Modern organizations operate in a challenging threat landscape. It’s impossible to eliminate all the threats that might affect their systems, data, or people, but organizations can minimize the possibility that these threats result in catastrophic damages.

This is where strong cybersecurity and robust cybersecurity governance come in. Cybersecurity and cybersecurity governance go hand in hand because both are required to address and mitigate cyber risks.

But what is cybersecurity governance? How does it differ from cybersecurity management? How can organizations set up an effective cybersecurity governance process?

Read on for the answers to all these questions.

What Is Cybersecurity Governance?

Research firm Gartner defines security governance (or cybersecurity governance) as a “process for overseeing the cybersecurity teams who are responsible for mitigating business risks”. Cybersecurity governance determines how organizations prevent, detect, and respond to cyber threats and cyberattacks. That’s why it is critical for proper risk and security management.

Effective cybersecurity governance focuses on risk management and security awareness to reduce the size of the risk landscape. It helps the organization to define its risk appetite and oversee risk mitigation activities. A strong governance program also creates an accountability framework and defines who is responsible for making the decisions that assure adequate risk mitigation.

A proper cybersecurity governance system will assure that the organization’s cybersecurity program aligns with its business objectives. Good governance will provide a strategic view of how enterprise security is controlled, and help the company achieve its cybersecurity and risk management goals.

The Importance of Cybersecurity Governance

Historically, cybersecurity was viewed as a technical or operational issue rather than an enterprise-wide concern. Most companies also manage cybersecurity risk simply by implementing standard cybersecurity frameworks. Their tendency to view cybersecurity as a back-office function, rather than to define a comprehensive cybersecurity approach, often results in inadequate responses to cyber threats.

Cyber governance provides a more pragmatic approach to govern cybersecurity risk that is aligned with enterprise risk, privacy requirements, and the law. It enables proper risk prioritization and informs security efforts based on business priorities and strategic goals.

When a robust governance process is in place, organizations can effectively mitigate identified risks, address threats, and meet their regulatory and compliance responsibilities. They also view cybersecurity as an enterprise risk management issue.

The C-suite can set the right strategy and “tone at the top” for the cybersecurity program. Doing this assures that everyone in the enterprise works towards the same goals: to protect the company’s assets within its risk management context and security strategy.

Moreover, cyber governance eliminates the need to adhere rigidly to an existing cybersecurity standard by the ISO or NIST. Instead, the organization can adapt these standards and set its own cybersecurity direction, based on the organization’s unique business context.

Good governance also supports a thoughtful, principles-based approach that allows for the:

  • Regular testing and security updates of processes and infrastructure
  • Quick recognition of cybersecurity incidents and fast incident response
  • Flagging and analysis of newly identified risks
  • Integration of risk and control activities
  • Collection of high-quality assessment data for future security refinements
  • Development of a future-focused cybersecurity awareness mindset

Cybersecurity Management vs. Cybersecurity Governance

“Cybersecurity governance” and “cybersecurity management” are often used interchangeably, even though the two are different ideas.

Cybersecurity management refers to the day-to-day “operationalized” approach to security. It is about defining, building, and strengthening security controls to protect the organization from cyberattacks.

Governance emphasizes strategic planning. It goes beyond building security controls to increasing accountability, determining who is authorized to make security decisions, and assuring that all cybersecurity activities support overall strategic goals.

Cybersecurity management is concerned with recommending security strategies and mitigating risks. It is about the implementation of cybersecurity controls, policy enforcement, short-term planning, and resource usage.

Governance provides an oversight and accountability framework to ensure that: 1) risks are adequately mitigated; 2) every part of the cybersecurity program has an owner; and 3) security strategies align with business objectives and compliance regulations. It is mainly about establishing accountability, strategic planning, resource allocation and optimization, policy enactment, and overseeing cybersecurity controls.

A 5-Step Process to Implement a Cybersecurity Governance Program

It’s important to implement the cybersecurity governance program thoughtfully. An effective program can help to decrease the organization’s risk, while a slipshod program can increase risk, result in a sub-par decision-making process, and reduce accountability.

Here is a five-step process that can help organizations to establish and optimize their cybersecurity governance programs:

Step 1. Get top-level and enterprise-wide commitment

Successful cybersecurity governance needs both a strong tone from the top and an enterprise-wide lens. To this end, senior leaders should be committed to governance, including the chief information security officer (CISO), CEO, and board members. They should assure that the governance plan:

  • Fits strategic goals
  • Is aligned with enterprise risk management
  • Is fully documented and available across the organization

They should also communicate clearly, to the entire workforce, that attention to cybersecurity is important.

Step 2. Assess the current state

Before setting up a program, first understand what that program is meant to do or improve; perform a cybersecurity risk assessment to determine and prioritize security gaps, threats, and vulnerabilities. Based on this assessment, create a roadmap to close the gaps and adopt a “security by design” approach to strengthen security controls.

Step 3. Define policies and goals

The best place to start creating the roadmap is to define the risk management goals upfront. During this step, the organization should also:

  • Clarify the acceptable level of risk and how this level will be maintained
  • Establish KPIs to measure the success of the governance program
  • Communicate the policies and goals to relevant stakeholders

Step 4. Standardize your processes and workflows

Standardized processes, workflows, and standard operating procedures can reduce the risk of errors or oversight. They can also help simplify cybersecurity and risk management by eliminating the need to monitor and protect a patchwork of different solutions or systems (devices, software, applications, and so forth).

Step 5. Enforce the plan and regularly measure governance performance

After setting the governance goals, standardizing enterprise processes, and getting enterprise-wide commitment, the board of directors or C-suite should designate someone to enforce and oversee the governance program.

The top brass should also measure and monitor the program’s performance using the KPIs and metrics identified earlier. Regular assessments are vital to measure what matters and create a plan to strengthen the organization’s security posture.

The organization’s security culture and hygiene also affect its cybersecurity and cyber governance. That’s why it’s crucial to increase cybersecurity awareness with regular training at every level of the enterprise.

3 Major Challenges to Cyber Governance

Many organizations successfully define a cybersecurity approach to protect their intellectual property and information systems in an expanding threat landscape. They face multiple challenges, however, while implementing and enforcing cybersecurity governance.

Lack of cybersecurity strategy and goals

A long-term cybersecurity strategy is a high-level roadmap describing how the organization will maintain or improve its risk management approach. Without this strategy, it’s impossible to implement a strong enterprise-level policy to manage risk and protect the organization.

Most companies struggle to develop the strategy because they fail to:

  • Understand how cybersecurity risk relates to business operations
  • Identify cybersecurity needs
  • Define the program’s scope and objectives
  • Determine resource requirements
  • Determine their risk appetite

Lack of standardized, repeatable processes

Standardized business processes assure a shared understanding and consistent management of risks throughout the enterprise. Without standardized processes, the cybersecurity governance program is likely to be ad-hoc and ineffective, leading to increased data breaches and cybercrime.

Lack of resources, enforcement, oversight, and accountability

Adequate resources are vital to set up a strong governance model and effective security program that align with the cybersecurity strategy and goals. A lack of resources is usually the result of talent shortages, funding unavailability, or poor resource planning.

Another common challenge is the lack of senior leadership support and a strong tone at the top. Both these shortcomings can result in risk management and governance failure. A failure to enforce governance and accountability across all personnel levels also affects the effectiveness and performance of the governance program.

It’s vital to understand and address these challenges to establish and maintain an effective cyber governance program.

Improve Cyber Governance with Reciprocity ROAR

Cybersecurity is not an easy endeavor, and neither is cybersecurity governance. As we have seen, organizations struggle with several challenges that affect their governance capabilities and performance.

Reciprocity ROAR enables enterprises to simplify and improve cyber governance. This all-in-one platform for risk management, compliance, audits, and governance provides a single, integrated experience across all these initiatives.

With ROAR, security, risk, and compliance teams can see information security risk across the business. Greater visibility improves risk management and governance and helps mitigate business exposure.

Schedule a demo to try Reciprocity ROAR for yourself.