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Communicating Security Effectively To Executive Management

Elviraluke Napwora's profile image

By: Elviraluke Napwora

March 7, 2022

With the increased growth in information security incidents and technology risk management, the need to engage the non-IT executive team in this conversation is becoming increasingly important.

Cybersecurity is an organizational effort, and the various stakeholders involved need to understand the role they can play in protecting the business; for the executive team, their buy-in to the security solutions presented is the first step in this journey. However, research indicates that CISOs and other security professionals still struggle to package and convey security concepts to the leadership team. This article seeks to explore ways we can bridge this gap.

A key role of the CISO and the security team entails keeping the board of directors up-to-date on security-related matters though they may not require granular details. From high-level reports on the company's overall security posture, analysis of the current threat landscape and the potential impacts to the organization, updates on the organization's incident response plan, security policy matters, there is a lot to keep the conversation ongoing in terms of security with the executive level team.

There is a need to provide frequent updates on security and compliance issues to protect the organization and avoid costly consequences of non-compliance, which might be of crucial interest to the board of directors due to the potential impact on the organization's brand and reputation. Thus, the CISO has an important role in establishing a solid security posture and ensuring that the company operates and grows in a risk-aware manner. Learn more from the following course on Executive Cyber Leadership Training.

Top Tips For Effective Communication To The Leadership/Executive Teams

I. ENGAGE Engage the team to translate a highly technical issue by defining the nature of the problem, the business impact, and the mitigation costs involved to the decision-makers. This definition will allow the decision-maker to decide whether the risks warrant the cost and where/how to prioritize the security expense as with the other business expenses.

When the boards and executives are involved effectively in the cybersecurity discussion, the result is better security decisions that are more aligned to the business, effective risk management, protection of organization brand, and provision of the required resources to respond to security incidents effectively. Prioritizing security keeps a company on track to grow, innovate and compete in the digital sphere despite the increased cyber risks it could face.

II. SOLVE A PROBLEM The current 4th industrial revolution has resulted in a progressive digital transformation wave across various sectors within organizations, thus widening the cyberthreat landscape and making security an ever-important discussion for organizations' to have on how to manage and strengthen their security resilience over time. The executive needs to be looped in on how the new challenges in managing cyber risk will continuously be handled or be improved.

III. USE GRAPHICS/VISUAL AIDS TO ANALYZE METRICS Visualizing information in charts and graphs makes highlighting and driving a given point easier. Thus, it is more effective in communicating current security procedures and upcoming requirements and showing the organization's progress towards security and/or compliance. Visual aids can also show the trending patterns on security concerning the business and the potential impacts. The metrics used should be able to highlight the business efficiency that will be derived from the security measures implemented and how it balances the financials invested. Having fun examples to explain the cybersecurity issues ensures that the information is easily passed across and easier to remember.

IV. COMMUNICATE BUSINESS - LESS TECH JARGON Tailor your communication to the specific audience at hand by avoiding technical terms and acronyms that non-IT leaders might not understand and hence not communicate the desired message. Making sure that people follow your logical thought process and reasoning makes it easier to consider your opinion when making decisions. Have the security conversation highlight how it ties into the business models, strategy, and goals. For example, security is a business enabler because it reduces the need to worry about ransomware threats that could easily impact your business reputation.

Remember, management is more interested in understanding the investment required to meet the given security proposal and why it is a significant investment to make.

V. FOCUS ON THE BUSINESS PRIORITIES - ALIGN THE CYBERSECURITY TALK Understanding the business priorities from the board-level perspective will be vital in helping you (CISO/ Security Team) better comprehend how to frame the security discussions you intend to present.

Align cyber governance against corporate business structures to provide a holistic and dynamic mental model of an organization's cyber security responsibilities related to how the organization executes its mission.

VI. CREATE REASSURANCE/AWARENESS ON CYBER RISK The executive should play a strategic role in the cyber security discussion by taking on a risk-based focus. Hence, creating a broad understanding of the cyber operations involved is essential. Some questions to pose to the board include; the critical organizational assets and the security risks they face, how the corporate strategy supports risk management/mitigation, organizations' preparedness to incident response, how they can support the process, etc. These questions give the executive a sense of the cyber risks that the organization could face and are better able to make high-level decisions about risk and give the go-ahead to other teams to operationalize the required strategy(s).

Cyber risk economics can point to key risks and predict the associated financial impacts, such as highlighting the probability of financial loss due to security incidents or reducing cyber insurance coverage by implementing risk mitigation measures. Learn more on managing risk as an executive from the following course on Corporate CyberSecurity Management.

VII. REVIEW SECURITY MEASURES The executive team will be interested in understanding the relevance and overall impact of the company's security measures and policies implemented so far and the ongoing progress on the security projects to get a sense of the need to put in more investment if need be on the security proposals at hand.

Regularly sharing progress reports is vital in communicating the changing situation of security concerns and remedies within an organization. It is a good idea to present your security strategy going forward in the process. Providing organizational leadership with oversight of how the current security controls and processes either support or unintentionally create risk could give a picture of the team's strategic voice to push for security initiatives within the organization.

CONCLUSION

It is essential to nurture an internal security voice within the business to drive organizational-wide awareness of its importance and sensitization of the initiatives critical to the organization's safety. Thus, creating a more security-minded culture is integral to supporting a more cohesive organizational response. This, among other reasons, validates the need to have the executive team as part of this discussion to rubber-stamp authority when necessary and support the security proposals/initiatives in place. Thus, we can conclude that effective communication is a must-have in communicating the value of security, whether lower-ranking employees or the boardroom team, with the best alternative to winning the C-Suite support being a demonstration of business value.

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