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Bridging the Divide Between CISOs and IT Decision Makers

Bridging the Divide Between CISOs and IT Decision Makers

Blog Article Published: 05/20/2016

By Rick Orloff, Chief Security Officer, Code42

Blog Images_5-12-18_Blog_600x450In a large organization, leaders create a vision and strategy for the business and employees work to achieve the vision. At the business unit level in information technology, CIOs, CSOs and CISOs define their strategies while other IT decision makers work to implement it. The key to success is a team working in unison with effective strategies and KPI’s. But this might be a case of “theory vs practice.”

When we surveyed 400 IT decision makers (ITDMs) for our 2016 Datastrophe Study, we discovered that CISOs, CIOs and other IT decision makers often diverge in the real world in terms of everyday data security implementation and addressing real-world issues such as BYOD policy administration, reputation management and insider threats. That’s the scary reality of the unseen divide: when the people who are meant to protect the enterprise do not agree, then the CXO’s need to step up and lead.

The Datastrophe Study reveals several specific drivers contributing to the disconnect between C-level and other IT decision makers and ways in which businesses can bridge the gap.

Image issues

Data breaches are hitting organizations left, right and center, and there is little doubt that brands’ reputations are at stake. CISOs, with their executive hats on, spend their time on risk mitigation: more than half of CISO/CIOs (53%) say their ability to protect corporate and customer data is vital to their company’s brand and reputation. However, only two fifths (43%) of ITDMs share that focus.

While the Datastrophe Study reveals a 10% difference between leaders and decision makers, when it comes to sensitive data, even a little complacency can lead to security failures. This may be an issue of operational efficiencies being developed without using a secure framework. Data security needs to be part of the design starting with strategy at the CXO (horizontal) level and vertically with tactical execution.

In order to ensure that risk and the potential of reputational damage is reasonably mitigated, C-level and ITDMs need to work in concert. ITDMs have the clearest view of incumbent systems and employee behaviors—and should not be afraid to speak up. Equally, C-level executives need to take this information on board, if not back to the Board, in order to help ITDMs fulfill the vision of building a secure enterprise.

The insider threat is very real

All security professionals will agree that the insider threat is a reality in any business. But it seems that CISOs, CIOs and other ITDMs have not aligned on the scope and magnitude of the threat or the threat vectors. Sixty-four percent of CISOs and CIOs believe that insider data security threats will increase in the next twelve months. Only 50% of other ITDMs agree with them.

Is the view from the top—with a focus on protecting the organization and brand—skewing reality? Or, with the day-to-day liaison between ITDMs and employees, could it simply be that ITDMs lack the proactive (instead of traditional detective) tools required to provide real-time situational awareness? Even so, if they haven’t aligned on the threat vectors, the probability is very high that ITDM’s aren’t aligned on what to measure or monitor. There is, today, a potential tendency for both parties to underestimate threats. A study by Forrester reported that 70% of data breaches could be traced to employee negligence. In order to overcome the insider threat, the C-level and all other ITDMs have to agree on the best strategic course forward. More importantly, both parties need to engage employees and help to educate them on behaviors that could lead to data breach. For example, C-level execs could use a workshop format to explain to employees the costs and damages caused by employee negligence, while ITDMs can provide practical tips and examples of how to actively avoid behaviors that put data at risk.

Anomaly at the endpoint

In an increasingly mobile workplace, BYOD is a key driver for adoption of policies to manage employee-owned devices connected to organizational networks. But things are never as simple as they seem. Among the normally skeptical CISO/CIOs, 87% believe their companies have clearly defined BYOD policies in place. Meanwhile, only 65% of ITDMs say their organizations have defined BYOD policies. To add more contention to the mix, 67% of knowledge workers (employees who think for a living and engage with mobile devices daily), believe their companies have no apparent BYOD policies.

This disconnect is a major cause for concern: CISOs/CIOs believe that 47% of corporate data is held on endpoint devices, as opposed to the more moderate estimation of 43% by other ITDMs. It’s clear that C-level and ITDMs need to work collaboratively to clarify, communicate and implement well-defined BYOD policies.


The simple solution to bridging the gap? Better communication. CISO/CIOs need to talk to their teams and their teams need to talk back. Better alignment and integration between the vision and the reality will go a long way to building more secure enterprises.

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