Should it be mandatory for CISOs to be part of the Board of Directors?

More and more boards are scrutinizing the impact of security and privacy issues on their businesses. However, taken action to being CISOs on to the board has been way too slow. The main challenge is that they don’t grasp that information security issues are not simply IT issues. For clarity, take a look at my article on ‘8 Reasons Why Cybersecurity Strategy and Business Operations are Inseparable‘.

The urgency now being seen from many boards is more so a knee-jerk response to government pressures and increased regulations in lieu of several high profile breaches that have shaken public trust. The former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Luis Agulilar made the following comment back in 2014:

“Board oversight of cyber risk management is critical to ensuring that companies are taking adequate steps to prevent, and prepare for, the harms that can result from such attacks.” He also issued a clear warning that “boards that choose to ignore or minimize the importance of cybersecurity oversight responsibility do so at their own peril.”

Regulators across the globe are making it clear that organizations must have robust privacy and security controls in place to manage the risks associated with technology-enabled commerce. As such, it is critically important that boards regardless of their companies’ industries have a security expert among them to expertly lead the organization in such matters. It is clear that government regulators will hold the Board of Directors accountable and liable for not discharging their duty to prevent harm to the corporation, including damage occurring from cyber attacks and data breaches. Individual directors themselves can be subject to derivative shareholder lawsuits and class-action suits from the company’s banks, business partners, vendors, customers and their own employees.

That being said, not many CISOs have the knowledge and experience; the executive capabilities required to translate into meaningful business terms the impact a cyber incident has on the organization and the activities undertaken to mitigate such events. Many members of the board are not engineers or IT professionals, let alone possess an understanding of technology governance, risk and control. The average board is comprised of approximately nine individuals but some can be as many as 30 persons, so it is imperative that the CISO familiarize himself with his audience to effectively deliver a solid presentation that resonates with them. It is helpful to go into the details of presentations one-to-one with individual board members, as many of them love going into depth and that is an ideal approach to influence the board on an individual basis. For actual board meetings, there is a firm agenda and time limitations that can lessen the strength and impact of CISO presentations.

One of the most effective presentations is the use of risk metrics as most board members in a formal session do not want to be inundated with techno-jargon (do this and watch their eyes glaze over). They want a helicopter perspective of the issues and with clear impact on how the organization as a whole is affected. Board members want visual quantification of risks with the most relevant data in simple language. Using benchmarks designating the past, present and future allows the audience to clearly see how the situation has changed, see the progress and efforts necessary to achieve a benchmark goal.

It is an uphill journey for a CISO to acquire a seat on the board. It is not for the faint-hearted as one is burdened with enormous responsibilities and the board members are the apex of the organization tasked with guiding its ultimate success or failure. Consequently, board membership is a delicate process as much is at stake in terms of the organization remaining a going concern.

CISOs are a necessity to have on the board but they must be savvy, experienced and strategic-minded executive to serve in that capacity. They must have the vision, thought leadership, relationship building skills, and grit to demonstrate value to the organization in this role.

The Impact of the GDPR on the Hospitality Sector

Today I held a General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) awareness seminar for members of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA).

With regards to data security, there are few sectors more vulnerable to data-related threats than the hospitality sector. The volume of processed personal and credit card information being handed over to hotels, restaurants, etc. on a daily basis makes the sector extremely vulnerable. With the enforcement deadline having passed on 25 May, several companies in the sector have not updated their data protection processes, and are at risk for large financial penalties.

The seminar touched on key areas such as the following:

  1. Major Differences between the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and the GDPR
  2. Overall readiness across the hospitality sector
  3. Capturing and using personal data going forward
  4. Consent and contextual use of personal data
  5. How the GDPR affects repeat business and email marketing
  6. How the GDPR affects third-party data processors
  7. The rights of data subjects under the GDPR
  8. The difference between ‘personal data’ and ‘sensitive data’, and how they should be treated
  9. Other key aspects of the GDPR such as the Data Protection Officer (DPO), Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIA) and ‘privacy by design’
  10. How to update strategies for websites, data governance, and marketing to become GDPR compliant

My takeaway from this session was that many businesses — small to large — have not made any steps to align their operations and processes with the requirements of the GDPR. Several others are defiantly refusing to address privacy and data protection within their organizations. However, what was gratifying is that I received a torrent of emails in the hours and days after from hoteliers, many of them eager to engage subject matter experts (SMEs) to assist in improving their control framework to meet the rigorous demands of the GDPR. Hopefully, this interest and willingness to improve is sustainable. There’s a lot of work to be done!

 

 

ICT PULSE: Cyber threats and security in the Caribbean 2018 update – Interview with Niel Harper

ICT Pulse:  Niel, thank you again for taking the time to share your insights with us. To start, give us a quick recap of what have been the most prevalent types of incidents in the Barbados and/or in the wider Caribbean region over the past year or so?

Niel Harper:  Over the past year, there has been a substantive increase in ransomware attacks in Barbados and across the Caribbean. This is pretty much in line with the global trend, where we saw massive ransomware attacks such as NotPetya and WannaCry that impacted over 500,000 organizations and resulted in damages and losses in excess of USD$400 million. Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean were not spared from the wrath of these attacks.

ICTP:  Has the threat landscape changed over the past year? Are there any particular areas of concern that you have for Caribbean organizations, or the region as a whole?

NH:  Yes, most definitely the threat landscape has changed over the last year. Firstly, there has been a shift towards attacks on the underlying Internet infrastructure. Hence, Caribbean service providers need to implement protections in their networks to address core routing and DNS security, among others. Additionally, we are seeing hackers using social media platforms as an attack vector, and such attacks are routinely compromising mobile phones. Last but perhaps most significant, state-sponsored threat actors have become more and more active. We are seeing increasing attacks against critical infrastructure and supply chains. For example, cyberwar actors will seek to attack targets that result in maximum disruption, economic upheaval, and even public safety issues (e.g. airports, public transit, power grids, nuclear facilities, smart cities, etc.). There will be continued attacks targeting democratic processes such as electronic voting machines, online voter registration, party or politician websites, and other such platforms. Sadly, Caribbean (and global) enterprises will get caught up in state-led or state-sponsored attacks, and with far-reaching economic impacts.

ICTP:  Over the past year, ransomware incidents still appeared to be occurring across the region. Are they still as huge a threat?

NH:  As stated in my earlier comment, ransomware is most definitely still a threat, and there are a couple of reasons for this. For one, there are numerous techniques available to hackers for initiating ransomware attacks such as spam, phishing, rootkits on legitimate website, traffic redirection, and others. Ransomware also remains a lucrative business for hackers. There’s also no shortage of targets for ransomware attackers, specifically when you consider that many healthcare providers, government agencies and educational institutions simply don’t have the resources to adequately respond to cyber threats.

ICTP:  Bitcoin (cryptocurrencies) and blockchain are concepts of which mass consumers are becoming increasingly aware. Are you excited or concerned about these technologies?

NH:  I am both excited and concerned about blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Blockchain provides numerous options and possibilities for changing how we work, communicate and do business. As adoption of both technologies skyrockets across the globe and throughout the Caribbean, I expect that there will be a corresponding increase in attacks. More specifically, these attacks will be mostly focused on cryptocurrency marketplaces and end user applications such as crypto wallets and crypto trading apps. Early in 2018, Japanese crypto exchange Coincheck was hacked and lost USD$500 million in assets due to poor security mechanisms in their hot wallets. We’re also seeing crypto mining malware which essentially compromises PCs and laptops and uses their resources to mine cryptocurrencies. A consequence of these attacks will be increased regulation of cryptocurrencies by governments, and there is the potential for this to stifle innovation and the network benefits of blockchaintechnologies.

ICTP:  Towards the end of 2017, we became aware of some new threats: Meltdown and Spectre, which seem to be shaking the computing and tech industry to its core. In layman’s terms, can you briefly give us a sense of what Meltdown and Spectre are about, what harm they do, and what steps (if any) we can take to better protect ourselves?

NH:  Meltdown and Spectre exploit critical vulnerabilities in system processors. These hardware-based vulnerabilities allow programs to steal data that is being processed on the computer. While programs are typically not permitted to read data from other programs, a malicious program can exploit Meltdown and Spectre to obtain data stored in the memory of other running programs. Desktops, laptops, and cloud platforms are affected. More technically, every Intel processor which implements out-of-order execution is potentially affected, which is effectively every processor since 1995. There are patches against Meltdown for Linux, Windows, and OS X. There is also work being done to harden software against future Spectre exploits, as well as to patch software after exploitation through Spectre. Details for these solutions can be found on most all the security-focused web sites.

ICTP:  After all of what we have discussed so far, are there still new and emerging threats of which we should be more aware?

NH:  Yes, I think everyone should be aware about threats associated with the Internet of Things (IoT), connected vehicles, weaponization of AI, and cyber-physical attacks. For example, AI can make spearphishing attacks cheaper, faster and more effective, and also help attackers to design malware that is more stealth and harder to discover using traditional endpoint protection tools. Another example is that researchers – and hackers – are uncovering more vulnerabilities in the onboard systems of older airplanes, trains, ships, and other transport modes that render them vulnerable. I expect to see more attacks involving ransomware that hijacks these vital systems and threatens chaotic results if owners don’t pay to regain control.

ICTP:  Finally, what are the top three (3) things businesses should be doing this year, 2018, to improve theirICTP:  network/IT security?

NH:  One of the most important countermeasures against cyber threats is greater awareness. Governments need to engage various national stakeholder groups in developing awareness programs. Such programs should incorporate information on common attack techniques/vectors, recommendations on how to put better protection measures in place (including data protection), and best practices for improved online hygiene. Businesses are key stakeholders, and they should see themselves as playing an important role in building awareness both internally to their organizations and on the broader national scale.

All businesses need to to develop cybersecurity strategies, including in key areas such as risk assessment, vulnerability management, legal & regulatory compliance, and capacity building. They need to have the right people, process and technology in place to combat cyber threats. For SMEs who have challenges with resources, there are security companies like mine who are willing to work with them to develop flexible, cost-effective solutions for cybersecurity.

As it relates to improving users’ control of their data and increasing accountability for data handlers, it is likely that legislation will be needed because corporations have not yet proven to be good data stewards. Hence, legislative instruments like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) are likely to be replicated across national jurisdictions. More specifically, the roles and responsibilities of those handling data should be clarified, penalties for misuse and abuse should be outlined, and mechanisms should be put in place to reward adequate data protection and implementation of security best practices. I would advise all Caribbean nations to look at implementing data protection legislation in the very near future.

The original interview can be found on the ICT Pulse website at: https://bit.ly/2JzAFce

What is a virtual CISO? When and why should you hire one?

Chief information security officers (CISOs) are increasingly in-demand, and the very good ones are expensive and difficult to lock down. As more and more organizations who are without CISOs suffer breaches, how should they go about bringing such talent into their businesses?

Could an on-demand virtual CISO (vCISO) be the appropriate solution for them? A vCISO is essentially a security practitioner who provides their advice and insights to an organization on an outsourced and ongoing basis, usually part-time and remotely.

But why would a business engage a vCISO when they can hire a full-time CISO? The answer to this is not a simple one. Firstly, a vCISO is not a good fit for all organizations. Secondly, highly-regarded, experienced CISOs are not easily found, generally stay in a role for 2-3 years, and most importantly, come with a salary that is prohibitive for small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

vCISOs usually cost around 40% – 60% of what you would pay a full-time CISO, and their services can be delivered on-demand. Their benefits usually way exceed their costs. Virtual CISOs are highly experienced, knowledgeable, don’t have learning curve challenges, can integrate easily into a business, and won’t see the need to tiptoe or play nice when it comes to corporate politics. With this approach, it is strictly about outcomes, and a top-tier vCISO will provide critical board and executive engagement, metrics, and high-level reporting.

While different vCISOs come with varying skillsets, most should be able to deal with a plethora of activities from strategic to tactical. They can develop your information risk assessment methodology. They can create a robust framework of policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines. They can help your organization come to terms with GDPR, PCI-DSS and other compliance issues. They can address outsourced vendor risks, for example around cloud computing and IoT services. They can also assist with recruitment and establishing a high-performance team, devising the security vision and strategy, leading the RFP process for security solutions, refining incident response processes, and implementing COBIT 5.0 and ISO/IEC 27000. They might also support the coaching and training needs of newly hired CISOs and conduct awareness training and reporting to the Board of Directors.

Virtual CISOs are best suited to startups and growing companies, and are an ideal approach for bolstering the already in-place management team or basically leveraged as a short-term solution. The best vCISOs must be good communicators – vertically and horizontally, and especially at the board level. They must be able to work with companies across diverse industries and with varying risk profiles and backgrounds. They must be capable of communicating clearly what business risks companies are exposed to as it relates to cybersecurity. An effective vCISO must also be adaptable and quickly learn about the unique business environment their customer operates in. And once these things are known, the vCISO needs to bring their knowledge and skills to bear in terms of aligning the cybersecurity strategy with the business’ strategic objectives.

As they generally operate without budgets or responsibility for implementation, it is best if vCISOs are viewed as advisors and not as auditors or change managers. Cybersecurity is largely a business of relationship management, and traditional CISOs must win the hearts and minds of the executives and organizational leaders if they’re to move the enterprise forward. vCISOs don’t necessarily need to do this, as they are not visible and likely won’t be around for the long-term.

vCISO Services are included in the service portfolio of my company Octave Consulting Group.

Why Bitcoin Will Not Solve the Caribbean’s Financial Inclusion Woes

What is Bitcoin? Is it electronic money?

There’s a deluge of hype around Bitcoin and blockchain technologies right now, and policymakers and regulators in the Caribbean are doing their best to wrap their heads around the advantages and disadvantages of this virtual currency. Similar questions are being contemplated in the ICTs for development (ICT4D) community, taking into account that electronic money (e-money) platforms such as Safaricom’s M-PESA have essentially solved the financial inclusion quandary for millions of people in Kenya. The service has now even expanded to Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and India.

Besides sharing the characteristic of being digital, how do Bitcoin and e-money compare, especially with regards to reaching individuals who have previously been unable to access traditional financial services? Presently, there appear to be more differences than similarities between the two, and it’s critical not to confuse virtual currency with e-money.

Blockchain, in brief, is a record of digital events, distributed across multiple participants. It can only be updated by consensus between participants in the system, and when new data is entered, it can never be erased. The blockchain contains a true and verifiable record of each and every transaction ever made in the system. Launched in 2009, Bitcoin is a virtual, private currency that uses blockchain as an underlying, immutable public ledger. Bitcoins are ‘mined’ using distributed processing power across a global network of volunteer software enthusiasts. The supply mechanism is designed to grow slowly and has an upper limit of 21 million units as determined by a built-in algorithm. There is no central authority that controls blockchain or Bitcoin. There are no central banks that can be politically manipulated; and no way to inflate the value of a national currency by simply printing more money. Economic libertarians are ecstatic at the very thought of this. However, competing virtual currencies can be created that could have the net effect of devaluing the original.

Contrastingly, e-money is not a separate currency and is overseen by the same national regulatory authority that governs the printing of fiat money – as is the case with M-PESA and the Central Bank of Kenya. It’s an extension of a national currency like Jamaican dollars or Netherland Antilles guilders for use over digital networks to reduce the costs associated with handling physical cash. More specifically, it’s a one-to-one electronic store of value pegged to the cash receipt of the equivalent amount. To mitigate against risks like money laundering, terrorist financing, consumer protection, etc., the cash against which e-money is issued most often has to be deposited with fully regulated financial institutions.

The issue of financial exclusion

The issue of financial exclusion can be summarized into 2 categories: unbanked and underbanked. Unbanked individuals do not have an account at a regulated financial institution, while underbanked individuals have accounts, but frequently use alternative or unregulated financial services.

Before elaborating on the key factors behind financial exclusion, it is important to detail the effects of being unbanked to illustrate the severity of the problem. Unbanked individuals are faced with a heavy economic burden […]

The full article can be found on the CircleID website at: https://goo.gl/zn7Yg9

The State of Cybersecurity 2017 – Simplicity 2.0 Podcast

“Cybersecurity is a constant challenge for businesses. Niel Harper, Managing Director of Octave Consulting Group, shares tips to protect your company’s infrastructure from security threats, and offers ways to stay a step ahead of malware, hacking, and other attacks.”

I recently sat down with the Economist Group and Laserfiche (Simplicity 2.0 Podcast) to discuss the management of cybersecurity risks. These types of interviews tend to get very abstract, so I purposely wanted to touch on topics that would resonate with both corporations and end users.

The podcast in its entirety can be found here.