The Ultimate Manual To Cybersecurity Governance

Businesses today have access to advanced technologies that facilitate remote work, automate routine processes, and streamline operations. But adopting these new technologies also increases complexity. Add multiple vendors, delivery models, processes, and lots of data to the mix and we have a highly complicated system in our hands.

The issue here is with great complexity comes great risk.

The threat landscape has become increasingly challenging over the past few years, and many organizations are struggling to implement and enforce effective cybersecurity governance. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you better understand the term and create an effective cybersecurity governance program for your organization.

What is Cybersecurity Governance Anyway?

Cybersecurity governance gives IT teams a strategic view of how to control their organization’s security by defining its risk appetite, building accountability frameworks, and assigning decision-making responsibilities. It also involves creating security programs that align with a business’s overall objectives and comply with applicable regulations and standards.

The ISO/IEC 27001 standard defines it as: 

“The system by which an organization directs and controls security governance, specifies the accountability framework and provides oversight to ensure that risks are adequately mitigated, while management ensures that controls are implemented to mitigate risks.“

How Cybersecurity Governance Works

Cybersecurity governance is a crucial component of any organization’s governance that wants to address its cyberspace dependence on prevalent adversaries. Without it, organizations cannot fully address their cybersecurity needs.

To understand cybersecurity governance, you need to consider your organization‘s cybersecurity framework as a whole. This involves understanding the four individual components that work in tandem to cover gaps in system security. These are:

Organizational Structure

The way you structure your organization and implement security-related initiatives has a direct impact on its security posture.

Having a well-defined security and compliance management chain within your management structure is critical here as it’ll help build a strong management team that can actively contribute to security issues as well as proves your company’s dedication to the cause.

Work Culture

How your teams view information security and respond to fast-paced organizational changes is vital to creating a cybersecurity-first culture. Traditional ways of interacting with stakeholders within and outside your organization also need to change so that they are in sync with the changing threat landscape.

Security Awareness

Cybersecurity awareness among employees is necessary to prevent them from falling victims to cybercriminals. If they don’t know what is right and what isn’t when it comes to security, they are likely to make errors and compromise your organization’s security.

In addition to the traditional way of developing security compliance-related policies, ensure your employees attend awareness and education programs. Prioritize building and implementing a policy to show your commitment to—and the seriousness of—making your team more aware of cybersecurity best practices and their role within the ecosystem in which they operate.

This simple move will significantly strengthen your organization’s overall security posture.

Cybersecurity Governance

Tying the above four aspects is cybersecurity governance that plays a critical role in achieving your organization’s overall security objectives—not only for current needs but also for your future plans for mitigating cyber threats.

Your governance framework can address current issues by focusing on making improvements to your security policies, implementing technical controls, performing audits and assessments, and driving awareness among people to encourage them to adopt a security-first approach.

For future challenges, focus your framework on emerging site factors and dynamic challenges prevalent in the technological niche. Studying people’s views and behaviors and work culture transformation is also important to make sure your systems stay secure.

Note that while focusing on each of these elements is important for protecting your enterprise, you‘ll still see a vast improvement in your overall security policies if you focus on even one aspect.

Fundamental Challenges Involved With Cybersecurity Governance

Below are the three fundamental challenges to cybersecurity governance that many organizations face. Let’s review them in more detail.

Finalizing Cybersecurity Strategy and Goals

If you don’t define your risk management policies, strategy, and goals, you cannot create an effective cybersecurity governance program.

As a senior leader, you have to assess the organization’s current risk management approach and establish a roadmap for team members to maintain and improve risk management.

After finalizing the strategy and goals, make sure you implement and distribute an enterprise-level policy across the organization, too.

The following are some critical aspects to develop an effective cybersecurity strategy:

  • The correlation between cybersecurity risk and critical business operations
  • Developing strategic organizational goals
  • Defining scope and identifying cybersecurity needs
  • Establishment metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Gauging risk appetite and resource needs
  • Establishing continuous monitoring

Inadequate Participation from the Senior Leadership 

Cybersecurity governance is an enterprise-level concern, which is why your cybersecurity program‘s focus and direction should be regulated by senior leaders. Unless senior leadership supports cybersecurity governance and sets a strong tone for everyone to follow, your organization’s risk management efforts will likely fail.

Make sure you and other senior leaders are engaged for the life cycle of the entire program. Doing this will also prove the organization‘s commitment to cybersecurity governance.

ISO 27001, Section 5, lists several leadership principles that can serve as excellent guidelines when creating an effective cybersecurity governance program:

  • “ensuring the information security policy and the information security objectives are established, and are compatible with the strategic direction of the organization
  • ensuring information security management system requirements are integrated into the organization’s processes
  • ensuring that the resources needed for the information security management system are available
  • communicating the importance of effective information security management, and conforming to the information security management system requirements
  • ensuring that the information security management system achieves its intended outcomes
  • directing and supporting staff to contribute to the effectiveness of the information security management system
  • promoting continual improvements

Top management shall establish a cybersecurity policy that:

  • is appropriate to the purpose of the organization
  • includes information security objectives or the framework for setting information security objectives
  • includes a commitment to satisfy applicable requirements related to information security
  • includes a commitment to continual improvement of the information security management system
  • is available as documented information
  • is communicated within the organization and is available to relevant parties, as appropriate”

Lack of Repeatable, Standardized Processes

You probably have several processes and personnel to complete daily routine tasks. But it’s possible some of them are not being managed as effectively as they could be—that is if they are managed at all.

Without approved, repeatable, and standardized processes, you will face difficulties ensuring efficiency, quality, or consistency.

This isn’t desirable as consistency is important for ensuring a common understanding and management approach to risks across all organizational levels.

When you have a standard, repeatable process, cybersecurity governance becomes simpler. But having a governance program that’s inconsistent and ad hoc will ultimately lead to shortfalls like increased security breaches, cyberattacks, and security compromises.

How to Get Started With Cybersecurity Governance

Every organization is different. That’s why each board needs its own direction and tone for cybersecurity.

But, keeping in mind the increasingly evolving threat landscape, it’s important to create flexible structures for governing cybersecurity.

Let’s look at how you can define and refine your cybersecurity governance program.

Step 1: Identify and Establish the Current State

Perform a cyber risk assessment to understand security gaps within your systems and networks. Based on your findings, create a roadmap to close these gaps.

Once that is done, do a maturity assessment. This will help you get more visibility and understand information security risks your organization is facing, as well as identify appropriate remedial measures.

Step 2: Create and Update all Cybersecurity Policies, Standards, and Processes

Carefully establish the structure and expectations of cybersecurity governance for your organization. Admittedly, this is a time-consuming step that many described as “low hanging fruit.“ But it’s essential if you want to build a cyber security-aware environment and have teams follow the same.

Step 3: Understand Your Organization’s Cybersecurity Requirements

First and foremost, understand what data needs to be protected. This will give you a sense of direction to follow and facilitate sound decision-making.

You also want to align potential cyber risks with your enterprise risk management efforts. In case you need boardroom buy-in, think about how important cybersecurity investment is compared to other investments. Considering the increasing number of cyberattacks taking place globally, it’s likely you’ll find it at the very top of your list.

Step 4: Invest in Cybersecurity Awareness and Training

We’ve already established why your staff needs to be aware and trained in cyber security best practices.

The better your team members understand and practice cyber hygiene, the stronger your networks and systems are, and the harder it’ll be for malicious hackers to get unauthorized access.

Step 5: Track Cyber Risk Analytics

A critical aspect of cybersecurity governance is to consider and analyze all prevalent release risks to your organization, be it external, internal, or third-party.

Think about how these threats are modeled and what you can do to contextualize and assess them.

Step 6: Monitor, Measure, Report, and Improve

Cyber security governance isn’t a one-time activity.

You need to create regular assessment intervals, measure relevant metrics, and analyze data to create a solid improvement plan. While you’re at it, don’t forget to report to the board on your company’s cyber maturity and cyber risk and security posture.

Applying the above framework will strike the right balance between leadership and standards and policies.

Leadership is important because it sets the tone for prioritizing cybersecurity and cybersecurity governance. But it isn’t the sole factor—you also need policies, standards, and processes to align cybersecurity governance with cybersecurity priorities to achieve your organization’s security goals, even if your employees change.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira