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How CEOs Can Be a Cybersecurity Liability (And What to Do About It)

Good CEOs are committed to moving their companies forward, increasing revenue, and ensuring that their teams are productive. When business challenges arise, they approach them with the best intentions. After all, it’s the CEO’s job to have the company’s best interests in mind.

Recently, at Threat Stack, we surveyed DevOps and security pros to learn how cybersecurity is being implemented at their companies. In this post, we’re sharing what we learned about how a CEO’s attitude to and perspective on cybersecurity can affect the whole organization, as well as how to approach the challenges that may arise. This is the first in a series of four posts where we dive into the data we unearthed during this survey.

How CEOs Can Become a Cybersecurity Liability

Many CEOs understand the importance of cybersecurity, but they are not always knowledgeable about the ways that teams approach security threats, maintenance, and infrastructure. Additionally, they may prioritize revenue and improving operations over security without understanding how security practices can impact these metrics, particularly if there is an incident.

We can hardly blame our CEOs in today’s fast-paced, competitive world. For rapidly scaling businesses, the speed of innovation and execution is what drives the business forward. Therefore, slowing down code reviews or deployment can directly impact the bottom line, as well as customer satisfaction.

The problem is that, if the CEO doesn’t fully appreciate the value of security and the danger of ignoring it, your organization is undoubtedly at risk.

Three Ways to Turn CEOs Into Security Champions

In this post, we’ll offer several ways to transform your CEO (and the C-Suite more generally) from a liability to a champion of security, so business operations can move forward at pace without opening your company to increased risks.

1. Reframe Cybersecurity as a Business Driver

Despite the common perception, security can actually be a business driver when done right.

When teams are aligned and working closely together, they’re better equipped to face challenges in cybersecurity as well as in business operations. This idea needs to be in the forefront of a modern CEO’s mind as they navigate a growing, changing business.

For example, if you can automatically scan code before it goes to production, detect intrusions in real time, and receive alerts that are packed with context so you can act on them immediately, you will enable your entire team to build and operate faster. That means faster time-to-market, more revenue, and less customer churn due to fewer issues. These should be huge selling points of a strong security program for any CEO.

Allocadia saw this first-hand when they used Threat Stack to add structured visibility to their AWS environment. The business value and ROI were immediate for Allocadia. When development, operations, and security teams became better integrated, processes were optimized, time to market decreased, and a significant competitive advantage emerged.

Allocadia clearly demonstrates the benefit of having your C-Suite take security seriously. If the CEO is not leading the way on security initiatives, then security goals are unlikely to be fully realized, with direct negative consequences for the entire business.

The sales cycle is another area where CEOs can often be convinced of the business value of security. Many CEOs are rightly focused on sales metrics, and they care about how long it takes to close a new deal. Too many organizations get to a critical point in the sales cycle, and then see it slow down, or in some cases, become completely derailed, because they need to go through a lengthy process to assure the prospect of their security posture. In worst-case scenarios, they can’t, in fact, satisfy the prospect of their security stance, and the deal falls through. Having a CEO-driven security program that is demonstrable and strong can dramatically speed up sales cycles, especially when your prospects include those in highly regulated industries or ones with an acute focus on security.

Bottom line: The CEO needs to understand that cybersecurity is a business driver when done right and prioritize it from the get-go.

2. Recruit the CEO to be a Security Leader

To bring DevOps and security teams into alignment, you need a CEO who prioritizes security. Given that 57% percent of companies say their operations team pushes back on security best practices, cybersecurity teams need support from those in the C-Suite, including the CEO, to accomplish security goals that require the cooperation of other teams. The CEO is in a position to explain the necessity of security to the staff, and outline a plan for how the organization can move forward.

To recruit your CEO as an active leader, you must make a business case for better cybersecurity, as we explained above. Once your CEO is on board, they can lead by example, educating staff and appointing security ambassadors to prioritize security initiatives throughout the organization.

That’s why we at Threat Stack have built our own internal security council, which meets regularly and reviews issues that are relevant and timely for our organization. Because our CEO is included in the weekly security council meetings, they are an excellent opportunity for the security team to provide the insights he needs to be a security leader for the whole organization.

3. Implement a Security Awareness Program

Building a security culture that starts at the top and functions as a cross-organizational discipline is the ideal. Achieving this requires education and transparency across the entire team, as well as leadership from executives.

Implementing a security awareness program at your organization is the first step for closing the gap between security intentions and reality, and these efforts need to be led by your CEO. For your security awareness program to be taken seriously, your CEO needs to be the face of the initiative. Their commitment will show that the organization takes cybersecurity seriously, and this will catch on throughout the organization.

These programs ensure that everyone at your organization has an understanding about security, and where it fits into their day-to-day jobs, as well as in the organization as a whole. Successful security awareness programs include:

  • Regular communication about security
  • Checklists to ensure that knowledge is spread in a systematic way
  • Relevant content that keeps employees engaged in the topic
  • Controls to act as safeguards when cybersecurity accidents occur

If your organization doesn’t already have one in place, this can be an excellent way to make C-Suite security leadership into a deep and integral part of your culture.

Get Your CEO on Board With Cybersecurity

Without intending to be, your CEO may become a cybersecurity liability. By prioritizing speed over security, the CEO may increase the organization’s risk. Integrating security and DevOps to achieve a harmonious SecOps program is possible, but you’ll need to recruit your CEO if you want to be successful.

To make SecOps a reality at your organization, you’ll need more than a CEO who believes in the cause. Over the next month, we’ll be sharing more findings from our SecOps survey to help you navigate the path to security maturity with the necessary tools at hand.

To learn more about what our survey uncovered and how it can be applied to your organization, download your copy of Bridging the Gap Between SecOps Intent and Reality.