Where does risk management fit in with CISOs – why is it so important?
CISOs are getting more deeply involved in organizations, which includes an increasing focus on risk management, and not just from a threat perspective – but also from an operational and business logic perspective.
A growing threat landscape rapidly made the CISO role one of the most influential C-level positions. It’s no surprise that the remit of CISOs keeps expanding, going significantly past the original cybersecurity goals of protecting infrastructure and data.
In this article, we will look in depth into what risk management is in the context of the CISO role. We will also discuss why risk management for CISOs has become so important and what steps CISOs can take to mitigate information security and business risk in their organizations.
Introduction to CISOs and Risk Management
CISO is short for Chief Information Security Officer. But, with roles such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Security Officer (CSO) also in the mix, what exactly does the CISO role involve? And what do we mean when we talk about risk management for CISOs? Let’s have a look.
CISOs are responsible for information and data security across an organization. When you think about the origins of the role, it means in practice that CISOs needed to guard against cybersecurity threats – intrusions, ransomware, and so forth.
Traditionally, CISOs have been entrusted with leading a team of cybersecurity experts who focus on practical aspects of this, such as perimeter defense, vulnerability management, and related areas. In this context, the CISO’s key duties include planning threat prevention, monitoring the overall cybersecurity environment, and ensuring that infrastructure and information assets are protected from internal and external threats.
CISO vs. CIO & CSO
Where does the CISO stand compared to the CIO and CSO? Thinking about C-level technology roles, the CIO is the most senior. Chief Information Officers almost always report directly to the CEO and are responsible for overall IT strategy – including IT investment, digital transformation, and so on.
In turn, in large enterprises, the CISO would report to the CIO – though, in smaller organizations, the CISO might also report directly to the CEO.
Where does the CSO fit in? It depends on the organization. CISO and CSO positions could be somewhat interchangeable. Still, you could think of a CSO as a C-level staffer responsible for organizational security in a more tangible or physical sense – and less so in information security respect. Large organizations will have both a CSO and CISO in distinct roles.
The CISO’s Role in Risk Management
What does a CISO do on an everyday basis? Even from the outset, the CISO role was relatively complex – as you’d expect from a C-level role. CISO tasks can be divided into four main areas:
- Determine critical elements: Understanding what’s at risk is a key first step for CISOs, as you can’t protect what you don’t know about. As part of this process, CISOs will conduct an assessment to identify the most critical infrastructure, systems, and data, recognizing that the loss of access to these elements can result in significant damage.
- Protecting against threats: At the core, CISOs safeguard organizations against internal and external threats. Using a mix of hardware, software, and policies, CISOs guard against these threats – limiting the ability of cybercriminals to enter and abuse systems or internal employees to cause havoc.
- Monitoring: Guarding against threats helps, but CISOs also need early warning systems to ensure that security teams can rapidly respond to any evolving threats. This includes continuous system monitoring with early notification.
- Recovery and continuity: Protection helps, but even for the most competent CISOs, there remains a risk of a successful breach. In such instances, the ability to respond swiftly becomes paramount for maintaining business continuity. This includes implementing strategies to expedite the recovery of critical systems and restore normal operations as quickly as possible.
Understanding Risk Management
Every organization faces adverse events. With an adverse event, we mean the opportunity for something to go wrong, harming operations or even the organization’s very existence. Back in the day, it was things like droughts, storms, or physical theft that businesses worried about.
Today’s companies face a different group of information technology-related threats – cybercrime, infrastructure breakdown, data loss, etc. Each of these adverse events has a risk of occurring. With risk, there is an associated probability of the event happening – and an associated cost too.
Risk management then is a fundamental process that involves identifying, assessing, and mitigating these adverse attacks that an organization or individual may face. In other words, it is a proactive approach to anticipate potential risks and take measures to reduce their likelihood or impact.
This includes a wide range of activities, such as implementing security controls to prevent data breaches, developing disaster recovery plans to ensure business continuity in the event of a major outage, or conducting regular safety inspections to identify and mitigate workplace hazards.
The process of risk management is as follows:
Risk identification and analysis
Risk identification and analysis is a crucial step in the risk management process. Your organization identifies potential adverse events that can negatively affect assets, processes, and outcomes. Once identified, you determine the potential costs associated with the risk – whether these would be minor, easily absorbed, or catastrophic for your organization.
Based on the outcome of the previous step, you’ll know whether a risk is acceptable – or if you must put in place specific controls to mitigate the risk to avert a potentially disastrous outcome. Mitigation is not just about prevention – it also includes contingency plans to ensure that business operations continue should the worst happen.
As the last step, effective risk management is also ongoing monitoring to spot changes in the risk landscape. Risk monitoring also helps your organization spot an adverse event that has not yet occurred – but is developing.
This is just an introduction to the typical steps an organization would take on the risk management road, and CISOs, of course, have specific prerogatives when it comes to risk management.
Enterprise Risk Management and the CISO
Organizations may identify, evaluate, and reduce risks across their whole infrastructure using ERM (Enterprise Risk Management) as a strategic framework. It offers a systematic strategy for understanding vulnerabilities, executing plans, and responding to incidents effectively. Organizations can proactively detect potential risks and guarantee the robustness of their systems by integrating ERM techniques into their daily operations.
The CISO directs the organization’s security posture, which has a pivotal role in Enterprise Risk Management. They work with different departments to execute security guidelines, conduct risk analyses, and create incident response strategies. The CISO is a crucial ally in coordinating security measures with organizational objectives.
Bridging the gap between technical cybersecurity measures and business goals is one of the primary duties of the CISO in ERM. CISOs must coordinate security strategies with the organization’s objectives and priorities, considering costs, productivity, and customer satisfaction. The CISO assists in risk mitigation while fostering innovation and growth by incorporating security issues into the decision-making process.
Why Is Risk Management So Important to CISOs?
With almost every organization now depending on technology solutions for day-to-day operations and technology integrated ever more deeply into business processes, the distinction between technology and the rest of the business is becoming very thin.
To effectively manage the threats to technology provisioning, CISOs can no longer stick to tech alone – a CISO must focus on business aspects because information technology security problems are inherently business problems too.
In doing so, CISO needs to look beyond traditional IT security tasks – protecting, responding, and so forth, and instead focus on risk assessment – finding the adverse events, both business-driven and IT-driven, that pose a threat to the organization.
Business Processes Tie into IT
As we suggested earlier, risk management for CISOs has become increasingly important because of how business processes directly tie into IT, which in turn affects IT risks. In other words, the risks of IT failure are not just related to threats – internal business processes can also create risks.
Where CISOs focus purely on technical and external threats without taking a risk management approach that takes into account the wider business context, it means that CISOs are limited in terms of how much protection they can really offer to the organization.
Effective risk management that can deeply compensate for risks require very intrinsic knowledge of business operations and inherent dependencies. In other words, the CISO must understand an organization, its decision-making procedures, and the decisions themselves in order to design a robust security blueprint. A risk management approach is central to that process.
Threats May Be Hiding
Taking a business-first, risk-based approach also matters because security and operational threats can hide – sometimes in plain sight. Today’s CISOs understand that security risks are not just of the cyber threat nature – the CISO’s task is to go looking beyond the obvious targets, e.g., data centers, IoT, and edge computing.
Security risks can also hide within business processes. By taking a risk management approach, CISOs are better equipped to find the risks that are less obvious – and the risks that are within more complicated business processes.
Additionally, CISOs also need to consider risks associated with human error. In other words, what happens when staff makes errors in their day-to-day tasks – and what happens if something unexpected goes wrong during technology implementation or operation?
The Regulatory Regime
As a final point, it’s worth looking into compliance risk. From an information technology viewpoint, compliance nowadays carries enormous weight. Standards including ISO 27001, HIPAA, NIST 800-53, and PCI DSS can lead to heavy fines where companies fail to meet minimum compliance requirements. Loss of compliance can also lead to loss of clients or difficulty gaining new business.
CISOs need to factor compliance into their approach to risk management. In other words, what is the risk of breaching compliance standards? And what are the consequences of not meeting the minimum risk management standards contained within these compliance standards?
Risk Management Challenges for CISOs
When evaluating information security threats, CISOs need to look beyond protection and fixes. Instead, a risk management approach demands that CISOs assess what’s most at risk and what’s most costly to fix.
However, the CISOs role is also to take into account the wider organization – and its underlying business processes. Some of the most dangerous threats may lie in these processes going wrong, while some apparently less serious threats can have significant impacts on processes. It is up to the CISO to identify where these real, significant risks lie and develop strategies to address them effectively.
Vendor and Supplier Risk Also Matters
Organizations increasingly depend on third-party vendors for data collection, transfer, and storage. Just using a cloud vendor, as almost every organization does nowadays, exposes a business to risk.
While CISOs will do their best to protect the technology infrastructure under their management against threats, CISOs must be equally vigilant when it comes to vendors. Here, too, CISOs should take a risk management approach. Vendors require monitoring, and CISOs need to assess vendor security controls to ensure that their organization’s infrastructure and data are not at risk.
Link IT Risk Management to Business Risk Management
It should be clear by now that the security and risk management remit of a CISO does not exist in a technology bubble isolated from the rest of the business. Risk management will already be integrated with many business functions; large organizations will devote significant resources to risk management across the organization.
CISOs should work closely with other business divisions to integrate risk management – pushing knowledge of technology risks into the broader risk management picture while drawing on the organization’s overall risk assessment to determine how that impacts IT risk.
The CISO should push the organization towards risk reduction best practices, specifically IT infrastructure, for example, through the implementation of strict security patch deployment mechanisms, preferably automated, proper vendor support options for acquired systems (to ensure systems are always covered with new releases of firmware), drivers and technical assistance, as well as reliable and regular security audits performed either by in-house teams (if they have the know-how or reputable outside contractors to provide a clear view of the current security panorama) – among many other things.
Some companies will not have the resources to achieve all these goals properly, but solutions are available that provide them – like those offered by TuxCare – to help the CISO perform their role more effectively.
Any IT risk that is known and allowed to stand, like an unpatched system or a server with a firewall misconfiguration, is directly translatable into business risk – data breach risk, non-compliance risk, reputational risk, financial risk, intellectual property theft risk, or operational risk – and all, or in fact any, of these will cause great harm to the business.
A key part of the risk management process is communication and consultation. Arguably, important details about risks will only emerge once engaging in wider discussions. In other words, truly assessing risk is a matter of gaining multiple perspectives.
For CISOs, this means communication down the chain of command – closely collaborating with staff members on the ground to fish out hidden risks. It also means clear communication with the C-suite, making IT risks known and fully understood.
Manage the conflict of interest
Risk management can also lead to a conflict of interest. For example, CIOs purchase and manage technology assets, which can bring a conflict between costs and replacement of older assets for example, vs. putting in place new, secure, risk-free assets.
Segregation of duties is key, therefore, and CISOs should stand firm in their duties as risk managers to ensure that the technology that’s deployed supports risk management within your organization. Similarly, when it comes to business processes, efficiency can clash with risk aversion. Here, too, CISOs should ensure that IT security is never compromised by business efficiency.
How CISOs can reduce risk
By implementing efficient risk tactics, CISOs can ensure that their organization’s critical assets, including sensitive information and systems, remain secure against potential threats. Moreover, effective risk management helps CISOs prioritize their security investments and allocate resources to areas that require the most attention.
- Conducting regular risk assessments: By regularly assessing the potential risks their organization may face, CISOs can identify and prioritize the most significant risks and develop effective mitigation strategies.
- Developing and implementing security policies and procedures: CISOs can reduce risk by developing and implementing comprehensive security policies and procedures that align with industry best practices and regulatory requirements.
- Providing ongoing security awareness training: CISOs can help reduce risk by providing ongoing security awareness training to their employees to ensure that they are aware of potential security threats and know how to respond to them.
- Implementing security controls: CISOs can reduce risk by implementing effective security controls, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption, to protect their organization’s critical assets against potential threats.
- Developing and implementing incident response plans: CISOs can reduce risk by developing and implementing incident response plans that outline the steps to be taken in the event of a security incident. This enables the organization to respond promptly and effectively to security incidents and minimize their impact.
Live Patching for Risk Management
Live patching offers significant risk management advantages for organizations. It is an automated, non-disruptive patching approach that improves cybersecurity by closing vulnerabilities, thereby reducing the risk of attacks. Moreover, it can be employed across various technology services, including enterprise Linux operating systems, databases, and commonly used software libraries.
TuxCare offers KernelCare Enterprise, which live patches all popular distributions, including CentOS, AlmaLinux, Debian, RHEL, Ubuntu, Oracle Linux, Amazon Linux, CloudLinux, Rocky Linux, and many more.
To learn more about how live patching works, head over here.
The role of a CISO is not confined to a narrow scope. While CISOs are responsible for cybersecurity and protecting infrastructure, applications, and data from internal and external threats, doing so effectively requires adopting a risk management approach.
Risk management for CISOs is overarching. CISOs need a broad, deep view of risk across the business. This holistic view enables CISOs to manage information security risks across the business effectively.
CISOs must manage not just IT risk – but understand and influence risk right across the business, including the risk imposed by decisions taken by C-level executives.
Finally, CISOs need to accept that it is not always feasible to completely erase or avoid every risk. Mitigation is essential wherever possible, but in a large organization, some level of risk needs to be accepted and communicated to peers so that the organization can effectively manage and accommodate it.