When it comes to improving your organization’s cybersecurity, momentum is your greatest challenge.
Without momentum, it’s easy to say “good enough” and put off further improvements – or make purchasing decisions instinctively, based on the wrong criteria (read more about those criteria in our article, “4 Reasons that Organizations Finally Invest in Cybersecurity”). As a result, many organizations wind up paying for security controls and tools they don’t need – while missing the ones they do.
A clear, repeatable cybersecurity process prevents this instinctive spending, by helping you identify and make necessary improvements as they become apparent. As a bonus, this approach will take the guesswork and mental exhaustion out of IT security, by giving you a framework for making both proactive and in-the-moment decisions.
In order to reach this improved state, you’ll need to tackle four core steps: each step may look slightly different within every organization, but all are essential to evolving your cybersecurity process.
- Identify your critical systems
- Analyze your defenses and your greatest risks
- Establish a cybersecurity vision
- Assemble a IT security leadership team that can take regular action
This upgrade to your way of thinking will do more for your organization than any individual new tool could, by taking your security purchasing decisions and aligning them to a clear, guiding IT security process.
#1 – Identify your critical systems.
Your critical systems are the “crown jewels” – the parts of your business that determine whether you sink or swim. They’re the things that you absolutely cannot lose if you want to keep moving forward. For example:
- If you work with an abundance of sensitive client data, a security breach that compromises that data could be a business-ending catastrophe for your reputation.
- If you have high payroll or operating expenses, then downtime could quickly compound into a crippling level of “dead time” operating costs.
- If you work in a regulated industry, then it’s likely that compliance regulations factor heavily into your decision-making – because the consequences for violating them can be severe.
Your critical systems should be your top priority as you assess security solutions and improvements. That doesn’t mean you should neglect improvements in other areas! However, knowing which assets are most important will help you set the right priorities when everything is seemingly demanding your attention.
These priorities will give you clarity of purpose and help you to determine the “highest and best use” of your security budget, regardless of that budget’s size. You can often get more security out of a $5,000 investment that protects these critical systems, than a $50,000 investment that doesn’t…especially if the $5,000 investment covers a glaring hole in your defenses!
#2 – Analyze your defenses and your greatest risks.
You’ve now determined the critical systems that are most critical to your organization’s continued survival. The next step is to assess the potential threats that could target those critical systems, as well as the defenses you have in place to protect them. Using the earlier examples:
- For sensitive client data, data security and unauthorized access (ransomware, data theft) are an ever-present concern.
- For high operating expenses, data loss and downtime are the greatest threats.
- Defenses include disaster recovery solutions that help you to act immediately in an emergency, and data backup & recovery solutions to get your team back to work quickly.
- For compliance regulations, unauthorized access can require reporting, and failed compliance can result in fines or even loss of business/credentials.
Again, these are just a few examples: your critical systems might include several of these, or something else entirely. The main point to remember is that your critical systems inform both the threats you face and the defenses you should prioritize.
Consider an external IT security risk assessment
As you draw up your list of critical systems, the only information you have about your risks and defenses might be your own team’s “gut feelings.” But you might also have official security audits from a regulatory agency, or you could have (or get) something similar to an information security assessment.
This (usually) one-time assessment takes an in-depth look at every security control placed on your organization’s information…from high-tech security software to simple checks like “do employees leave sensitive data lying around?” and “do you know the back door gets locked every night, or just assume?”.
An information security assessment can give you a thorough picture of your security posture – but it can also be incredibly intimidating, and it’s not going to plan your path forward for you. An information security assessment on its own is useless: what you do with the findings is what truly matters.
#3 – Establish a cybersecurity vision.
Even once you know your critical systems, their defenses, and their greatest vulnerabilities, your next step is never as simple as “patch those security holes.” Why? Because unfortunately, when it comes to cybersecurity, there are always more holes to patch.
Remember, the goal of these steps is to get away from ad-hoc, moment-to-moment spending, because unplanned cybersecurity costs far too much time and money. Now that you know what’s important and how well you’re protecting it, you should have a guiding vision for what “successful” cybersecurity looks like for your organization: cybersecurity that maximizes your investment in improving your critical systems.
This guiding vision will help you reconcile cybersecurity decisions with the other costs of running an organization – because there are a lot of them! When you’re working with a limited cybersecurity budget, this vision will inform how you prioritize different improvements and bring clarity to your spending decisions…especially in an industry where the “best tools” change frequently.
By establishing your vision and goals for your cybersecurity, you will give focus to every effort and investment. When you’re meeting with your (internal) IT team or (external) IT provider, you can use this vision to ask them questions and clarify your highest priorities…because it’s likely that they don’t have the same organization-wide insights you do!
(For more on this conceptual gap between executives and IT, read our article “Proactive IT Budgeting | The Planning Gap Between Executives & IT”)
#4 – Assemble your IT security leadership team.
Your IT provider is an important element of your newly-improved cybersecurity approach, but they’re not the only element by far! In fact, IT security is an organization-wide effort, and it can’t be delegated to just one person or department. As mentioned in our article in the above section, you need a mix of technical and executive team members to properly assess and address your IT needs.
The last step of your cybersecurity improvement is therefore to build a team of people who will hold each other accountable for progress on security initiatives through regular meetings. Without this team, cybersecurity will inevitably fall on the back burner, only getting intermittent attention whenever something boils over and becomes an emergency. But by creating a self-sustaining team that discusses and pushes forward your security priorities, you’ll keep your organization’s improvements moving forward.
This team’s composition depends on the structure of your organization, but several roles will always be represented, including:
- Executive leadership
- Financial management
- Operational oversight
- Technical expertise
Because it represents different areas of your organization, this team will be able to both provide multiple perspectives, and ensure action is followed through at all levels of the organization. Each member will have responsibilities and will be accountable to the rest of the team, meaning that cybersecurity improvement is never forgotten – nor is it all placed on one person’s shoulders.
Once this team is codified and running consistently, you will find it far easier to sustain momentum on your security vision. That doesn’t mean you will solve every vulnerability in one fell swoop: cybersecurity is a process, and no organization can ever hope to eliminate risk entirely. However, by assigning responsibilities to your leadership team, you will be far more likely to make the highest and best use of your security investments – regardless of the amount you’re able to spend.
Cybersecurity improvement is never finished.
Once you have your organization’s critical systems, their greatest vulnerabilities, your guiding vision, and your cybersecurity leadership team, you have all the pieces you need to manage your evolving cybersecurity needs.
However, you don’t have a permanent solution to your cybersecurity challenges. And that’s because when we’re talking about cybersecurity, there is no such thing as a permanent solution. Cybersecurity isn’t a project; cybersecurity is a process, and the more control you take over your IT security planning, the less control it will exert over you via surprises and disaster.
By taking these 4 steps, you haven’t magically "completed" your organization’s cybersecurity journey. Instead, you’ve built the engine that will keep you moving on that journey. Once that engine is built, it may require maintenance and improvement, but its greatest value will be to drive all your decisions forward as new challenges emerge. You’ll move from ad-hoc solutions to a proactive approach that anticipates and mitigates those challenges ahead of time – for less effort, lower cost, and greater peace of mind.
Need help building that engine? Mytech is here.
These four conceptual steps can set you on the path to a proactive cybersecurity strategy, and you have everything you need to begin this journey. But to get the most out of these steps, consider working side-by-side with an established cybersecurity and IT consulting partner.
As part of Cybersecurity Leadership and Advisory Services (CLAS) from Mytech Partners, we’ll help you every step of the way as you build your cybersecurity engine. We’ll advise you regularly as you develop understanding, build inertia, and set accountabilities to drive your security engine forward. We’ll assist with assessing risks, establishing governance meetings, coaching your team, helping you with external reviews (compliance audits & cyber liability insurance), and more, to help you solve your IT security challenges.
Improving your cybersecurity is all about improving your approach to cybersecurity. With Mytech’s help, you can take concrete and straightforward steps to measurably improve your IT security, regardless of how the threat landscape continues to evolve.