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Cybersecurity Playbook for Management: Maturity Modeling

For professional baseball players who get paid millions to swing a bat, going through a slump is daunting. The mere thought of a slump conjures up frustration, anxiety and humiliation, and in extreme cases, the possibility of job loss.

The concept of a slump transcends sports. Just glance at the recent headlines about Yahoo, Equifax, Deloitte, and the Democratic National Committee. Data breaches occur on a regular basis. Like a baseball team experiencing a downswing, these organizations need to make adjustments, tough decisions, and major changes. Most importantly, they need to realize that cybersecurity is no longer the exclusive domain of Chief Information Security Officers and IT departments. Cybersecurity is the responsibility of all employees and managers: it takes a team.

When a cybersecurity breach occurs, people tend to focus on what goes wrong at the technical level. They often fail to see that cybersecurity begins at the strategic level. With this in mind, I am writing a blog series to outline the activities managers need to take to properly oversee cybersecurity, and remind readers that good cybersecurity takes a top-down approach. Consider the series a cybersecurity playbook for management. This Q&A blog — chapter 1 — highlights a basic concept of maturity modeling.

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is a maturity model?

RG: A maturity model is a framework that assesses certain elements in an organization, and provides direction to improve these elements. There are project management, quality management, and cybersecurity maturity models.

Cybersecurity maturity modeling is used to set a cybersecurity target for management. It’s like creating and following an individual development program. It provides definitive steps to take to reach a maturity level that you’re comfortable with — both from a staffing perspective, and from a financial perspective. It’s a logical road map to make a business or organization more secure.

What are some well-known maturity models that agencies and companies use?

RG: One of the first, and most popular is the Program Review for Information Security Management Assistance (PRISMA), still in use today. Another is the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) model, which focuses on technology. Then there are some commercial maturity models, such as the Gartner Maturity Model, that organizations can pay to use.

The model I prefer is the Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model (C2M2), developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. I like C2M2 because it directly maps to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) compliance, which is a prominent industry standard. C2M2 is easily understandable and digestible, it scales to the size of the organization, and it is constantly updated to reflect the most recent U.S. government standards. So, it’s relevant to today’s operational environment.

Communication is one of C2M2’s strengths. Because there is a mechanism in the model requiring management to engage and support the technical staff, it facilitates communication and feedback at not just the operational level, but at the tactical level, and more significantly, the management level, where well-designed security programs start.

What’s the difference between processed-based and capability-based models?

RG: Processed-based models focus on performance or technical aspects — for example, how mature are processes for access controls? Capability-based models focus on management aspects — is management adequately training people to manage access controls?

C2M2 combines the two approaches. It provides practical steps your organization can take, both operationally and strategically. Not only does it provide the technical team with direction on what to do on a daily basis to help ensure cybersecurity, it also provides management with direction to help ensure that strategic goals are achieved.

Looking at the bigger picture, what does an organization look like from a managerial point of view?

RG: First, a mature organization communicates effectively. Management knows what is going on in their environment.

Most of them have very competent staff. However, staff members don’t always coordinate with others. I once did some security work for a company that had an insider threat. The insider threat was detected and dismissed from the company, but management didn’t know the details of why or how the situation occurred. Had there been an incident response plan in place (one of the dimensions C2M2 measures) — or even some degree of cybersecurity maturity in the company, they would’ve had clearly defined steps to take to handle the insider threat, and management would have been aware from an early stage. When management did find out about the insider threat, it became a much bigger issue than it had to be, and wasted time and resources. At the same time, the insider threat exposed the company to a high degree of risk. Because upper management was unaware, they were unable to make a strategic decision on how to act or react to the threat.

That’s the beauty of C2M2. It takes into account the responsibilities of both technical staff and management, and has a built-in communication plan that enables the team to work proactively instead of reactively, and shares cybersecurity initiatives between both management and technical staff.

Second, management in a mature organization knows they can’t protect everything in the environment — but they have a keen awareness of what is really important. Maturity modeling forces management to look at operations and identify what is critical and what really needs to be protected. Once management knows what is important, they can better align resources to meet particular challenges.

Third, in a mature organization, management knows they have a vital role to play in supporting the staff who address the day-to-day operational and technical tasks that ultimately support the organization’s cybersecurity strategy.

What types of businesses, not-for-profits, and government agencies should practice maturity modeling?

RG: All of them. I’ve been in this industry a long time, and I always hear people say: “We’re too small; no one would take any interest in us.”

I conducted some work for a four-person firm that had been hired by the U.S. military. My company discovered that the firm had a breach and the four of them couldn’t believe it because they thought they were too small to be breached. It doesn’t matter what the size of your company is: if you have something someone finds very valuable, they’re going to try to steal it. Even very small companies should use cybersecurity models to reduce risk and help focus their limited resources on what is truly important. That’s maturity modeling: reducing risk by using approaches that make the most sense for your organization.

What’s management’s big takeaway?

RG: Cybersecurity maturity modeling aligns your assets with your funding and resources. One of the most difficult challenges for every organization is finding and retaining experienced security talent. Because maturity modeling outlines what expertise is needed where, it can help match the right talent to roles that meet the established goals.

So what’s next?

RG: In our next installment, we’ll analyze what a successful maturity modeling effort looks like. We’ll discuss the approach, what the outcome should be, and who should be involved in the process. We’ll discuss internal and external cybersecurity assessments, and incident response and recovery.

To find out when we post our next cybersecurity playbook article, please sign up to receive updates here.

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