Reassessing IT Security in Professional Services: A Board-Level Imperative
November 30th, 2023
Doing “the basics” is not enough
The landscape of IT security has shifted significantly, yet a sense of apathy remains, rooted in the scaremongering sales tactics of the past decade. Today’s reality is starkly different: every firm and individual is a potential target, and the consequences of lax security are not just damaging but potentially catastrophic, leading to public embarrassment, hefty fines, and severe business disruptions.
Alarmingly, many professional services firms are not adhering to even the basic tenets of Cyber Essentials, a fundamental cybersecurity framework. Worse still, some firms rest on the mistaken belief that compliance with such frameworks alone guarantees security. Cyber Essentials really is ‘just the basics’ – not a badge of being secure.
Technical controls like advanced firewalls and detection systems are prevalent but often give a false sense of security. The analogy of a fortress with an open back window is apt; firms have robust protections in certain areas but unknown critical vulnerabilities in others. The security measures are not as integrated and comprehensive as they should be.
A glaring gap in many firms is the absence of a solid GRC framework and an Information Security Management System (ISMS). IT security is not just about technology; it’s about ongoing processes, risk management, evaluations, reporting, and testing.
Implementing an ISMS, particularly one aligned with ISO 27001, is essential for establishing a strong cybersecurity posture. Utilising key elements of this standard can significantly bolster a firm’s defence against cyber threats, even if you don’t certify against the standard. There’s no reason why every firm shouldn’t at least have a risk register and details of the security controls associated with countering those risks. It seems odd not to do it when you understand how much common sense it makes.
Despite the technical aspects of cybersecurity, the problem is not confined to the IT department, it is a challenge that must be tackled at the board level. Many firms still erroneously view Information Security and Cyber Security as IT issues when they are, in fact, most certainly broad organisational concerns.
It is vital for the business and IT to have a clear understanding of the organisation’s risk posture; identifying all risks faced by the business and the controls necessary to manage them. Regrettably, this level of understanding is often absent within a number of IT and business leadership teams, leading to insufficient risk management strategies. As an example, I’d argue that a significant number of firms don’t appropriately assess the security of their supply chain. This is almost as if they’ve delegated accountability to their suppliers for their firm’s operation; that’s a big statement to make i.e. ‘we are going to close our eyes and hope they’ve got it under control’.
The issue is compounded as many IT teams are currently overwhelmed in firms. They were historically tasked with maintaining operations but are now also burdened with managing numerous transformation projects post-COVID, along with a vast information security landscape to get control of. Many are really struggling, yet the board won’t assign the necessary focus or budget to really get hold of it.
Professional services firms must urgently re-evaluate their approach to IT security, transitioning from outdated perceptions to a holistic, board-level governance model. This shift is critical not just for the integrity of their IT infrastructure but for the survival and competitiveness of the firm in an increasingly digitized and threat-prone world.
In response to the demands of professional service firms, QuoStar’s CISO service has been built to manage all of the key areas highlighted, from the ground up. It’s a comprehensive support service to give the IT team and the firm’s board real confidence that they are managing cyber security appropriately and effectively. In addition, it delivers:
- Ongoing senior IT security leadership and guidance.
- IASME or ISO 27001 implemented and managed (if desired).
- The ability to effectively manage and respond to cyber-security threats.
- A defined, ongoing roadmap for cyber-security protection.
- All key documentation, policies and processes agreed and in place.
- All key parties engaged in security standards implementation.
- An overall definition of cyber-security strategy and tactics.
- All key stakeholders understand the business objectives.
- The ability to formally evidence management of cyber-security
- Continual review & evaluation of the threat landscape to control your risk profile.
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