[BreachExchange] Your First Month as a CISO: Forming an Information Security Program

Destry Winant destry at riskbasedsecurity.com
Fri Dec 20 10:12:42 EST 2019


It's easy to get overwhelmed in your new position, but these tips and
resources will help you get started.

You've just been hired as your company's new CISO, and immediately,
you're tasked with forming the company's information security program.
So, how do you begin? As I completed my first month as the chief
information security officer at Axonius, I found myself reflecting on
what I've learned and done when it comes to that question, and here
are a few tips based on my experiences so far.

As with any significant undertaking, it makes sense to begin by
understanding the current state of the security program and the
context in which you'll manage it. Start by covering the following:

- Risks: What security concerns do you, your colleagues, and your
customers have? What gaps exist, and how might they affect the
business? Sometimes figuring this out requires a formal assessment.
Other times, it may require an informal survey, conversations with
colleagues, and analysis to get to a sufficient starting point. I was
fortunate to become the CISO after holding another role at Axonius,
but there were many questions that my new position required me to ask
that I hadn't asked before.
- Expectations: What expectations does the organization have of the
security program and your role? Account for your own ideas and, of
course, get input from your manager and other stakeholders. When
outlining the goals, understand the business and technical needs that
will influence the security program. You can see my objectives at
Axonius, if you're curious.
- Situation: Get to know the technical and business environment in
which you'll be operating. This often begins with an IT asset
inventory to understand the devices, users, and software that makes up
your company's ecosystem. Also, include in your situational awareness
non-technical components, such as team dynamics, politics, and

Your initial assessment of the current state will help you define not
only the longer-term strategy for the security program but also the
tactical projects you can start right away. Look for relatively easy
wins that:

- Mitigate some of your high-severity risks, so you begin improving
the company's security posture.
- Implement essential security measures, so you lay the foundation for
the rest of your security program.
- Address the challenges important to your colleagues or customers, so
you start building goodwill and showing value.

Balance the need to work on these tactical projects with the necessity
for a more formalized, strategic approach to establishing a security
program. Several control frameworks can help you combine your own
prior experience with that of other practitioners to achieve this.

While there is no shortage of the methodologies you can use, here are
the ones I found most helpful so far:

- Security4Startups Control Checklist: This open source checklist,
initially compiled by several CISOs, offers a convenient starting
point for young companies that aren't sure where to begin. It helps
confirm that you implement essential measures related to identity and
access management, infrastructure security, application security,
resiliency, and governance. I found the checklist useful for
confirming I didn't miss any important categories of security
- Cybersecurity Defense Matrix: This handy table defines a structure
for organizing your security capabilities related to devices,
applications, networks, data, and users. The matrix helps you capture
the measures you have (or want to have) across the functions mentioned
in the NIST Cybersecurity Framework: Identify, protect, detect,
respond, and recover. I used the matrix to identify the roles that
various security technologies might play at Axonius, but that's just
one approach to using it.
- CIS Controls: This practical guide catalogs the security measures
that can defend against common cyberattacks. The framework, which has
had a chance to mature over several years, accumulates advice from
many security practitioners. It includes suggestions for selecting the
controls according to the maturity of your security program and
proposes metrics for measuring your progress. For a mapping between
CIS and other frameworks, see the AuditScripts Critical Security
Controls Master Mapping spreadsheet.
- NIST Cybersecurity Framework: This detailed framework offers one
approach to structuring a formal security program. It includes a long
list of categories of security measures along with the corresponding
subcategories. It even provides pointers to the relevant details you
can get from other frameworks, including CIS Controls, NIST SP 800-53,
and the mighty ISO/IEC 27001. I found the NIST framework overwhelming
when I first looked at it, so I'm taking care to pursue it in
portions, not all at once.

If you're in a regulated industry or have specific customer
commitments, you'll probably need to account for other frameworks, but
that goes without saying.

Your first month as the CISO can (and probably should) focus on
understanding the current state and laying the foundation for the
formal security program. Yet, don't spend all your time merely
planning and strategizing. Use the energy of the new role to start
adjusting the appropriate processes and deploying the necessary
technologies in support of your vision.

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