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The Key Elements of Successful Security Transformation

Oct 06 2022

Co-authored by David Fairman and CXO Advisor Samantha MacLeod

Digital transformation has highlighted a shift in value from the traditional, on-prem, legacy IT environment and physical distribution channels to the value being created by the scale of (customer) data and the ability to deliver a personalized service to customers in a trusted, secure, and private way. This value created from this data has been realized through the adoption of cloud services, big data, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML) and a multitude of other technologies that are enabling businesses the ability to collaborate with partners, enrich data, gain greater insights on market trends, understand customer behaviors and preferences, increase the response to, and anticipate, customers demand, and be first to market.

The result of this digital transformation is organizations operating in a hyperconnected, work from anywhere, cloud-first world. With data being the true value creation assets of organizations today, the way in which we secured our businesses yesterday is no longer appropriate for today’s digital world as it lacks visibility, context, and agility.

Adjusting the focus of security transformation

However, organizations are still using security strategies that were designed for these legacy environments and are struggling to adapt to support a paradigm shift in how we think about security. Whilst a technology-driven digital transformation is taking place, security focus must shift away from a pure technology lens to focus on strategic business objectives, and the new security risks associated with a pure digital play.

“Lift and shift” and small adjustments are simply not enough. To truly support digital transformation, the approach to security must transform and security risk is at the heart of that transformation. In the security context, the organization must consider how they embed security into everything they do and share their responsibility across the entire enterprise. This is important not only for the security teams, but also for the organizations themselves so that they can fully embrace all of the benefits of digital transformation, at pace, and not be impeded in their journey.  

Security transformation can mean many things depending on the person, but in essence, it comes back to the old adage of transforming people, process, and technology in the security-related functions. And we say, change the security-related functions purposefully–it isn’t just the security teams and tools, but how security and risk is managed across the broader organization, including outside of the technology functions. As we know, cyber risk isn’t just a Technology issue, it’s a broader operational risk that impacts all of the organization.

But, security transformation does not just occur within the security-related functions. To truly transform the way organisations secure their data, customers, and stakeholders, we need to be thinking about how we embed security across the entire organisation; how we make it everybody’s responsibility to consider security risk in what they do. 

Building a culture of security

One of the most important actions an organisation can take when considering security transformation in support of digital transformation is to look at their functions, capability, skills required, and whether or not their teams are architected to deliver the right outcomes from the security perspective. To this end, organisations also need to reflect on their existing and aspirational culture, and consider the importance of security within it. To successfully transform, we need to look at the security function’s people, processes, and technology and see what needs to change to support a culture shift.

People

From a people perspective, there are two key factors –culture and skill sets. A fail-fast, risk-taking culture needs to be instilled, which can be a challenge considering traditional security and risk mindsets. But there is plenty of evidence that shows the value of this kind of culture for digital transformation. For security  to properly support that agenda, cultures must be aligned, otherwise there will be opposing forces that impede progress. Furthermore, this study shows  technology teams that have moved to an agile, DevOps world are able to demonstrate a higher levels of resiliency, experiencing seven times fewer failures and are able to recover from incidents 2,604 times faster than those that haven’t successfully moved to DevOps.

Workforce skill sets also need to change. Just as the technology functions need to re-skill teams to embrace and support the cloud, the broader workforce will need to be trained and educated to understand risks and gain new skills in cyber literacy that will enable them to fully embrace cloud and digital services.  

Without the constraints of legacy technology, the complexity of old infrastructure services, and the benefit of SaaS tooling and data-driven technologies, security teams need to be creative about how they help the organisation manage security risk. In a constantly changing environment, security needs to be a strategic enabler to support digital transformation.

Process

From a process perspective, not only do organizations need to digitize and automate their existing business processes, but they must also look to change their process to adapt to the new technologies and culture that will become prevalent in the transformed world. Legacy risk and security processes may not make sense anymore and processes may need to be re-engineered to fit this new environment. An example of this is risk and compliance processes. 

Teams will not be able to keep pace with understanding the risk posture and control environment in this dynamic, fast-paced environment and manual assessment processes simply won’t work. Organizations will need to build systems and processes that continuously assess the threat, risk, and levels of compliance at near real-time and use telemetry, and the data that comes with it, as a value creation tool for security and risk management, giving greater timely insights upon which informed risk decisions can be made. 

Just as the organization is using data to create value for the business, so too must security and risk teams use data to create value for their operations to make more informed, timely risk decisions and enable the organization to move at pace with the right security outcomes embedded in the change. An example seen here is the “fusion” concept, where security related functions such as cyber, fraud, and physical security have used data to provide more insights, real-time updates, and enhanced situational awareness to better guard their customers and environment.

Technology

To further support this transformation of processes and people, the underlying technologies will inevitably need to change too. The transformed processes and the way technology teams now operate (as a result of digital transformation) will require new tool sets, which are vastly different from the controls (tools and technology) that have been used previously. This technology transformation needs to provide more automation, more visibility and discovery capabilities, higher fidelity, and richer data insights, that can be exploited to drive intelligence-led, data-driven security and risk decisions and, consequently, actions.

There are several initiatives that will be needed, and typically, they can be grouped by

process and associated technologies, broadly aligned as per below:

  • Principals and architecture, e.g. Cloud first, Digital ID
  • Enhance data driven decision making, e.g. Advanced analytics, AI/ML
  • Operating practices, e.g. Shift-Left, SecDevOps
  • Security automation, e.g. SOAR, Robotics
  • Software supply chain risk, e.g. identify the upstream risk of open source code used with your own teams and those used by suppliers.
  • Cloud security, e.g. Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), Cloud Native Application, Protection Platform (CNAPP)
  • Continuous controls monitoring, e.g. enables continuous evaluation of controls, with the ability to scale at pace in the dynamic environment, and assess the effectiveness and completeness of the control with the environment.

Conclusion

Successful security transformation is about creating a digital ready, agile, cloud-first security capability that works to provide a safe and secure digital environment and requires the integrated, cohesive, and tightly coupled combination of the people, process, and technology. All of these need to be addressed in unison, as they all influence each other.

Transforming these three tenets means that security capabilities will be better equipped to keep pace with, support, and ideally, anticipate the needs of the organization, as driven by the digital transformation agenda. If effective, security not only becomes a capability that embellishes trust for customers, but it becomes a strategic enabler, creating value for the organization.

If you’d like to hear us talk even more in-depth about security transformation, come see our presentation at the AISA Australian Cyber Conference on Wednesday October 12, 2022.

author image
David Fairman
David Fairman is an experienced CSO/CISO, strategic advisory, investor and coach. He has extensive experience in the global financial services sector. In 2015, David was named as one of the Top 10 CISOs to know, and is seen as a thought leader in the cyber security industry as profiled by K-Logix.