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5 Statements That Should Get CISOs Fired

March 6, 2019  |  Posted By: Marty Abbott

Typical CISO responses to any approach

Our typical assessment goes something like this:  We spend 1.75 days with an energized product team comprised of engineers and product managers.  We feel the passion and engagement of the team, and we see the signs of stress the team endures in trying to meet product delivery schedules.  Then we meet the security person.  The person is not very stressed, does not have delivery goals and seems to steal the energy from the room.

This is an angry post.  I won’t apologize for that.  I’m fed up with the ridiculous way that most CISOs approach security, and you should be too.  The typical approach, in more than 80% of the companies with which we work, results in slow time to market, increased response time for transactions, higher than necessary cost, lower than appropriate availability, and no demonstrable difference in the level of security related incidents.  Put another way, most CISOs reduce rather than increase shareholder value.

Here is a handy tool to identify value-destroying CISOs.  We’ve compiled 5 common statements uttered by CISOs out of touch with the needs of the corporation, customers and shareholders.  Each of these assumes that the CISO both believes the statement and acts consistently with the statement (a high probability chance).  Each statement is followed by why it is bad, what it is costing you, and what (besides replacing the person) you should do.

“No, we can’t do that”

Wrong answer.  The purpose of security is to help move the company towards the right business outcome, as quickly as possible, with the right level of risk for the endeavor.  This means that in some cases, where the probability and impact of compromise is low, we simply do not apply much “security” to the solution.  In other cases, where probability and impact is high, we put measures in place to reduce probability and impact.

We never say “No” to an ethical outcome.  Rather than saying “No” to a path, we attempt to ensure the path includes the right level of risk adjustment to make it successful.
The right answer: “That may work if we make a few modifications to help reduce the following probability of an incident, and reduce the impact of an incident should it occur. Here’s how my team can help you”. 

“My job is to keep us out of the paper”

Incomplete, and as a result, incorrect answer.  The role of security is to ethically maximize profits, by ensuring that risk is commensurate with the endeavor.  A great security team helps decrease the probability of incidents and decrease the impact of an incident should one arise.  This in turn helps ensure that profits achieve an appropriate level.  “Keeping us out of the paper” makes no reference to the fiduciary responsibility of providing returns to shareholders.  It’s further not a path to that responsibility, as there is no tie to enabling or maintaining profitability.  Hell, if you want to achieve this goal, all you have to do is go out of business!

The right answer: “My job is to ensure an appropriate risk approach to stakeholder return – specifically through helping us to achieve an appropriate risk posture for our initiatives that meets our time to market, revenue and profitability objectives”.

“We have to work the process” or “Put in a request – we’ll review it”

Wrong answer.  Security isn’t a “team” in and of itself because it can’t “score” and “win”.  Security is part of a larger team responsible for delighting end customers such that we can ensure appropriate profitability through superior and appropriately secure offerings.  To that end, security needs to adopt an agile mindset – specifically “individual interactions over processes and tools” and be embedded within the value creation teams that are the lifeblood of a company. Further, product and operational teams need to “own” and be accountable for the risk associated with the solutions they create and maintain.  Software and servers need to be secure consistent with the needs of the business and end users. 

The right answer:  “Let’s get together immediately and make this work.  Furthermore, how could I have ensured we had folks involved earlier to help you get this out faster?”

“My job is governance” or “We need the right governance model”

Wrong answer.  The implication of the above statement is that the value the security team provides is in judging the work of others and ensuring compliance.  The best security teams understand that compliance is best achieved through embedding themselves within product teams – not sitting in judgement of them during the process.  The fastest and highest value creating teams are those that understand and have the right tools to accomplish the necessary outcomes embedded within their teams (read the related white paper here).

The right answer: “We embed people in teams to get the right answer quickly and get the product to market faster.  Good governance happens in real time and in many cases can be automated within the product development lifecycle (CICD pipelines for instance).

“We have to slow things down a bit”

Wrong answer.  If you have a compelling growth business with a big vision, you are going to attract competitors.  If you have competitors, getting the right solution to market quickly is critical to your success.  No one “wins” by playing only defense or by being just “careful”.  You win by making the best risk measured decisions quickly and releasing a good enough product before your competitors.

The right answer: “We have to figure out how to make the right decisions early without slowing down our delivery.”

Another way to determine if you have the “right” security team and correct security leader is to evaluate the number of security related engineers embedded within teams relative to the number of people evaluating approaches or “governing”.  If the number of “governing” employees exceeds the number of embedded employees, you have a problem.  Ideally, we want a very small number of “brakes” (governance) and more security product “gas pedals” (embedded).  The latter results in better decisions and better product security in real time.  The former results in delay, overhead, and an ivory tower.

We perform dozens of security assessments and technical due diligence reviews every year.  Contact us and let us help!

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