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How to Cultivate a Security-First Approach to Your Business

Theresa Lanowitz

Written by

Theresa Lanowitz, AT&T Cybersecurity

December 02, 2021

Theresa Lanowitz is a proven global influencer, and speaks on trends and emerging technology poised to help today’s enterprise organizations flourish. Theresa is currently the head of evangelism at AT&T Business — Cybersecurity. Prior to joining AT&T, Theresa was an industry analyst with boutique analyst firm voke and Gartner. While at Gartner, Theresa spearheaded the application quality ecosystem, championed application security technology, and created the successful Application Development conference. As a product manager at Borland International Software, Theresa launched the iconic Java integrated development environment JBuilder. While at Sun Microsystems, Theresa led strategic marketing for the Jini project — a precursor to the Internet of Things (IoT). Theresa’s professional career began with McDonnell Douglas, where she was a software developer on the C-17 military transport plane and held a U.S. Department of Defense Top Secret security clearance. Theresa holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

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Businesses of all types and sizes are struggling with complexity. They’re addressing hybrid workforces that need to be secured, digital transformation programs, geographic regulations and data laws, industry regulations, and the list goes on. In the midst of this complexity, organizations have to make sure they are safeguarding their digital assets.

Security is no longer a technical problem. It is first and foremost a business enabler, and the need for security is growing in proportion to the complexity being experienced by organizations.

How do you make security a cornerstone of your business, remove the perceived intrusion of security on productivity, and deliver optimal business outcomes?

Here are some tips for instilling a security-first mindset to help protect your business and deliver better business outcomes.

Tie security to business objectives and outcomes 

As C-suite stakeholders develop, change, and implement their overall business objectives, it is important for CISOs and security leaders to be a part of that conversation from the start. Having immediate line of sight into the business objectives helps security leaders develop a customized, scalable, and highly secure solution to enable the company to reach the desired business outcome. 

Over time, we will start to see more CFOs pivoting their role to become more integrated with CISOs, helping the company connect security investments and risks to the bottom line. Starting the conversation with identifying the potential cost and business impact a cyberthreat poses can be a powerful way to get buy-in on security investments and programs that will help to enable the company to reach their business objectives. 

Together, the entire C-suite should determine which cybersecurity measures best serve the company’s current and future business outcomes, along with financial interests.

Move away from ROI metrics

One of the biggest mistakes business leaders make as they tie security to business outcomes is the demand for ROI. As companies look to evaluate or validate security ROI metrics for future investments, it is important to note the role of security in an organization is a long-term investment. If bundled into a short-term ROI metric, security can be challenging to measure.

As we look at what sets a strong security posture vs. a less mature one, it starts with executives reaching agreement and understanding of the long-term benefits of security investment. 

Putting a guarantee on a business objective or ROI is not setting your team up for success, but the odds of success increase immeasurably if a company is able to effectively gain the long-term support of a security-first mindset for business. 

While many companies are applying financial constraints due to COVID, cutting security investments to achieve a short-term ROI can lead to a disastrous short-term outcome with potentially no long-term options.

Set the tone at the top

Security needs to be communicated from the top — and positioned to make the company stronger, safer, and more strategic — so leaders can focus on what’s most important: business continuity and innovation. 

Too often, CISOs and security leaders develop security programs for the business that are shared once a year with employees. Unfortunately, they are not revisited or communicated often enough for them to resonate and have the desired business impact.

Outdated misconceptions and practices still linger, as security teams are held to be the sole communicators and lone team responsible for company security practices. There is a communication and education gap that needs to be filled as companies adopt the security-first mindset. 

How do you fill that gap? Make security a routine topic of business discussion in staff meetings, employee training, end-of-year evaluations, business strategy sessions, budget planning meetings, mergers and acquisitions evaluations, and more. Security is everyone’s responsibility.

The security-first mindset brings security front and center to your business — therefore establishing the need for more real estate on the agenda and in the room. 

Continually assess risk for business adaptability

For any business to be adaptable to change, either internally or externally, continuously assessing risk is critical. Understanding how business disruptions will be handled in the event of something unforeseen means that an organization must know where risks are.

Organizations will continue on a business-as-usual path and put transformational plans in place. These plans include determining the rate of change and the appetite for risk by the business. As each plan emerges, part of the planning process needs to include ongoing risk assessment at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels.

An organization should determine the risks to any plan, and in the event of a disruption of the plan, be agile enough to avoid identified risks.

A strong cybersecurity practice works in collaboration with the line of business to continuously identify risk and the impact to the business.

Create ongoing and positive cyber awareness

When it comes to security, we have all heard the weakest link in an organization is its employees, or the human element. With the quick pivot that many companies made to a fully remote workforce, it is more important than ever for companies to educate employees in their shared responsibility for security. 

As part of this education, employees need to first understand that security enables the business and the work that they do. If they are connected to their work, they should be connected to security. 

Without diving into the technical components of security, executives can share and model the security-first mindset in a more personalized way to connect with their employees. For example, when sharing the impact of compromised credentials and ransomware, you can communicate that these cyberthreats don’t just happen in the workplace, but can take place on personal devices as well.  

Security belongs to every employee in the company, from the C-suite down to the seasonal intern — every employee owns a sliver of the exposed attack surface.

With the increased velocity of cyberattacks and malware, employees need to understand and practice the security-first mindset to support positive business outcomes. 

For more information about AT&T Cybersecurity and Akamai, visit us at cybersecurity.att.com and akamai.com/lifeonline.

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Theresa Lanowitz

Written by

Theresa Lanowitz, AT&T Cybersecurity

December 02, 2021

Theresa Lanowitz is a proven global influencer, and speaks on trends and emerging technology poised to help today’s enterprise organizations flourish. Theresa is currently the head of evangelism at AT&T Business — Cybersecurity. Prior to joining AT&T, Theresa was an industry analyst with boutique analyst firm voke and Gartner. While at Gartner, Theresa spearheaded the application quality ecosystem, championed application security technology, and created the successful Application Development conference. As a product manager at Borland International Software, Theresa launched the iconic Java integrated development environment JBuilder. While at Sun Microsystems, Theresa led strategic marketing for the Jini project — a precursor to the Internet of Things (IoT). Theresa’s professional career began with McDonnell Douglas, where she was a software developer on the C-17 military transport plane and held a U.S. Department of Defense Top Secret security clearance. Theresa holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh.