[BreachExchange] CISO pressures: Why the role sucks and how to fix it

Destry Winant destry at riskbasedsecurity.com
Mon Sep 30 01:14:02 EDT 2019


Look around the boardroom, and the average tenure of a CEO is 8.4
years. A CFO will spend approximately 6.2 years in the position, while
a COO lasts 5.5 years. In stark contrast, a CISO will spend an average
of 1.5 to 2 years before leaving behind the constant stress and
urgency of the job.

These numbers are no coincidence. There’s a serious problem happening
in the cybersecurity industry, and all too often, it’s swept under the
rug because it’s uncomfortable to address. The time is now to shine a
light on the problem and understand the true challenges and
repercussions of the modern day CISO role.

A running list of immediate challenges

More CISOs now report directly to the CEO

When CISOs come to work each day, there’s a growing list of issues to
face. Perhaps the most ominous is the constant cyberattacks
threatening organisations of all sizes and spanning all industries.
Add to this dilemma the fact that todays cyberattacks are more
sophisticated in nature, with most fuelled by geopolitical tension and
clever cybercriminal techniques such as lateral movement, island
hopping and counter incident response to stay invisible. It was
recently found that the average organisation’s protected endpoint was
targeted by two cyberattacks per month throughout 2018. At this rate,
an organisation with 10,000 endpoints is estimated to see more than
660 attempted cyberattacks per day - leading to immense pressure for
CISOs and their teams at the frontline.

In many organisations, there’s also an assumption that security is the
sole responsibility of the CISO. In reality, it’s a business
imperative -- everyone, from the CEO to the seasonal intern, should
prioritise secure best practices to keep the organisation protected.
This could be as simple as attending regular cybersecurity trainings,
and not clicking on the suspicious phishing link shared via an unknown
email alias. These small steps can aid security teams immensely and
take some pressure off of the CISO.

Add to these challenges the accelerated rate of evolving business
technology, with most organisations laser focused on digital
transformation efforts; the constantly shifting legal and regulatory
environment consisting of legislation like GDPR and the California
Consumer Privacy Act; as well as the fact that everyone thinks they’re
an expert at the job, and you have a recipe for a burnt out CISO, with
no finish line to the job’s responsibilities in sight.

The daunting repercussions: What needs to change

CIOs and CISOs admit to making security compromises

While the list of CISO challenges sounds daunting, what’s even more
concerning is the repercussions it's having on the people in the role.
With 60 per cent of CISOs admitting that they rarely disconnect from
work, and 88 per cent working more than 40 hours per week -- if not
more since most cyberattacks seem to strike on weekends -- mental
health is often put on the backburner. In fact, nearly 17 per cent of
CISOs are either medicating or using alcohol to deal with the job
stress. Others give up altogether, with less than a third remaining in
their job for more than three years.

So what can be done to change these devastating effects? To begin,
let’s look at the fact that there will be over two million
cybersecurity positions open worldwide by 2020. CISOs need support and
they must fill this talent gap -- but it’s not just looking for
external candidates. Look internally for support, and ensure all
candidates are being onboarded/trained properly. Next, offer continual
education from internal and external resources, and retain by
advancement -- reward a job well done and be a regular advocate for
promotions and/or raises in the industry, before it’s too late.

On the topic of support, CISOs also need a helping hand from other
business leaders and functions. CISOs are known to support every
department, but the reality is, it’s not always returned. Look to
leaders in finance, marketing, customer service or HR, who often take
priority when allocating budgets, for support, not only financially
but for sound business advice based on what they’re seeing across the

Most importantly, from a CISO’s perspective, the role requires a
mindset shift. It’s time to change traditional strategy; it’s not
proving to be effective. First, let’s stop buying technology because
the bells and whistles sound promising, especially as the industry
careens towards $124 billion in global security spend this year.
Instead, let’s start understanding where the true security problem
lies within the organisation and work from there.

Lastly, and this holds true across the board, CISOs need to understand
that sometimes, ‘perfect’ in the role does not exist. It’s ok to fail,
attempt new ways to solve problems and explore other options. While
this won’t immediately solve the burdens, it does provide an
opportunity to breathe during the never-ending battle against the bad

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