Four skills CISOs should develop to succeed in 2019

By Maxim Frolov, Vice President of Global Sales at Kaspersky Lab

As cyber-risks became a business issue, the role of the CISO (chief information officer) in an organization has changed. The modern CISO is not just the head of a department, responsible for implementation and management of security controls like ensuring every workstation has the latest version of endpoint security or making sure critical ports are not exposed to the internet. It’s no longer suitable for CISOs to make their company the most secure in the world as it can hinder progress and profitability.

As a C-level executive, their role is now made up of two crucial and equally important elements. Firstly, to enable the organization to achieve their business goals such as releasing better products faster than competitors, looking attractive to stockholders, and increasing revenue. Secondly, to be a cybersecurity pro and minimize the risks of cyberattacks that could threaten their business. Getting this balance right requires not only excellent security expertise and awareness of the latest technology trends but a set of “soft” skills, which may not come naturally to those who started their career in the IT department.

To help today’s CISOs succeed in their roles, there are four key skills to focus on.

Business acumen

In the good old days, the CISO was responsible for developing a defense plan based on their company’s IT landscape. This strategy is now insufficient and the modern-day approach needs to line up with the business vision. That is why almost every CISO job advertised, on Glassdoor and other sites, not only requires detailed IT security knowledge and a list of certifications, but also a business mindset.

As a result, CISOs cannot dismiss or prohibit a technology that their business would like to implement. They need to evaluate the risks associated with it and propose the most secure strategy that will not impede organizational progress. If staff need to have access to corporate resources from their devices, the CISO should implement a BYOD policy on the network.

In the words of an acting CISO, the best practice involves advising others to become a risk manager as well as offering assistance and guidance to the business: “Before introducing any new technology in any department, I conduct meetings with those departments to ensure that their changes are not going against our security norms. Then we make the required changes so as to have proper integration with our network.”

Communication and presentation skills

Being an executive involves interacting with the C-suite and the board of directors. But with very few top managers having a security background, it can be a challenge to overcome and a CISO must develop a rhetoric that ensures the board understands how serious the risks are, especially if you are used to speaking in IT jargon.

Although the ability to present complex ideas in an easy to understand manner has long been a vacancy cliché, the skill of translating cybersecurity language into business terms can fill in this communication gap. It may also help when it comes to the major headache facing every CISO: IT security budget justification. As the cybersecurity budget is often part of the overall IT expenditure, money can be prioritized for IT projects that demonstrate evident business profits and ROI (return on investment). Communication skills, such as the ability to tailor information to a non-technical audience and creating strong arguments (penalties for non-compliance, damage caused by past attacks, breach reports) can prove that benefits far outweigh the costs.

Crisis management skills

According to a recent Kaspersky Lab report, 86 percent of CISOs think cybersecurity breaches will happen sooner or later, meaning that businesses cannot afford to be unprepared. Every office has an evacuation procedure that everyone must follow in case of a fire. Likewise, a company should have a strategy for when a breach happens, as panic and disorganization will only worsen the situation.

An action plan is not limited to changing affected passwords or recovering systems. To eliminate the attack quickly, it is essential to figure out who is responsible for certain actions and identify key contacts in other departments to inform first. These can include legal, PR, or customer success teams, who in turn, will be able to take part in resolving the crisis. If a breach happens, it is essential the CISO remains aware throughout an incident and becomes a link between stakeholders, who coordinates the information security team in their incident response activities, informs the business and advises further on how to resolve the situation.

Supervisory and leadership

With 62 percent of CISOs agreeing that there is a shortage in cybersecurity talent, it is becoming harder to find new security specialist. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the main cause for concern is employee retention. A lack of security specialists means that workers have many job offers when they decide to change work, as one CISO explains: “I’m a manager of very talented cybersecurity specialists, who are targets of multiple head hunters.” The lack of IT security labor force also increases the workloads of current staff, causing additional worry for security leaders. With a plethora of redundant and mundane tasks, are burnouts as inevitable as cybercrime?

As CISOs have a direct influence on security personnel, they should be a leader who people can follow, be a mentor who can support the team and find ways to motivate employees. Motivation isn’t limited to monetary incentives, it may include granting more decision-making authority, learning and professional development possibilities (for example, by attending and participating in security conferences), and even simple recognition of one’s hard work. What works perfectly for one person may not suit another, so to be an effective manager a CISO must choose the optimal incentive or source of motivation for everyone in their team.

It is clear that the CISO’s role is challenging, as it requires a unique combination of soft, human skills as well as hard, technical skills. To be effective, a CISO must develop management and leadership qualities, broad IT understanding, a business mindset, and cybersecurity knowledge.

While technical skills form the foundation of the role today, key factors will continue to affect the balance of skills needed in the future. For example, the rise artificial intelligence-powered defensive tools on the market to aid the fight against cybercrime doesn’t have to mean that robots will take our jobs as they cannot learn the soft skills we’ve discussed. The day might come where machines have better cybersecurity expertise than any human and are able to solve technical tasks, but if CISOs have soft skills — like team and time management as well as business acumen — then their roles will remain a necessity for businesses in the future.

Kaspersky Lab is a global cybersecurity company, which has been operating in the market for over 20 years.

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