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[ISN] Rise of the CISO
By Jaikumar Vijayan
OCTOBER 04, 2004
As the chief information security officer at General Motors Corp.,
Eric Litt is in charge of integrating security into every aspect of
the company's vast $186 billion business.
It's a job that has given him a spot at the executive table, support
from the board level down and a chance to implement far-reaching
decisions related to information security at the company.
"I get plenty of attention, which is a very good thing," Litt says.
When it comes to security at the automaker, "resources are not an
issue," he says.
Litt is one among a small but growing number of executives who say
that heightened concerns are driving a gradual evolution of the
security function and investing it with more influence than ever
"Security folks have often been viewed as a necessary evil who always
get in the way of your doing business," says Howard Schmidt, CISO at
eBay Inc. in San Jose and former White House cybersecurity adviser.
But regulatory compliance issues and the increasing losses related to
worms, viruses and other hacker attacks are making security a part of
the core business process, he says.
Kim Milford agrees. "Security is now viewed as a critical requirement
in the purchase, design, development and deployment of applications
and services," says Milford, information security manager at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There seems to be a shift from the
emphasis on predominantly technical controls to risk assessment,
policies and user education," she adds.
For instance, Litt has crafted a model under which all security
planning at GM starts with an analysis and understanding of the
specific threats and risks faced by a business unit. A central
security team evaluates and analyzes everything from regulatory
requirements to intellectual property protection, inappropriate use,
access control and threats such as denial-of-service attacks, worms
The group then architects a detailed security implementation
requirement for each of the business units based on its specific risk
profile. Each of the business units is responsible for implementing
the needed technology and process measures and is periodically audited
for compliance against its requirements. A color-coded security
dashboard for senior management at GM rates the performance of each
business unit, with green representing full compliance, yellow showing
partial progress and red indicating a total lack of compliance.
It's an evolving holistic approach to security that includes "the
people, the organization, governance, process and, lastly,
technology," Litt says.
Strategy, Not Tactics
A similar focus on high-level concerns such as regulatory compliance,
digital rights management, intellectual property protection and
application coding standards defines the evolution of the security
organization at the Bank of Montreal in Toronto.
"Implementing firewalls and hardening systems are not really security
issues any longer but operational issues," says Robert Garigue, the
bank's CISO. Those are being approached in the same manner that
configuration management or capacity management is, he says.
Years of fending off worms, viruses and hacker attacks have allowed
Bank of Montreal to implement technologies and automate its responses.
The bank is now at a point where it's increasingly offloading those
tasks to network and system operations teams.
The security function is no longer just about "exceptions management"
and responding to emergencies, Garigue says. The focus instead is
"about understanding where the new risks are coming from and not
getting blindsided by them," he says.
It's a task that requires security managers to wear several hats, says
Christofer Hoff, director of enterprise security services at Western
Corporate Federal Credit Union, a San Dimas, Calif.-based company with
$25 billion in assets. It means being a "magician, oracle,
facilitator, accountant, psychiatrist, stuntman, public relations
consultant and prophet," Hoff says. It requires a background that
melds "ditch digging and trench warfare with board presentations and
business-based strategy planning," he adds.
Much of the organizational influence that such security managers have
begun to garner is tied to the business value delivered by the
information security function, Hoff says. There's a growing
realization in the corporation that "information security is not about
technology [but] about rational risk management," he says.
That shift in perception is resulting in more authority and influence
being invested in the security manager or CISO function, University of
Wisconsin's Milford says.
An increasing number of CISOs are being asked to participate in
crucial business decisions at the highest level, eBay's Schmidt says.
For instance, in many cases, the CISO's input and approval is required
at the very inception of any large IT project, as companies try to
build in security instead of bolting it onto business processes as an
afterthought, Schmidt says. "There are many projects that just don't
kick off without security guidance in the requirements stage," he
Because responding to security risks is beginning to be viewed as a
cost of doing business, the security manager is also being consulted
more to help assess costs and benefits, Milford says. And security
funding is also getting easier to come by, she says, pointing to her
own organization's success in securing funds for an array of worm and
attack mitigation technologies soon after a wave of malicious attacks
"This shift has, in some cases, moved the security manager function
into the highest levels of the IT organization chart and sometimes
even completely outside the realm of IT," Milford says. Although CISOs
typically report to CIOs, as companies begin taking more of an
operational-risk management approach to IT security, some security
managers have been advocating functional parity with the CIO. It's not
unusual to find CISOs reporting to chief financial officers and CEOs,
But the changes aren't happening at all companies. And corporate
inertia and political turf battles continue to make the evolution a
painful one, security managers readily acknowledge.
At many companies, the security organization still remains "out of
sight and out of mind" unless there is some sort of a cyber emergency,
says Dennis Treece, director of corporate security at the
Massachusetts Port Authority in Boston.
"Private-sector managers simply want what they've always wanted from
their security program - keeping the company out of trouble and [out
of] the papers and doing it for as little money possible," he says.
As one of the executives in charge of securing Boston's Logan
International Airport, three seaports and a major toll bridge, Treece
is focused primarily on physical infrastructure protection. But he
oversees the information security side as well.
"The physical security folks still don't know much about network
security, and network people who are given the security mission think
of themselves as IT people, not security people," he says.
A divide also exists between network operations teams, which are
focused on ensuring optimal performance, and network security teams,
which are often viewed as a barrier to that goal, Treece says.
A more powerful security function also raises political issues at a
higher level, Treece says. "Anytime there's a new player at the table,
others have to move aside and cede a little turf," he says. And the
person who stands to lose the most turf in the battle is the CIO, who
has traditionally been responsible for security, he says.
The amount of authority the security manager has depends a lot on the
organizational culture and structure, Milford says. In top-down,
heavily centralized organizations, the authority stems from the CISO's
placement within the organization and who he reports to, she explains.
"In less heavily structured organizations, the security manager must
gain the trust of the decentralized management and technologists,"
Companies that have adopted process maturity frameworks such as the
Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model are also
more likely to be ready culturally to integrate security into every
aspect of their business, Garigue says.
And Hoff says, "It's all about marketing. If you can't demonstrate
your worth, long-term survivability is compromised, and the value you
offer the organization remains that of a grudge purchase rather than
"Our company is enlightened to the value we bring, but only because we
go out of our way to relate our successes in business terms" by
showing reduction of risk on investment, Hoff says. "To me, it's a
Open Source Vulnerability Database (OSVDB) Everything is Vulnerable - http://www.osvdb.org/