Speaking Cyber-Truth: The CISO’s Critical Role in Influencing Reluctant Leadership
Craig BurlandCraig Burland

Speaking Cyber-Truth: The CISO’s Critical Role in Influencing Reluctant Leadership

By Craig Burland, CISO, Inversion6

In the C-Suites and boardrooms of modern enterprises, there’s an unwelcome guest that often disrupts the conviviality of strategic discussions: cyber-truth. Cyber-truth is the unvarnished reality of risk delivered by the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) that shines a light on current shortcomings, dampens the euphoria around new initiatives, and quells the enthusiasm for new ventures. As organizations tackle digital transformation, pursue critical certifications, or leverage modern capabilities like AI, the CISO’s role in unveiling pitfalls and potholes is indispensable. Like Seuss’ Lorax, the modern CISO must be the voice of cyber-truth.

“I am the CISO.  I speak for the risks.”

Facts about unpatched vulnerabilities, non-compliant practices, and unsecured applications are often met with skepticism at the senior levels of an organization.  Requests to “prove the risk”, quantify the fines, or inflate business friction are some of the many tactics leaders follow to dismiss threats and move on with business.  But the SEC’s disclosure rules and recent actions up the ante for organizations choosing to ignore evidence, demanding that CISOs continue to convey the cyber-truths that leadership may be reluctant to face.

Short of running Monte Carlo simulations for every risk, CISOs must distill intricate technical risks into business impacts that resonate across the entire organization. Cyber security is a complex domain, replete with technical nuances that can be challenging for non-technical leaders to grasp. A successful CISO, therefore, must be bilingual, fluent in the languages of both technology and business. They must translate cyber risks into tangible business impacts — potential losses in revenue, brand damage, or regulatory non-compliance. This requires a nuanced understanding of risk management, accepting that not all risks can be eliminated, but they can be managed to an acceptable level.

“I speak for the risks, for the risks have no tongues.”

However, it’s not just about pointing out the problems, the CISO must also be a problem-solver.  They must work collaboratively with other leaders to find ways to enable the business while protecting it — providing insights and recommendations that allow others to make informed decisions based on the company’s risk appetite and strategic direction. But the effectiveness of a CISO is not just measured by the absence of breaches; it’s their ability to enable the business to take calculated risks confidently. The CISO must work to ensure that cyber security is built into the DNA of every project. They must advocate and champion secure-by-design principles to ensure that security is not an afterthought but a fundamental component of every initiative. By forcing organizations to acknowledge and address cyber risks proactively, CISOs not only protect the enterprise but also contribute to its resilience and long-term success.

CISOs also face the issue of risk prioritization. In an ideal world, every vulnerability would be patched, every threat neutralized, every alert investigated. However, resources are constrained, investments are finite, and not all risks are created equal. The CISO must often make difficult decisions about what to protect first, knowing that some areas will remain vulnerable. This requires a deep understanding of the business, ensuring that the most critical assets receive the highest level of protection. It requires negotiation, trading growth now for mitigation later.  It requires discipline and organization, tracking exceptions granted to revisit risks accepted.  Finally, it demands further transparency, making sure leaders understand and support the risk-reward calculation.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Considering these responsibilities, the CISO’s truth-telling is an act of strategic importance. Cyber-truths can no longer be sidelined or downplayed; they must be front and center in an organization’s strategic decisions, day-to-day prioritization, and dialogue with the market and regulators. This transparency not only adheres to the letter of the law but also builds investor trust — showcasing the company’s commitment to diligent risk management and operational integrity. Cyber-truth, while inconvenient, is now a commodity of public interest, scrutinized by investors and regulators alike. As digital risks morph into financial and reputational risks, the CISO’s role evolves into that of a strategist, advocate, evangelist, and communicator – a calling that is essential for navigating the treacherous waters of the digital age. By ensuring that organizations hear, understand, and acknowledge (even reluctantly) their cyber security risks and real cyber security posture – their cyber-truth — CISOs uphold the pillars of trust and resilience that define today’s corporate success.

 About the Author

Craig Burland is CISO of Inversion6. Craig brings decades of pertinent industry experience to Inversion6, including his most recent role leading information security operations for a Fortune 200 Company. He is also a former Technical Co-Chair of the Northeast Ohio Cyber Consortium and a former Customer Advisory Board Member for Solutionary MSSP, NTT Global Security, and Oracle Web Center. Craig can be reached online at LinkedIn  and at our company website http://www.inversion6.com.

April 6, 2024

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