The Key to Reducing Exposure to Cyber Liability, Part 2

Den Rise/

Former federal CISO Greg Touhill explains how an organization's people play the largest role in reducing cyber liability.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Gregory J. Touhill, CISSP, CISM, is the president of Cyxtera Federal Group, former federal chief information security officer, and guest author for the (ISC)² U.S. Government Advisory Council Executive Writers Bureau.

Most breaches are caused by what I call “careless, negligent or indifferent” people.

During my 30-plus years of government and military service, our cyber incident responders found that over 95 percent of incidents were the result of people who were not properly implementing known best practices, following established procedures or ignoring required actions.

This is a problem in both the public and privates sectors. I believe tolerating “careless, negligent or indifferent” activities among our employees is the most pernicious threat we face, arguably even more so than foreign nation-state actors who capitalize on them. Addressing human weakness is a critical due care and due diligence issue. The following recommendations for cybersecurity professionals on how to demonstrate due diligence and due care are a continuation of those included in part one of this article series.

Training and Certification

Organizations in both the public and private sectors need to recognize the weakness of the human element and take appropriate actions to buy-down the risk of human failure; they must exercise due care and due diligence in the human realm. Training and certification are essential.

Training should be a continual process, starting at onboarding and throughout the employee’s presence in the organization. Employees need to understand the value of the organization’s information as well as their role in protecting it. They need to be aware of threats and countermeasures they will operate and employ. They also need to regularly practice those countermeasures to maintain an acceptable level of proficiency.

Annual cybersecurity training is not good enough. Best-in-class organizations incorporate cyber operations into their business continuity planning and employ regular cyber drills, exercises, and training to foster continual improvement. These top-flight organizations ensure that every employee, especially senior leadership, participates in cyber training and certification programs. When senior leadership is engaged, cybersecurity programs work better. Actions such as these demonstrate a measure of due care and due diligence that reduces risk and boosts value.

Measuring Competence

Too often during my professional career, I arrived at organizations where people were assigned duties they did not have qualifications to perform. Remedying those situations presented awkward yet essential management decisions that often resulted in unforecasted training and certification bills yet delivered a better workforce and better operational results.

Professional certifications such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), and Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP) are among the certifications cybersecurity professionals designate as highly valued measures of technical competence and qualification. You wouldn’t want to be operated on by a doctor who doesn’t have the proper board-certified qualifications, nor would you want to be flown in a passenger plane by a pilot who does not have a current rating, license, and Federal Aviation Administration qualifications, would you?

With so much at stake, I believe appropriate certification of our cyber workforce is a must. As a matter of due care and due diligence, I insist that my workforce has position-specific certifications and maintains continuing professional education.

Addressing Misconduct

Students in my university courses ask me about what to do with employees who, despite proper training and certification actions, deliberately ignore best practices or follow established procedures. The answer is always, “Get with your human resources director to get rid of them.”

With our national security and prosperity dependent on a secure and trusted information technology environment, you should not accept the risk of a workforce that willfully introduces greater risk. I also encourage them to carefully check the references of new hires, as someone who engages in such misconduct may show up on your doorstep looking for their next job. Due care and due diligence extend to identifying those with patterns of misconduct and protecting your information environment from those who may do it harm (harsh, yet true).

Independent Auditing

Being a member of a board of directors, I appreciate the value of independent auditing. Board members protect the equity of shareholders and issue guidance and direction for the officers of the company to execute. Typical boards direct independent financial audits to ensure compliance with regulatory standards and best practices as an indicator of the fiscal health of the organization. This standard control mechanism is widely regarded as an essential due care and due diligence measure. Now is the time that performing annual independent third-party cyber audits to ensure that best practices are employed should be included as an essential due care and due diligence measure in the operation of both public and private sector entities. Budget for and implement independent third-party cyber audits and penetration testing at least annually. Additionally, I encourage you to consider a bug bounty program for your information enterprise to find and fix issues before they become problems.

Don’t forget too that when you have relationships with cloud and other third-party providers, you need to write into your contracts that you retain the right to have independent third-party auditing of your partner relationship to ensure that due care and due diligence is maintained. Remembering to do so guards a “backdoor” into your network and data that often is neglected.

Cyber Insurance

Due care and due diligence are intrinsically linked to liability. If an egregious incident occurs that harms someone, most people would argue that someone should be held accountable, and the victim should be appropriately compensated.

Private sector organizations routinely invest in first-party and third-party insurance policies to protect their entity from liability. In today’s highly connected economy, cyber insurance is an essential investment, but buyers need to beware. Making sure that your cyber insurance policy indeed will cover your liability in the event of a cyber incident is another due care and due diligence activity. Chief information security officers need to partner with the chief financial officer, general counsel, chief information officer and chief risk officer to secure the right coverage appropriate to the threat environment and risk appetite in order to satisfy an increasingly inquisitive and skeptical board of directors fueled by personal liability concerns.

Cybersecurity is not just a technology problem; it is a risk management issue. Nothing is without risk, yet you can manage your risk by exercising due care and due diligence. Doing the right things the right way at the right time is an essential element of a cybersecurity strategy that will protect you, your brand, and your reputation. I contend that without due care and due diligence, you cannot have an effective cybersecurity program.