Cyber Security and IT: Separate Them

Small and mid-size companies frequently ask how to organize their cyber security assets and responsibilities to best protect their companies. This is more a question of function than of form, and it requires companies to challenge some assumptions about their IT departments as well as the perceptions of cyber security reports.
The immediate action taken by most corporate management teams is to make cyber security the responsibility of the IT shop. It seems a natural fit to place a highly technical and complex function under the direction of the IT Director or CIO.
But the real reason for this decision is that most corporate management teams have a minimal understanding of cyber security, nor dedicate the time it takes to learn it. This is a poorly designed organizational structure that can impede the flow of critical information to the C Suite due to conflictive responsibilities.
There are two key perceptions that need to be addressed. One, a report on cyber security gaps and vulnerabilities (not to mention a breach) is seen by the C-Suite as a damning display of improper planning and a larger threat to the existence of their business. Two, the same report on the cyber security status of an IT architecture is deemed pejorative by Senior IT personnel and seen as a threat to their position due to the exposure of cyber security gaps. This leads to dilution, or even non-disclosure, of key cyber security findings to the C Suite.
Both these perceptions are weak, yet extraordinarily ingrained in corporate management. The C-Suite should understand that most, if not all, IT systems that are connected to the internet are going to have some vulnerabilities and gaps due to flaws in software and applications, not just architecture. They also need to understand that there is a good possibility that they will be, or are, breached, and they need to better prepare to respond to that breach. In most cases, this is not the fault of IT management. Rather, an analysis of their system such as a vulnerability scan or a penetration test offers a chance for the IT director to open the discussion with the C-Suite on the appropriate measures, to include budget, technology, managed services, training etc, required to better prepare the company for a breach response. They should not “white wash” or minimize the results of a report or scan.
The solution: corporate C-Suites should become educated on cyber security threats and shift focus from defense to now identification and response in reaction to a breach. They should not have the unreasonable expectation that technology and training can protect themselves 100% — staff should be required to prepare both a disaster response and crisis response plan. Finally, separate cyber security and IT, placing cyber security either under another C-Suite position due to its criticality or have it report to security where the conflict between reporting cyber security issues and their impact on the IT department does not impede the flow of critical information. These steps will go far in ensuring that cyber security remains a priority and does its job in keeping the C-Suite informed.