Before I became an advisor to Netskope, I was a long serving CIO and CEO for organisations including Bayer and Philips. I have spent many hours sitting in board meetings discussing data protection with colleagues and as a result I am confused by assertions I hear that data protection is only the IT team’s problem.
In my experience, the majority of data protection conversations that reach the board are, in fact, driven by legal teams, who then partner with IT to devise and execute plans. In 2018 while GDPR compliance left a lot of tasks on IT to-do lists, it was generally the legal team that was answering to the board.
Digital transformation has reached into every department, and this has moved IT teams from a back office function into hugely connected enablers for business projects. And as IT takes responsibility for the systems, infrastructure, and services that handle data, there is a risk that organisations might deem the data that traverses those systems to be the responsibility of IT too.
When we make data protection seem like an IT issue, we guarantee that we leave huge holes in our approach, because accurate data entry, classification, and maintenance are all things that are the responsibility of data stewards who should be integrated into business functions
For example, in the health and pharmaceutical companies I have worked with, it has been development teams, often led by R&D heads, CIOs, or CTOs, who are pushing the data protection agenda, motivated by conversations around drug development—how to collate larger, deeper databases to improve diagnosis and care plans without breaking regulatory rules on data protection.
In reality, the protection of data is a joint responsibility. IT and cybersecurity teams certainly have a huge task to ensure that technology architectures and platforms are appropriately secure (and this isn’t always the case in organisations that have adopted cloud without adjusting security approaches). But in most large listed companies, IT works hand in hand with finance, legal, engineering, production, service, marketing, and HR teams. There is even a compelling school of thought pushing for the division of cybersecurity teams between business units, with them all having a dotted or firm line into the CISO. At the top level, the CISO often works very closely with a Chief Security Officer, because the lines between cybersecurity and physical security blur through social engineering attack methodologies.
As an example, social engineering will see executives targeted by a very friendly fellow traveller in a first class train carriage. Business cards are swapped (a fake one, on the part of the threat actor)… and an email with a malicious payload is sent. Or an employee will arrive at work late for a meeting, struggle to find their entry pass in their corporate branded merchandise backpack and be ushered into the building by a helpful colleague… completely unaware that they have given a criminal access to the office or production facilities simply because they picked up a freebie bag at a tradeshow.
Data protection is not just a cyber conversation, nor is it the sole remit of IT or cybersecurity teams. With the growth of AI (and the impending EU regulation of it), we will likely see even more stakeholders collaborating on ever more data protection projects in the coming years. For IT teams, this is not an opportunity to delegate responsibility, but is a chance to get into the heart of the organisational conversation, working on board-visible projects, and helping to shape the future of their company for decades to come.