Whoever coined the phrase “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” obviously never held a cybersecurity job. Lack of awareness has resulted in significant compromises of networks, systems, applications, devices, and data. And yet, even after all of those losses, it’s still surprising to me that so many organizations remain in the dark about the effectiveness of the products that protect them. According to recent research from NSS Labs only:
- 43% of enterprises validate the effectiveness of their security products through internal testing (NSS Labs 2017 Security Architecture Study, May 2017);
- 38% of enterprises always perform a proof of concept prior to selecting a security control (NSS Labs 2017 Security Architecture Study, May 2017);
- 47% of executives believe that all security products they currently deploy add value (NSS Labs 2016 Advanced Endpoint Protection Study, December 2016).
In 2018, according to Gartner, companies will spend a projected $96 billion on security products and services. But will they have the hard data to know if those investments actually reduce their exposure to threats? In my regular discussions with chief information security officers (CISOs), this lack of information is a recurring topic of concern.
To understand their anxiety, think about your car: All cars are equipped with gauges and warning lights that provide real-time feedback about the health of the vehicle. These gauges include everything from how fast you’re going to whether your tires are low or how much further you can drive before you need to fill your tank with gas. Now imagine that these gauges and warning lights were all broken. What if you didn’t know how long it was since you’d last filled up your tank or how far had you driven since refueling? How much gas do you have left before you run out? Do you have enough gas to make it to the next gas station? And now imagine your teenage kid borrows the car now and again without warning. As unbelievable as this sounds, CISOs are dealing with the equivalent of this every day.
For the vast majority of business decisions, we seek metrics-driven proof. Why, then, is cybersecurity the exception? Isn’t it obvious that continuous measurement and validation of the effectiveness of security controls is critical? Who wouldn’t want the visibility to know how effectively their defenses are securing their network, systems, applications, devices, and data?
The CEO Question: “Should I Be Worried?”
Too often, the answer is “I don’t know” or even “yes.” Although CISOs have a number of key performance indicators to track and measure security activities such as patching, they lack a process or approach that measures the effectiveness of their security solutions. What they need is a continuous measurement approach, with which they can assess their security postures, pinpoint the threats that pose the greatest risk to enterprise operations, and then determine whether existing solutions are delivering sufficient protection.
Supporting this need for ongoing measurement, governments and regulators have produced a number of frameworks — from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — all with mandates for measuring and monitoring security controls. If you have not yet done so, now is the time to think about the resources you will need to implement a successful continuous monitoring program. It’s also incumbent upon security professionals to articulate priorities and justification in terms that business leaders can understand.
Let’s Talk about ROI
In looking at cybersecurity from a business perspective, a metrics-supported approach goes a long way in justifying investments. Yet few organizations — only 17%, according to NSS Labs research (NSS Labs 2017 Security Architecture Study, May 2017) — perform ROI calculations of their security controls. Moving forward, calculating ROI and providing relevant metrics will be a must-have in the CISO’s toolbox. Without them, security executives may find themselves in the difficult position of explaining that the cause of a data breach was a result of “having had a technology solution for the problem in the budget, but it got cut.”
As we move to the future, CISOs and their teams will be asked to incorporate more data science, empirical evidence, and metrics to demonstrate the effectiveness of their security programs. CISOs must refocus on the right types of insights and data to drive effective decisions and actions. But perhaps just as important, they must have the ability to measure the effectiveness of cybersecurity in language the business can appreciate and understand. Introducing metrics that account for risk and ROI will empower security leaders to partner effectively with their business counterparts and pave the way for CISOs to have a stronger voice in their organization.
Vikram Phatak is Chief Executive Officer of NSS Labs, Inc. Vik is one of the information security industry’s foremost thought leaders on vulnerability management and threat protection. With over 20 years of experience, he brings unique insight to the cybersecurity problems … View Full Bio