anti-malware and anti-spyware software

The following series of software, in addition to firewalls, are critical components of securing a system from cyber-attacks. They are effective in helping protect an organization against simple and common attacks, but they are not foolproof on their own and require additional security features. Malware represents one of the most common attack vectors that attackers use against a system to gain access.

Anti-malware programs and anti-spyware software help organizations protect their systems and information assets from numerous external threats. For internet-facing information assets, these types of software help in the mitigation of risks and the possible prevention of malware getting into the system.

An auditing process enacted 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 security software ensures that new malware definitions are always included in a database to help the system fight off newer forms of malicious programs that attackers may use.

To further an understanding of the role of anti-malware in an IT system, the next section seeks to address how CISOs ensure compliance with international regulations.

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Compliance with international regulations

Modern companies are regulated by an array of organizations created to protect consumers and businesses from malicious attacks. Many firms engage in the collection of data from their consumers that they use in the dissemination of their services and to improve their products. However, without management, some firms have been known to misuse this information.

With regard to the misuse of collected consumer data, governments have been forced to step in to ensure that firms engage in data-collection exercises in a regulated manner that guarantees the data collected is used only for the purposes for which it was collected, and that users are aware of all intended uses and purposes. In addition, the original owners of the data need to provide their consent to these firms before their data can be collected and used. Most regulations are specific to the collection and use of consumer data.

Examples of regulations and regulatory bodies

Some of the regulatory bodies and regulations that affect secure and compliant operations include GDPR and HIPAA. GDPR is an acronym standing for General Data Protection Regulation. These regulations include 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 statute was created to ensure that health and insurance information is protected within the United States (US). Its laws and regulations affect all companies that directly, or indirectly through business associations, deal with user information.

GDPR and HIPAA are two of the many regulations that affect company operations globally, and modern firms need to ensure that they comply with these laws. Again, compliance is a requirement that the CISO and the security team are responsible for.

Consequences of non-compliance

A failure to comply with required laws and regulations jeopardizes a company's standing, and non-compliance may result in suspension or heavy fines. For instance, all federal firms that deal with health information are governed by the HIPAA statute, and a failure to comply will deny the firm subsequent federal funding. For other firms, such as those governed by GDPR laws, a failure to comply may lead to heavy fines that could result in millions of US dollars (USD), an unnecessary loss to the company.

Adherence to many of these 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.

Having now addressed the role of a CISO with regard to auditing the company to ensure safety and compliance with laws and regulations, the following section considers the CISO’s role in managing various information security initiatives.

Managing information security initiatives

A CISO and his/her 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 attempts to infiltrate a company's systems. Security initiatives come in the form of an evaluation of the threat landscape, taking the necessary measures to address identified vulnerabilities, as well as implementing policies and security controls to ensure information assets are fully protected.

This section represents a major CISO role: managing information security initiatives in an organization. Let’s consider how CISOs manage these initiatives.

Strategic security planning

A company's strategic plan addresses long-term strategies for growth, 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 the security of 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 this 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 I.T. organization, or introduce a new system as a means of improving its business operations, it needs the CISO's input in the strategic planning. This means that CISOs today play a critical role in business operations and are poised to play core roles in most businesses' long-term strategic planning.

After learning how CISOs manage information security initiatives through strategic security planning, let’s review how the hiring of security team members affects information security initiatives.

The hiring of a security team

The hiring of a security team is the direct responsibility of the CISO. The critical nature of the responsibilities of the CISO, and the impact of the security team's work on business risk assessments, requires direct involvement of the CISO, especially when hiring his/her 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.

Now that 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 provides more insight into the CISO’s relationships with vendors, and the importance of this relationship.

Establishing partnerships with vendors and security experts

Certainly, CISOs need to establish partnerships with vendors and security experts. As the overall head of IT security, a CISO in any organization is tasked with creating a network with possible vendors and security experts  in situations where security expertise and implementation are required.

The following sections show how to establish these partnerships and how beneficial these partnerships are from a security perspective.

Establishing partnerships

Creating partnerships with vendors of software and security tools is a critical effort for CISOs working to provide effective security to their organization. With good partnerships, the CISO can purchase tools and software from vendors at preferential prices. Preferential prices enable an organization to seek cost savings when purchasing antivirus programs necessary for safeguarding the networks in an organization. Other essential tools for CISO security operations are product testing tools, malware analysis tools, and software that an ethical hacker uses to attempt to gain access into an organization. Ethical hackers are also 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 accessing and employing these tools is crucial. Partnerships with such vendors ensure that CISO executives are able to use these tools to conduct tests on the internal system and 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 marketplace. Partnerships with security experts benefit an organization immensely, ensuring that any updates to the current systems are immediately and easily communicated to the CISO, who can then subsequently make the required changes to update relevant systems.

Security experts also help to inform a company of the weaknesses of using a specific system, and possible solutions to a potential problem. Security experts are informed people tasked with providing the security field with research, insights, and information regarding changes in the security market, and they typically provide possible ways of adopting changes to the security infrastructure of any business.

Partnerships with such a team help an organization in its quest for better security initiatives. Security experts can also help a CISO educate the team of experts working under them on the best way to complete their work in a 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 many matters related to 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 marketplace, including 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 also need critical malware testing software tools essential for providing 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 current 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. Following penetration testing, CISOs and security experts subsequently tweak the system to correct any errors revealed about the system and the business infrastructure.

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.

Often, pricing is more 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 effectively carry 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 walking through the actual functionality the product provides. 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 scale to meet its increasing demands. Additionally, 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 another 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. An emergency is not the time when a CISO should be figuring out how to get in touch with the vendor, or 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 addresses 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.

Customer advisory 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 to arm themselves with data that continuously improve 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's short-term and long-term strategic plans.

This section reviewed the important roles of CISOs that are rarely given much thought, as well as 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 helps them get the best out of their vendors' software, hence improving the security posture of an organization.

Summary

This blog post addressed five important roles of a CISO executive. First, we evaluated the IT threat landscape, particularly with regard to how the CISO must assess both internal and external aspects of a company to identify potential risks and take measures to mitigate them.

Next, we considered leading auditing and compliance initiatives whereby a CISO is required to assess all security aspects of an organization and ensure 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.

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 to keep abreast of current threats in IT and the threat landscape.

In a future posting, we 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.

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Dr. Erdal Ozkaya

Dr. Erdal Ozkaya