How CIOs Can Weave IT Security into their IT Strategy

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Security should no longer be treated as a subset of IT, but an integral part of the overall strategy. Here's how to go about this.

Article 4 Minutes
How CIOs Can Weave IT Security into their IT Strategy

Developing an IT security strategy should be a top priority for any business. Safeguarding digital assets from today's growing range of threats plays a fundamental role in keeping firms up and running, building customer trust and protecting the organization from reputation damage and financial losses.

This means IT security needs to be treated as a key part of a company's IT strategy. And this is something a growing number of companies are becoming aware of. For example, CIO's survey found 83% of organizations expect to tightly integrate IT security strategy into their overall IT strategy by the end of 2022.

Why security needs to be integral to IT strategy

In the past, information security has often been treated as merely a subset of IT strategies, with a focus only on deploying specific technologies such as firewalls and antivirus protection. But today's threats are far more varied and dangerous than in the past and, with digital networks and data integral to the way firms do business, any weakness in a company's defenses can be quickly exploited.

On the one hand, security specialists need to be aware of a new generation of complex, advanced threats and take steps to combat these. But while many IT security attacks use sophisticated attack vectors, stopping these can't be the sole focus.

More straightforward problems, such as configuration errors, social engineering techniques and poor security practices such as weak passwords remain the root causes of many security breaches. To stop these, organizations need constant monitoring of IT systems and strong and continuing user training programs.

Both of these require long-term planning and support and, as such, having an IT strategy that takes these activities into account from the start is essential.

Key types of threat to be aware of

Among the wide range of threats faced by businesses today, there are a few that every employee - not just those working in the IT department - needs to be aware of. These include:

  • Phishing - This involves scammers looking to trick users into handing over sensitive information - often login or financial details. The best way to stop this is with user education and a good email security system.
  • Ransomware - This seeks to render systems inoperable by encrypting key data and demanding payment for the decryption code. However, it can also be used in extortion schemes, in which criminals steal data and threaten to publicly release it unless they get paid.
  • Network vulnerabilities - Whether caused by errors in coding or misconfigurations, mistakes within your networking tools present a range of opportunities to hackers, such as SQL injections and zero-day weaknesses. A clear plan for patching and monitoring systems to spot these is a must.
  • Third-party vulnerabilities - A growing number of data breaches at major firms aren't caused by their own systems, but those of companies they partner with. As such, taking the time to ensure suppliers' security solutions are as robust as your own should also be incorporated into your overall IT strategy.

3 key steps to integrating security and IT strategy

There are several changes that may be needed to integrate IT security and IT strategy. For example, it could mean adjusting leadership structures or merging departments to ensure that security professionals can collaborate directly with other IT professionals to ensure any decision-making keeps security front of mind.

However, there are a few key principles that are vital to the success of any integrated security and IT strategy.

1. Create an information security strategic plan

Having a comprehensive information security strategic plan is the first step for any organization. This sets out the long-term roadmap for how security issues should be considered at every stage, so executives, managers and employees understand what’s required. This should also determine what data needs to be protected and what your current risk levels are as well as defining your vision for the project and what will constitute success.

2. Empower your CISO

The role of the CISO is integral to success, but if this individual feels they don't have a say in strategic decision-making or don't feel confident their recommendations will be taken on board, they won't be able to drive the strategy. One way to improve this is to ensure they’re involved at an executive level - either actually on the board or reporting directly to a qualified member. Gartner notes that currently, fewer than one in ten boards of directors have a dedicated cybersecurity committee, but this is expected to rise to 40% by 2025 as the importance of this becomes clearer.

3. Use recognized frameworks

Following the guidance set out by standardized security frameworks such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the International Organization for Standardization ensures that you're setting practical targets for your integrated security and IT strategy. This will give you a clear idea of what end goals you should be aiming for, which metrics are important to measure your progress and the key milestones you should be aiming for along the way. Adopting a framework that's relevant to your industry and circumstances will help you prioritize your activities and give you a realistic timeline for deployment.

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