The greatest responsibility that modern CEOs carry is mitigating cyber risks in their organizations. The issue of cybersecurity is so prevalent, so widespread, and so impactful that a single IT manager or cybersecurity specialist cannot reasonably be expected to manage risk on their own—mitigating cyber threats is a C-suite responsibility. In a recent analysis, Gartner predicted that, by 2026, 50% of executives will have cybersecurity risk requirements built into their contracts. Cyber threats have moved up the ladder of priority to become one of the most pressing topics on corporate decision-makers’ minds.
CEO of Ascent Solutions J.D. Harris is on a mission to save the world from cybercrime. Harris, a corporate executive himself, views this as an achievable goal when processes, frameworks, and methodologies are implemented, along with the right partnerships.
“This is not hyperbole, nor is it aspirational,” says Harris. “It is a goal that my team and I intentionally and methodically pursue each day, and one that our business is uniquely designed to solve in consulting with corporate decision-makers and governmental entities.
“Corporate decision-makers must assess cyber risks and then apply a risk-based, security-driven IT strategy with concrete steps that are built on an overall security framework,” Harris says. “This takes time. Corporate leaders can’t afford to wait another day, but they need a pragmatic path forward.”
Why one-size-fits-all strategies fail
In recent years, many organizational leaders have attempted to mitigate cyber threats by identifying a single long-term solution—like implementing a single cybersecurity software solution, hiring a cybersecurity team, or building a cybersecurity architecture. Ultimately, this is destined to fail. Organizations cannot reasonably expect to eliminate cyber risks in a single moment. Think about it: technology, the digital world, and software evolve on a near-constant basis. Even devices as straightforward as smartphones or gaming devices require frequent updates. New risks emerge with each update, and for hackers, this offers a wealth of weaknesses to exploit. Digital innovation moves at the speed of light (or very close), and a one-size-fits-all approach to cybersecurity is insufficient. More than insufficient, it leaves corporations and their teams vulnerable to cyber risks.
Many corporate leaders who take these one-size-fits-all approaches do so out of a lack of cybersecurity skills or even awareness, Harris says. CEOs know that they need to mitigate cyber risks, and they are making concentrated efforts to do so, investing significant funds in the initiative and prioritizing it above others.
Harris’ statement is backed by data. In 2021, PwC’s global survey found that cybersecurity is the number-one concern for CEOs in the U.S. and the number-two concern globally. Of course, depending on the industry, CEOs will have different cybersecurity concerns.
Understanding your company’s value proposition can reveal potential cyber threats.
The first step in mitigating cyber risk is to understand the threats facing organizations across organizations, industries, and sectors. There is no list of threats that every organization will face. Corporate decision-makers must take a thoughtful, concentrated approach to assessing their organizations’ risks.
From Harris’ perspective, the only approach to mitigating cyber risks is to understand your company’s specific risks—not simply the overall threats facing companies worldwide. These risks are tied to the organization’s value proposition. For example, a large-scale insurance company will have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of records with sensitive personal information about customers, from social security numbers to financial information and so on. This wealth of data is highly profitable for hackers if accessed and is a considerable incentive.
Harris ties mitigating cyber risk to understanding a hacker’s intent. Analyze what hackers stand to gain from a security breach at your organization. Understanding intent means looking honestly at your place on a hacker’s list of potential victims. Companies with legacy platforms and outdated (or nonexistent) security infrastructure are often at the top of the list, Harris says.
Identifying potential cyber threats requires both internal and external information. Every CEO must assess their company’s systems and technologies to determine risks, looking internally to identify whether systems are outdated or should be replaced. External information is just as important. CEOs must have a finger on the pulse of other industry-specific cybersecurity incidents to understand the parallel threats they may be facing. This takes a critical eye and constant investment. CEOs must keep up with cybersecurity trends, news, and threats. This is only effective if CEOs clearly understand their companies’ cybersecurity infrastructure, Harris notes, so that they can understand the measurable risks they face in relation to their existing security infrastructure.
CEOs understand that digital security is now a critical part of trust in both the employee experience and the customer experience. Secure digital spaces are critical to the success of businesses because they determine the end user’s experience. Cybersecurity isn’t simply about mitigating risks and losses (though those are important initiatives); it’s also about building relationships with employees and customers by presenting a positive, trustworthy brand reputation.
For CEOs around the world, cybersecurity management is a significant (and weighty) priority. A single-step solution or single implementation of a cybersecurity system will not protect an organization from the wealth of cyber risks in the world. Leaders must implement ongoing cybersecurity strategies and constantly assess cyber threats.
Written by Brian Wallace.
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