Engaging the C-Suite on Information Security


The ever-increasing threat of cyber-attacks on organisations around the world and their potentially devastating financial, reputational, or operational impact on the business means it has never been more important to position Cyber Security as a major issue in front of the C-Suite. The C-Suite holds ultimate accountability for an organisation’s approach to risk in both setting the appetite for Cyber risk for the business and ensuring sufficient budget & resource is assigned to manage Cyber risk to within the appetite. If they are not appropriately informed of the risks associated with Information Security (IS), the organisation may not put in place the correct and appropriate mitigations to protect the organization from their top threats and risks.

Failure to effectively protect against these cyber threats can have both organisational and personal consequences for executives. For example, The Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMR) is an FCA enforced regulation that assigns responsibility for Information Security to executive level employees, making them liable for correct implementation of cyber protections for IS.

This article will provide you with a 4-stage approach on how to better engage the C-Suite in your organisation on Information Security, to build a fruitful partnership between these executives who direct budget & resource towards Information Security and the Cyber teams who are responsible for the oversight & implementation of security.

Stage 1: Introducing the Execs to Cyber Security

In this first session with the C-Suite, it is imperative that you initiate the conversation by focusing on an introduction to Cyber Security that provides an overarching view of the organisation’s Cyber Security capabilities and operating model, that will encourage future more in-depth discussion.

Outline the responsibilities the organisation and executives have towards Information Security and how these align with the strategic priorities of the organisation & Cyber team. This should include a presentation of the top threats to the organization (both internal & external), the risks that they expose the organisation to and the existing roadmap to mitigating these risks. This will provide a high-level overview of the organisation’s Cyber capability and will set the tone ready for future conversations with the C-Suite.

Provide an overview showing the blueprint for Information Security and how security integrates and adds value to the rest of the business. It is important to include metrics that can be used to compare the organisation’s approach to Cyber Security against peers within the market. A difference in budget or team size compared to a competitor can provide guidance on whether the organisation is assigning adequate resources and budget to the issue. 

Stage 2: 360 Audit

After successfully introducing the C-Suite to Information Security, it is now essential that you lock in that second session where you can provide a more granular breakdown of the organisation’s Cyber Security capability with a clear focus on where resources need to be focussed.

Industry standard frameworks, such as ISO and NIST, should be deployed to measure an organisation’s Cyber Security maturity and provide analysis on potential improvements that can be presented to the C-Suite executives. These frameworks offer controls against which the organisation can be benchmarked, to identify areas that require maturing to mitigate risk from the organisation’s top threats. While these frameworks in their original state offer a good measurement of maturity, it is important to refine the controls so that the framework is tailored towards the organisation, taking into consideration the industry sector and regulatory environment. Wavestone recommends taking the NIST framework as a basis and fitting it to the specific stakes of the organisation to overcome any framework limitation and focus it on the businesses’ needs.

Wavestone have built our own framework, called the Cyber Benchmark, that leverages the best of industry frameworks to provide a comprehensive approach to maturity assessment with organisational & technological perspectives included. We recommend organisations follow a similar approach to accelerate their framework improvements to increasing their Cyber maturity.

Capturing the attention of senior executives to invest time & resources into developing a framework to improve Cyber maturity can be difficult. A good methodology is to provide real life evidence of their security vulnerabilities, for example by presenting evidence of how an internal ‘Red Team’ gained access to the mailboxes of the senior executives present, with an explanation of how few days it took. 

Stage 3: Programme and Framework

Once this more granular breakdown has been presented, a key priority must be to ensure the C-Suite has bought into the Cyber Security strategy & roadmap; developed using the maturity improvement opportunities identified through the framework assessment. Buy in from the C-Suite on the roadmap will guarantee the required funding & resources required to implement these enhancements.

Using the customised framework, develop a roadmap that focuses on maturing controls that will most effectively reduce the risk from the organisation’s top threats. This roadmap will become the building blocks for the security programme. The security programme should be defined so that it provides clear targets to be met to ensure compliance with the customised framework controls, beginning with a remediation approach that will guarantee a standard Cyber maturity across the organisation, and followed by steps to achieve the Cyber maturity goals. Ensuring a standard maturity across the organisation will alleviate the risk from current threats, while building on this to achieve maturity targets will reduce the potential risk from over-the-horizon threats.

Programme support can be leveraged from a specialised Project Management Office (PMO) that will supervise the execution of the programme. It is important that this PMO curates a good relationship between IT who will implement the roadmap to maturity and the business, so that the benefits are understood and extracted across the organisation.

Stage 4: Risk Quantification and Business Accelerators

The final stage of engaging with the C-Suite requires you to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) that Cyber Security can deliver, both through risk reduction from top threats and as a business enabler that encourages expansion into new territories and engaging new client relationships.

Implementing the appropriate customised framework to the organisation and following the established roadmap to Cyber Security maturity will require an increased budget allocation. However, it is important to emphasise to the board that the return on this investment will far exceed the initial cost due to a dramatic decrease in the scale and severity of risk that the organisation is exposed to. Use calculations to demonstrate this Return on Investment (ROI) quantitively and link this to the efforts and changes delivered by the security programme. It should also be explained that this initial outlay required to deliver the security programme is far less than the potential financial, reputational, and personal (e.g., SMR) repercussions that would result from a failure to adequately protect information systems during a cyber-attack.

As well as preventing the serious repercussions of failing to protect information systems in an attack, Cyber Security can also become an important business enabler. Effective Cyber Security will ensure that your customers are retained in the event of a properly managed security breach, as well as confirming your organisation as a secure manager of customer data & details, increasing your attractiveness to new customers. A secure organisation can move swiftly into new business environments & seize opportunities with confidence that their Cyber Security maturity will be able to resist potential additional threats that may arise from this expansion; opening the door for the organisation to safely engage a wider client base.


Following the 4-stages outlined in this article will allow you to foster a strong relationship with the C-Suite on Information Security, ensuring they are aware of their responsibilities for Cyber Security under the SMR and that they assign budget & resources appropriately to deal with the top threats facing the organisation. The customised framework will allow these executives to understand the current Cyber Security posture of the organisation and buy in to the roadmap for future maturity. Once this vision of mature Cyber Security has been delivered, the business incentives can be leveraged to ensure the C-Suite continues to invest in developing Information Security within your organisation.

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