How CEOs Can Take Control Of Cybersecurity Risk

CEOs don’t need to know all the technical details; they need well-designed dashboards that keep them up to date on the status of threats and flag serious incidents.

CEOs are under no illusion these days about the importance of cybersecurity and the need to stay on top of the worsening threat environment. Corporate leaders in North America and Europe identify it as their number one concern—ahead of pandemics and policy uncertainty—reflecting the shift to remote working and a flurry of high-profile hacking and ransomware incidents.

Despite this, many CEOs still aren’t getting the cybersecurity information they need, when they need it. They either don’t hear about a major cyber event on their network immediately, or they find out after the incident is beyond control.

A big part of the problem lies in the data that companies are getting from a dizzying array of cybersecurity tools. The market has become saturated with dozens of tools for every conceivable area of cybersecurity, from those focused on networks, endpoints, and mobile risks, to solutions geared toward threat intelligence and identity management.

Many of these tools are very good; but most of them are designed for IT professionals rather than for the CEOs and other C-suite executives who increasingly need to be in the loop on cybersecurity issues. This leads to communication gaps that can become extremely costly in the event of a breach that requires a rapid response from the top to mitigate potential reputational and financial damage. There is also the issue of just too much data, leading to key pieces being missed.

Car dashboards are a good analogy. Automakers do a pretty good job of giving drivers the information they need to know, such as fuel levels and tire pressure, without overloading them with extraneous data about the engine’s inner workings.

Likewise, CEOs don’t need to know all the technical details; they need well-designed dashboards that keep them up to date on the status of threats and flag any incident serious enough to require action or a follow-up meeting with IT leaders.

For example, when a problem occurs many IT professionals are most intent on gathering information and by the time they get their arms around the problem, real damage may have already happened. If the CEO were alerted immediately about a potentially serious breach, she might decide to shut down a plant until the facts were assembled. No IT professional would have the authority to do that.

Or if a CEO had access to information very early in the process, he could bring in risk assessment people, lawyers, and law enforcement to get a jump on the situation.

Those are just some of the benefits of the CEO having information early in these situations. That’s no knock on the IT staff, but it reflects a difference in priorities.

Companies should be choosing and implementing tools based on how well they can deliver for the C-suite, not just IT professionals. If tools don’t come with effective dashboards of their own, companies should consider creating customizing their own.

The way cybersecurity tools are implemented and configured makes a huge difference in their effectiveness. The tools are only as good as the conclusions that can be drawn from the data they produce

Tools need to be configured by IT professionals to produce focused, easily digestible metrics rather than a flood of data, much of which can be confusing or irrelevant to C-suite users. Companies need to be wary of how tools may be set up in a way that promotes the vendor’s interests ahead of their own—for example focusing on data that showcases the tool’s strengths.

Similar biases can creep into the way internal IT teams choose and configure cybersecurity tools. An IT director may set up tools and dashboards to focus on areas where it’s relatively easy to get data but may not provide a complete picture.

For example, a company might have good tools set up around its internal corporate network but lack metrics on its remote sites because the data is harder to get. This strengthens the case for using neutral, third-party reporting solutions configured to highlight all the necessary data.

This also underscores why it’s vital for companies to set up cybersecurity metrics as part of their performance evaluation of IT personnel, something that few companies appear to be doing. The challenge is to identify the right cyber data and metrics to support the performance appraisal process.

By thinking through these issues and putting in place systems that give them better visibility, CEOs can move out of passenger mode on cybersecurity and put themselves in the driver’s seat.