2015 was a tumultuous year for CISOs. Breaches affecting The Home Depot, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and T-Mobile dominated the headlines worldwide and left no industry, region, or CISO unscathed. These unfortunate spotlights created a slew of negative infosec publicity along with panicked demands from business leaders and customers alike. How secure are we? Ask the CISO. How did this breach occur? Ask the CISO. Why did this breach occur? Ask the CISO. Could we have prevented it? Ask the CISO. How could we let this happen? Ask the CISO.
Yet, CISOs continue to struggle to gain clout and influence with the rest of the C-suite and sometimes it can feel like a thankless role. There is little recognition when you’re doing your job right, but you face a whirlwind of pain and blame the second something goes wrong. The world’s growing emphasis and focus on cybersecurity should be running parallel with the capabilities and reputation of the CISO. Instead, CISOs see their responsibilities increasing with only modest funding increases, recognition, or support from their fellow colleagues.
Since I first became the research director of the Security & Risk team more than five years ago, security leaders have lamented the difficulty of aligning with the business and demonstrating real business value. Over the years, we’ve written an enormous amount of research about formal processes for aligning with business goals, provided key metrics to present to the board, and developed sophisticated models for estimating security ROI. Yet for many, demonstrating real business value continues to be a significant challenge. If it wasn’t for the 24 hour news cycle and a parade of high profile security breaches, chances are good, that security budgets would have been stagnant the last few years.
The legendary British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is said to have noted that “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Much of the technology world is focused on statistics and metrics. You’ve often heard it said, “If I can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” Known as the McNamara fallacy — named after the business tycoon turned Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense — this famous idea failed miserably as a strategy. While it sounds good to the CEO’s ears, there is a corollary bubbling up below him that implicitly states that “If my boss wants to measure something that doesn’t exist, then I’ll invent it!”