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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
Selling Security
Enterprises can no longer afford to see their CISOs confined to the dark recesses of the IT department

The threats facing network operators all over the world, spanning service providers, enterprises, cloud and hosting providers and mobile operators alike, are by no means stalling. While optimism is always the name of the game, we know all too well in security that trying to keep pace with the slew of attack vectors out there today is an unfortunate reality. As our 9th annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report reveals the magnitude of attacks is on the upswing once again and coupled with increasingly complex, multi-vector style attacks, the threat is all too real.

Winning the battle against those threats depends on many factors: the expertise of the security organization; response plans and resources; and the ability to put those plans into action. Increasingly, part of the challenge for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) is in getting the right support from their senior management. That's not necessarily a new hurdle for CISOs to overcome. Management buy-in has always been vital for dealing with IT security threats. But with threats becoming more complex, the priority for CISOs is ensuring that they have sufficient resources to deal effectively with those issues.

Executive and board-level awareness of these threats is already pronounced: recent research found that senior executives and risk managers within American and Canadian enterprises today are more concerned about losing money through cyber threats than they are through property damage or investments or securities failing.[1] This growing board-level awareness as to the severity of IT-based attacks means CISOs have an opportunity to champion their own role as a risk manager and defender of the business. By showing leadership and engaging proactively with other heads of department, CISOs can show how their expertise adds a ‘return on prevention' value to the business.

However, when it comes to getting their voices heard, many CISOs face an uphill struggle from day one - everything from IT being seen as ‘just' the cost of doing business and not an asset, to board members with vastly different priorities (i.e., those who would rather wait for their house to be on fire to call the fire department versus taking preemptive action upfront). If CISOs are to deliver an understandable call to action and gain the credibility to push their strategic plans, they need to deploy a range of tactics to make their voices heard including:

  • Discuss security risks in a way that resonates with management: Expecting the management/executive team or board to learn the information security professional's vocabulary can be unrealistic. Instead, the CISO must communicate threats in a way that the leadership team understands. This language barrier doesn't need to be a hindrance though; approached in the right way, it can actually be an excellent way for CISOs to showcase how their role fits within the overall corporate risk management strategy.
  • Translate prevented costs to realized goals: The substantial increase in botnet code modification and botnet node recruitment may be crucial in the understanding of how attacks are developing, but bring these terms up in a conversation with a CFO and you're likely to see their eyes glaze over faster than you can say Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). The primary message a CISO needs to get across is the threat that attacks of any kind pose in terms of lost revenue, reduced productivity and damage to the business brand.
  • Anchor the threat in your own organization: Engage with the CFO and COO to obtain financial figures relating to the cost of your operations and the amount of money generated through online services and a workforce reliant on a fully functioning IT network. Armed with these figures, CISOs can offer a realistic estimate of the negative financial impact of a level-one cyber attack where key IT services might be adversely affected. In an age where many institutions have built strong revenue streams and enhanced customer loyalty through online and mobile services, it also provides an opportunity for CISOs to demonstrate the crucial role they can play in preserving business operations.

These days, no enterprise risk assessment and business plan is complete without taking into account the operational risk represented by cyber security attacks intended to have a negative effect on the availability of key online services. Enterprises can no longer afford to see their CISOs confined to the dark recesses of the IT department because as DDoS attacks and other cyber threats have become increasingly high-tech and more complex, enterprises need a technologist with a seat at the table.

But with greater responsibility comes the challenge of gaining and maintaining credibility within the C-suite. And it is only by conveying this threat in a language the business understands - by demonstrating the potential outcomes using examples familiar to other business heads - that the CISO will be able to get the buy-in they need to do their job properly. This is the challenge and the opportunity - the opportunity for the CISO to get the recognition they deserve and the backing to deal with the ever-growing threat faced by organizations today.


  1. Execs Say Cyber-Attacks a Top Threat: AIG Survey-CNBC News-6 February 2013
About Rakesh Shah
Rakesh Shah is Director, Product and Strategy Marketing of Arbor Networks. He has been with the company since 2001, helping to take Arbor's products from early stage to category-leading solutions. Before moving into the technical marketing team, Rakesh was the Director of Product Management for Arbor's Peakflow products, and he was also a manager in the engineering group. Previously, Rakesh held various engineering and technical roles at Lucent Technologies and CGI/AMS. He holds a M.Eng. from Cornell University and a BS from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign both in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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