Like everyone today, our elections officials have to grapple with technological changes. And with those changes comes emerging security concerns. Take the 2020 democratic Iowa caucus, for example. The Iowa Democratic Party decided to use a new app to record results of the caucus that ended up causing a myriad of problems, delaying the results and sparking a controversy about the party’s use of the app. As more states begin to digitalize the election process, election security has become a topic of national concern. Of course, the stakes of an incident is probably not as high for a business as, say, protecting the democratic process. However, when looking at a case with such high stakes, incidents in our elections can clarify what we expect not only from our government but also what consumers expect from companies, and what organizations need to be taking seriously. Here are just three areas from which business can learn from the issues surrounding election security.
The first thing that business and election security officials have in common is the need to maintain public trust. One of the biggest concerns with digitalizing our elections is, if something goes wrong with the technology, it may harm the public’s trust in the voting process. This was certainly the case in Iowa this year. Despite the party’s assurance that even with the app down the results of the caucus could be accurately counted, disinformation and confusion quickly spread online.
That said, who even needs election interference to mess with a caucus if the app simply doesn’t work to begin with?
It’s not difficult to see how businesses can apply these election security concerns to their organizations. A public security issue with a produce or service could severely impact a business’s reputation and can be extremely difficult to repair. Consumers may feel like their privacy could be at risk and that your business doesn’t have their best interest in mind. To combat this, besides actively securing consumer data, businesses should be as transparent as possible with consumers about the organization’s cybersecurity efforts.
Soon after the Iowa caucus, it become abundantly clear that the app developers and the Iowa Democratic Party made a number of mistakes that lead to the problems on caucus night. For example, before the night of the caucus, the app was only tested internally, with no external review. The IDP even declined an offer from Homeland Security to review the app before roll out. Developers also didn’t have time to get the app approved through app stores, so required users to download the app through testing software, effectively by-passing the need to meet the security requirements from app stores.
The list of ways that the rollout was mismanaged goes on and on. However, this only highlights the need for business management to be involved in ensuring proper cybersecurity best practices are followed through the entire product lifecycle, from initial development, to implementation, and on going maintenance.
Businesses should also look at how election security officials respond—or, perhaps more accurately, don’t respond— to issues that arise. Without a proper response plan in place, problems could worsen and cause enough confusion to allow disinformation about the issue to spread. And that’s exactly what happened in Iowa. As the problem with the Iowa caucus came to light, instead of deploying a carefully planned incident response, the whole night turned into chaos and confusion, as caucus leaders sat on hold for hours to deliver results or even text pictures of their tallies to party headquarters.
This example shows just how necessary it is for businesses to have a proper incident response plan in place. This should involve sitting down with business leaders, IT staff, and other relevant employees to write out a detailed response for every incident that could arise. With a plan in place, businesses should also conduct regular incident response simulations, by asking the response team to test their plan for each possible incident. Responding to an incident quickly and efficiently will not only help limit the impact of the issue, but could help show regulatory bodies your proactive stance to cyber incidents, and even save your business money.
With the general election looming, election security officials are working hard to ensure no problems arise on election day. Hopefully, come November there won’t be any lessons for businesses to learn from.
Today business leaders are rightfully concerned about mitigating their organization’s cyber risks. To address this concern, many businesses have begun to hire chief security information officers to allow for security leadership from the highest levels within an organizations. But unfortunately, old habits die hard. Instead of integrating CSIO into both cybersecurity and business conversations, many of these security leaders have become siloed from broader business strategy and goals. Of course, this also leaves the executive team under informed about the nature and scope of their organization’s cyber risk profile.
One of the main tenants of a new security principle, cyber resiliency, stresses the need to integrate approaches to security and business in order for either side to succeed. In fact, organizations should even stop thinking of business and security as two opposing side of an equation and instead learn to see and promote the integration of each with the other. However, this will require both security experts and businesses leaders to put in some work.
Business-Aligned Security Leaders
A recent report by Forrester found that just four out of ten security leaders can answer the question, “How secure/at risk are we?” and less than half frequently consult business leaders before developing security strategies. This, to put it lightly, is a big problem. If security leaders are just focused on implementing and maintaining technical controls, they end up missing the bigger picture of the risk culture that surrounds those controls. It is vitally important for security teams to understand an organization’s business-critical assets and work with leadership to develop a risk mitigation plan that prioritizes those assets.
Cybersecurity teams also need to be able to communicate their needs to business leadership. According to the Forrester report, more than half of security leaders lack adequate skills in benchmarking their security programs. In order to integrate cybersecurity and business needs, security teams need to develop benchmarking and risk reports that they can properly communicate to business executives. Taking a more business-oriented approach to security can also help security leaders advocate for the funds they need to reduce risk.
Cyber-Aligned Business Leaders
Of course, in order for security leaders to effectively integrate business strategy into overall cybersecurity goals, the business executives and board members need to regularly meet and communicate with their security team. To ensure this happens, it’s important for board members to assume ultimate responsibility for oversight of the organization’s security and to integrate cybersecurity discussions into the overall business strategy, risk management, and budgeting. It may even be a good idea to require cybersecurity training for all board members to ensure everyone has a proper understanding of the current threat landscape and regulations.
With a focus on outcomes, training, and a security team able to communicate benchmarks and risk reports, board members will be in a position to properly define the organization’s cyber risk tolerance that is consistent with business strategy andcurrent cybersecurity controls. Board members and executives teams must ensure the organization’s risk appetite is communicated throughout all levels of the organization and that they create a culture that reflects the cybersecurity and business interests of the organization. Many of these recommendations are included in a white paper from the World Economic Forum that details 10 essential principles and tools for boards to better integrate cyber resiliency with overall business strategy.
Today, most organizations understand the importance of maintaining an effective cybersecurity program. However, not many businesses are recognizing the interdependence of cybersecurity and business interests. And it’s a two way street. Both cybersecurity leaders and business executive and board members need to be mindful about taking a more holistic approach to cybersecurity and business for either to be effective.
Cybersecurity tools are important for lowering the risk of a data breach. However, if those tools are put in place without considering business outcomes, it can harm organizational goals and even, in some cases, cost lives. In the healthcare industry, for example, steps taken to recover from a data breach can lead to a drop in the quality of care. However, no matter the industry, if cybersecurity tools and businesses goals are not aligned, there will almost always be negative consequences for that business.
A study published last year in the Health Services Research Journal found that after a hospital experienced a data breach there was, on average, an additional 36 deaths from heart attacks per 10,000 patients. One of the main factors that contributes to this is a delay in treatment because of new security policies following a breach. Common tools used after a breach include additional sign-in measures such as multi-factor authentication, or automatic logout after a period of inactivity. So if someone comes into a hospital with chest pain, for example, these extra security measures delay the ability for doctors and nurses to register the patient and access health records. This is especially important to consider now, given that hacks against the healthcare industry have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Of course, this isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be any additional security measures in place after a breach Instead, the point is that it is important to align cybersecurity processes with overall business goals — even when the stakes aren’t as high as saving a life. The key is to begin with your desired business outcomes and look at the cybersecurity risks that can negatively impact those goals. Then, only once you know your specific risks do you design or apply tools that limit those risks without negatively impacting the business. This requires strong governance and communication between IT and business leadership. Failure to focus on the interplay between cybersecurity and business goals both weakens the security posture and weakens business outcomes. And that’s not a prescription for a healthy strategy.
With COVID-19, all businesses are getting their bearings in uncharted territory. Trying to work through the changing restrictions. Managing remote work forces. Adapting to changing client needs.
As you go through your business continuity checklist or contingency plans, don’t forget to include your suppliers and related third parties in your considerations. You might have the resources to weather this, but do they? And, if a critical vendor to your supply chain is unable to deliver what does that do to your ability to deliver?
Make sure you take the time to evaluate your supply chain. If you haven’t done so already, at minimum, take these steps:
Prioritize your supply chain vendors: Go through all your vendors and ask yourself what would happen to your business if the vendor could not deliver. Prioritize each vendor based on the risk they pose to you should their commitments fall through.
Get on the phone with your highest risk vendors. Talk with them about this current situation. Learn what strategies they have in place to respond to any potential disruptions to their workforce, operations or critical third-parties they have. Get details and be prepared to probe as if they were part of your business. Because, after all, they are.
Treat those vendors like a partner. At this point, you need each other. Be prepared to restructure deals or assist in other ways to help your vendor keep up its commitments. It will help you keep clients and pay off in spades down the road.
Don’t let quality control fall by the wayside. When stretched, certain things might fall short. However, at the end of the day, you want to make sure you are delivering a reliable product to your customers. Make sure you continue to do the right things to ensure your vendors are providing a quality product.
Make contingencies. Some vendors will be there with you and for you (and you for them). Some will not be able to. It’s important to review the contractual commitments you have and to explore alternatives. It may not be easy to switch horses in mid-stream, especially when the stream is raging, but you may not have any choice.
Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach, meaning that it is critical to focus on making sure it is well provisioned. One could say that a company, indeed the entire the economy, marches on its supply chain. Make sure you understand where it is strong and especially where it is weak.
The time you spend with your supply chain might make all the difference.