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November 19, 2018 | Updated on: March 28, 2024 | Reading time 11 minutes

Key Insights on Cybersecurity Risks for CEOs and Management Teams

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CEO and Founder

Cybersecurity has long been mistakenly viewed as an information technology problem that was only the concern of skilled IT staff. The reality is that cybersecurity should be considered as part of core business concerns, strategy, and planning. This should include the attention of top level management. CEOs should be very concerned about cybersecurity in their organizations. Never before have businesses had more to lose when it comes to a cybersecurity breach.

Most organizations today are in possession of far more data that ever before. With today’s technology centric and generally online business world, this data is also more of an integral part of mission critical business functions. In addition, the complexity of today’s IT systems and networks includes hybrid systems that may span between on-premise and public cloud environments.

This broadens the attack surface that organizations today must be concerned with when it comes to preparing, planning, and protecting against cybersecurity attacks. Let’s take a look at key insights on cybersecurity risks for CEOs and management teams.

Understanding Cyber Risk Management

Even if a CEO does not have a background in IT or experience with IT infrastructure in general, they must be aware of the risk and impact of cybersecurity or lack thereof on their business. A single cybersecurity event can render extensive damage both financially as well as in brand reputation and customer confidence. When looking at such high-profile events as the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 or the Equifax breach last year that exposed the personally identifiable information of millions of U.S. citizens, it is easy to see just how important it is to take cybersecurity very seriously.

Gaining headline coverage because of cybersecurity negligence or a cybersecurity breach in general is never good publicity for any business looking to bolster company image or build customer confidence.  It is important for CEOs and management alike to recognize the impact to their business due to a single cybersecurity event.

Proper attention, funding, and leadership must be given to cybersecurity initiatives.  The world of cybersecurity is constantly changing and requires due diligence to stay current on attack vectors and technologies to protect an organization’s data from attackers or inside threats to that data.  CEOs and management teams need to always have security initiatives in mind in conjunction with other business initiatives as they should always go hand in hand.

7 Key Insights on Cyber Risk Management

There are several key insights and best practice that CEOs and management teams today must be aware of to effectively mitigate cybersecurity threats.  We will discuss the following:

  1. Security is ultimately your responsibility
  2. Cloud is not a security solution
  3. Form a cybersecurity team
  4. Perform cybersecurity risk assessments and audits at regular intervals
  5. Implement security policy via technology and via the “human factor”
  6. Understand internal risks can be as dangerous as external risks
  7. Continue to evolve your security policy

By giving due attention to these and other key insights CEOs and management teams can be much better prepared to tackle the growing challenge of cybersecurity. Let’s take a look at these one by one.

1. Cloud Security is Ultimately Your Responsibility

When a cybersecurity breach happens, there can tend to be “finger pointing” that may take place. In reality, when the dust settles after a major security breach, the responsibility will lie with the business that was breached. When it comes to cloud security, the organization itself must take the measures needed to prevent and protect customer and other sensitive data from being compromised. Generally speaking, if data is compromised, there was a breakdown in cybersecurity at some level that allowed the data to be leaked and/or read. As an example, even if reasonable steps are taken by the organization to prevent network breaches, if an attacker who is able to circumvent those defenses is able to read the data, the question will be asked, why was the data not encrypted? The burden of responsibility is with the business to protect sensitive data. Organizations today must account for every contingency when it comes to customer data and any Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in its possession.

At the end of the day, customers, authorities, and stakeholders will hold CEOs, management teams and other leadership liable for sensitive data being leaked out or otherwise compromised – period. Even if gross negligence is not involved with the cybersecurity breach, CEOs and management teams must realize this tremendous responsibility and the accountability it brings with how cybersecurity measures are implemented and enforced.

2. Cloud Is Not a Security Solution

There has been a gross misconception among many, even CEOs and management that by simply housing resources in the cloud, data is somehow magically protected.  This simply is not the case.  This misnomer may very well be the result of mistaking “resiliency” with “security”. Public cloud datacenters by the big vendors such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are extremely resilient and boast uptime ratings that would be nearly impossible for a private enterprise datacenter to achieve. However, this resiliency, is not the same as data security. You as the consumer of public cloud resources are still very much responsible for the data that is housed there. Simply because that infrastructure is resilient doesn’t prevent attackers from stealing or compromising data that is located in a public cloud datacenter or an employee from deleting business-critical data.   

While public cloud vendors provide rudimentary backups, getting access to those backups is not an easy process. In addition, the backups that public cloud vendors provide are designed to protect against catastrophic failures as a result of infrastructure or an entire datacenter failure. This does not protect you against the risk posed by malware induced loss of data or data loss as a result of end user actions. Businesses today that have a presence in the public cloud must proactively protect themselves against data loss and data leak. This would include monitoring who has shared access with those outside the public cloud environment, risky third-party applications that may have been installed, scanning for and remediating file corruption as a result of ransomware, and monitoring user activities to make sure there are no “red flags” with end user activity.  

3. Form a Cybersecurity Team

The formation of a cybersecurity team allows organizations to bring together key team members responsible for ensuring the cybersecurity safety of the environment as a whole. Having the support and buyoff from CEOs and senior management is crucial to the success of the team. The cybersecurity team operates under several key concepts related to cybersecurity in the environment that include:

  • Protecting and preventing cybersecurity events and making sure sensitive data is safe.
  • Monitoring the enterprise environment for any potential threats including zero-day exploits.
  • Effectively responding to cybersecurity events and remediating any potential damage as a result.
  • Educating end users via training and implementing effective cybersecurity policies that govern the behavior and technical aspects of business-critical systems as they relate to cybersecurity.

At a high level the cybersecurity team is responsible for infrastructure security, data security, security testing, and the security architecture for the organization. They organize the coordinated efforts between key personnel to ensure the technical aspects of key systems are secured according to best practices and in line with the overall security policy of the organization. The cybersecurity team also coordinates vulnerability testing and risk assessments of potential security threats and they are involved with designing the overall security architecture.

4. Perform Cybersecurity Risk Assessments and Audits at Regular Intervals

It is crucial that organizations today constantly assess their security posture at regular intervals. This includes performing risk assessments as well as security audits. In most enterprise environments today, the underlying technology is constantly change. New technologies are being incorporated with existing technologies. New systems are being deployed. Cloud resources may be provisioned where they had not been before.  With the landscape of the technology environment changing, so too the security posture and requirements may change as well. CEOs and management teams need to understand the importance of assessing the risk to the organization from various aspects including:

  • Identifying threats both internal and external
  • Determining the impact of the risk if a threat was carried out
  • Analyzing the likelihood of each risk and scoring each risk based on business impact.

By systematically analyzing and assessing risks to the organization on a routine basis, you ensure the understanding of the overall risk and impact to the business is current with the actual environment.

Additionally, performing cybersecurity audits enable organizations to determine just how effective protective measures are in preventing cybersecurity attacks. It also helps to understand weak points in the overall protection scheme and can bring to light otherwise unknown vulnerabilities that may exist in an environment.

5. Implement Cybersecurity Policy via Technology and the “Human Factor”

There is no doubt about it, utilizing technology to implement cybersecurity policy is an extremely effective means of ensuring effective cybersecurity for an organization. The technology approach should be viewed as “layers of an onion” where there are multiple mechanisms at play that ensure many levels and types of security protection. Examples of these may be in the form of firewalls, cloud based CASBsrisky third-party application control mechanisms, ransomware protection, encryption policies, password policies, sensitive data control mechanisms, and many others.  

There is also another very important aspect of cybersecurity that must be understood by CEOs, management, and cybersecurity teams alike – the “human factor”. Educating and training employees to themselves be cybersecurity aware and conscious of potential security risks can be an extremely effective additional layer of security protection. Employees need to be educated on the current cybersecurity risks they may encounter and what to do when they encounter them. Employees need to know what a “phishing” email may look like, what “social engineering” may involve, and how they can help to avoid bringing ransomware into the environment. By leveraging this human factor in the cybersecurity fight, organizations can have a much more powerful and effective cybersecurity stance.

6. Understand internal risks can be as dangerous as external risks

Another common misconception when it comes to cybersecurity is that it is all about keeping the bad guys outside from getting into your protected systems. While it is true, effective cybersecurity must take into account the tremendous risks that exist outside the protective walls of an enterprise datacenter, there are also very dangerous risks that can exists inside the organization as well. A company’s own employees can pose a tremendous risk to the overall security of sensitive data. This can involve both unintentional as well as intentional actions that may lead to data being compromised.

Examples of unintentional insider threats:

  • An unsuspecting employee may inadvertently send an email containing sensitive data outside the organization
  • An employee accidentally deletes business critical files that greatly impacts business operations
  • An administrator accidentally deletes a crucial database that takes down mission critical systems
  • An employee unknowingly shares access to sensitive documents contained in the public cloud

Examples of intentional or malicious insider threats:

  • A disgruntled sales employee downloads all the customer lists from the company repository to steal before resigning
  • A disgruntled administrator intentionally deletes large amounts of data
  • An attacker uses social engineering to make it past physical security and into the building and tries to gain physical access to key systems

All of the above threats, while different in nature and in motive, can all have similar consequences.  Important business-critical data and sensitive data can be destroyed or compromised.  It underscores the point that threats do not always come from “hackers” trying to get into critical systems from the outside. They can come from the ranks of a company’s own employees.  CEOs and management teams working with the cybersecurity team must understand these very real risks to the security of business-critical data and take serious measures to instantiate the means to prevent and remediate damage caused by insider threats.    

7. Continue to Evolve Your Cybersecurity Policy and Enhance Cyber Risk Management

Formulating a cybersecurity policy, creating a cybersecurity team, and instituting the technology and training needed to circumvent cybersecurity threats is not the end all solution to securing data. All of the aforementioned aspects of cybersecurity are vitally important. However, CEOs and management must view cybersecurity as a continual, living, breathing entity. Attackers and their methods of exploiting vulnerabilities continue to evolve. By necessity, cybersecurity policy and technology used by organizations today must evolve to counter the ever-growing cybersecurity risks.

Once CEOs and top-level management understand how important cybersecurity and cyber risk management is to their business and by extension, to their bottom line, the true value of continually implementing effective cybersecurity mechanisms will be understood. It only takes one cybersecurity event to devastate an organization. Sadly, there may not be a second chance for a business after a data breach. The lost revenue, brand image, and customer confidence that may follow a single data breach often can be the death of a once prosperous company.

By continuing to evolve with the needs of your organization, the technology used, and the cybersecurity risks that are present, organizations can develop and evolve with those needs. Cybersecurity will forever be intertwined with every business objective of current and future businesses and every new technology coming onto the scene.
By embracing the challenges, understanding the key insights, and developing cybersecurity policies accordingly, CEOs and management teams can meet the security challenges of today and effectively prepare themselves for those of tomorrow.

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Written by

CEO and Founder at Spin.AI

Dmitry Dontov is the CEO and Founder at Spin.AI.

He is a tech entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert with over 20 years of experience in cybersecurity and team management.

He also has a strong engineering background in cybersecurity and cloud data protection, making him an expert in SaaS data security.

He is the author of 2 patents and a member of Forbes Business Council.

Dmitry was Named 2023 Winner in the BIG Award for Business and Small Business Executive of the Year.

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