Beer, PowerPoint and Politics

Gone are the days when being a CISO (or even just ‘the security guy/gal’) was about actual information security or IT security. Even the term IT Security is outdated now and emphasises a one-dimensional view of what security is really about. However, I digress…

The Information Security element of CISO is correct, but for various reasons, the CISO’s role is very different from what it was a decade ago. The role then required a strong technologist who understood the firewalls, their rules, the cryptographic controls and even how to code hotfixes on the fly. This isn’t surprising given the role almost wholly came from an IT background; after all, back in the day, mere lip service was paid to the human element, and the legal considerations were considered simply “someone else’s job”.

I was often asked what my job as a CISO entailed, and because I didn’t initially understand what I had actually got myself in for when I took on my first CISO job I used to jokingly say;

PowerPoint and politics

Me. Back Then.

The odd thing is that this response is not far from the truth. My role became significantly less about my understanding of specific niches of information security knowledge and more about putting across to the business what this information security lot was all about and how it helped the company stay competitive, out of trouble or even just in business. The more I was doing this, the more I was embroiled in the day-to-day machinations of how a business works and the inescapable conclusion I came to was this; even if information security is seen as essential to the business, it is still just one voice of many that are trying to influence, cajole and be heard.

Moreover, this is where the politics come in, unfortunately. It is human nature and the way of businesses around the world. Politics is everywhere, and any CISO who doesn’t see and at least understand what is going on is, at best, going to be ignored and, at worst, eaten alive.

Which brings me to my second quote from me (well, it makes attribution a whole lot easier, doesn’t it?);

The purpose of a CISO is not to make the company more secure per se, but rather to help it sell more beer/widgets, increase shareholder value (as appropriate), and let the business make risky decisions more easily… through the judicious use of security

Me, Just now. Again.

The CISO should not be concerned with the name on the front of the firewall or the specifics of the latest penetration test. Instead, they should focus on how best to align their security services to the business and ensure security isn’t just a cost centre but a capability that allows teams and the company to run faster, more efficiently, and with less risk.

That doesn’t take technical knowledge; that takes strategic and business knowledge.

Links to other interesting stuff on the web (affiliate links)

Shift Gears: How to Leverage Data-Centric Security Controls in AWS

Changes to the OWASP API Security Top Ten 2019 to 2023

Cybersecurity as an Operational Effort

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