Information security is a complicated, ever-changing, multi-pronged effort for corporations, which means it is something that needs to be governed by the highest levels of the organization.

“Information security governance,” however, can be an esoteric term difficult to understand at a practical level. This article will unpack what the term means and how CISOs can implement such governance – and to begin, it’s essential to understand the difference between governance and management.

Management is day-to-day decision-making about business processes and operations. It’s the nuts and bolts of running a business unit, implementing policies, and assuring that everyone has the necessary tools to do their jobs. Information security management is about running backups, monitoring cloud computing services, and checking firewalls; it’s the majority of the everyday work of your IT department.

Governance is the set of broad principles and values that guide your organization’s management. It is about the vision, mission, and values of your business. Corporate governance is the soul of your business; it keeps everyone on track and helps you reach your goals, even as those goals shift and evolve over time.

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Understanding Information Security Governance

Information security governance plays a vital role in business today. It allows you to show potential business partners that you have a structure and process that guides your information security decisions and incident responses. As a result, you are running a tight ship and not leaving anything up to chance.

That quality makes a business more attractive to its customer base. It gives you a competitive advantage over rivals that don’t use good governance to manage their IT security needs.

Five core components of information security governance

We can define information security governance by its five basic components. Regardless of your precise governance principles or security strategy, any such effort should include the following.

  1. Provide an organizational structure that constantly works to improve data protection. Information security management includes risk management, which we can define as (1) identifying poor practices for handling information that should be avoided and (2) having a plan for mitigating security incidents and managing new or unexpected information security risks.
  2. Ensure business continuity in case of security breaches or other cybersecurity events. This protects the value of your business investments, as well as your business reputation.
  3. Define security measures to assure business needs have the highest priority, and monitor how employees follow those steps. Compile metrics and make sure your security practices are easy to understand and apply, no matter where in the business they are needed. Remember: any security control is only as reasonable as the metrics you collect from it.
  4. Make sure your business stays in compliance with regulatory requirements and other standards. Here are some common information security governance frameworks that will help you stay in compliance; pick the one that applies to your business:
    • National Institute for Security and Technology (NIST) publication 800-53
    • International Organization for Standardization 27001 (also known as ISO 27001)
    • Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT)
    • Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
    • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
  5. Protect and communicate your information security standards both internally to staff and externally to potential business partners. All stakeholders must be involved in the governance process, from boards of directors through executive management and on to each staffer.

Why Is Information Security Governance Important?

The working environment for corporations today looks very different from what it did in the past. For example, remote work is far more common (thank you, Covid-19), which dramatically expands the “attack surface” corporate security teams need to protect. Cybersecurity attacks have also become more common and more threatening, as seen by ransomware attacks that can leave a corporation paralyzed.

Such a complicated security landscape needs a disciplined, rigorous approach to keep your IT systems running, your confidential data secure, and your operations in compliance with regulatory obligations. Companies that only use a piecemeal, ad hoc approach to security are almost destined to fall behind peers that instill strategic planning and transparency across their security efforts.

How to Implement Information Security Governance

Information security governance is the purview of an organization’s board of directors and executive management. The foremost player is the chief information security officer (CISO), who implements the governance strategy.

First, remember that information security governance is part of cybersecurity and IT governance, and it addresses typical IT security issues such as data breaches, security policies, and mitigation of security incidents. It’s natural to begin implementation in the IT and cybersecurity departments, but you must go beyond those departments to encompass your entire business enterprise. Every stakeholder should be informed and included in shaping security policies as they are being developed.

If you’re uncertain how to structure your governance system, you can get help from the IT Governance Institute, a branch of ISACA (previously known as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association).

How Information Security Governance Works

As you grow and shape your information security governance program, senior management and staff should work together to identify information assets and security risks related to your IT systems. That information lets management set the strategic direction for implementing the governance system.

For example, if you document many, severe risks from third parties, the board might direct management to rely on fewer third parties. Or if you document an abundance of personally identifiable information that serves little business purpose, management might decide to strengthen data destruction policies.

Those conversations increase security awareness across the enterprise and help create an information security strategy aligned with business objectives. All this effort, however, is worth little if you don’t collect feedback on the information security program to understand which practices do or don’t work well and to assess new risks as those threats emerge. Getting everyone involved has to become part of your business strategy.

A robust information security governance strategy will help create an information security policy that highlights cybersecurity issues and help you develop measures to improve overall organizational security awareness.

Discover the Full Power of RiskOptics

If you are looking for a new information security governance platform, RiskOptics is here to help. The RiskOptics ROAR Platform is an intuitive, easy-to-understand compliance and risk platform that keeps track of emerging compliance and risk issues that may impact your business and helps you identify high-risk areas with more structure and governance needed.

Worry-free information security governance is the RiskOptics way. Contact us for a demo today for more information on how RiskOptics can enable your governance strategy.

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