SC Congress Toronto: CISOs must approach security as a strategy

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To gain the most headway in protecting their organizations from advanced threats, security management must take on a gatekeeper” approach to defend corporate data, said Jack Danahy, director for North American security consulting and delivery at IBM, who presented a keynote address Tuesday at the annual SC Congress Canada in Toronto.

As threats become more sophisticated, and businesses allow expanded access to their networks due to trends like bring-your-own-device (BYOD), CISOs will have to balance blocking attacks with strategically planning to spot and respond to them when they inevitably occur, said Danahy, who previously founded and sold two start-ups, Ounce Labs and Qiave Technologies.

“Our job as the gatekeeper who [only] says, 'No,' is ending,” he told attendees.

In years past, the expectation among management was to nullify threats or breaches, but with the advanced tactics used by hackers today, like sending spear phishing emails to specific employees to gain access to corporate networks, the focus becomes knowing who your enemy is and what they want.

Now that companies are facing attackers who “stockpile zero-days,” patching isn't necessarily going to solve the problem. Instead, management must think more strategically about reducing enterprise exposures, he explained.   

Big Data analysis, which incorporates a more holistic approach in assessing information and risks on company networks, is a good place to start.

He also discussed how CISOs often face challenges in effectively communicating risks to other company executives because security pros are still learning to move away from a purely technical way of delivering threat information to their colleagues.

“The CISO is a newbie,” he said.

Often times, CISOs emerge from an IT background where they've worked more on the technical side of issues, and their relationships with C-level management may have involved a middle man.

To climb these hurdles, CISOs should build an amicable relationship with their CIOs, who are used to sharing technological concerns with CFOs, CEOs and management that hold the purse strings for businesses.

[This article has been updated to reflect Danahy's stance on a gatekeeper approach to security.]

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