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Mastering Art and Science Is Imperative for CISOs to Be Successful



Mastering Art and Science Is Imperative for CISOs to Be Successful
Board meeting, CISO, leadership

IT experts rise to the rank of chief information security officer (CISO) because they have mastered the science and engineering involved in that discipline. But for a CISO to thrive, leadership skills are critical. And leadership is an art.

By Prasad Jayaraman, Principal, Advisory at KPMG

Blending the science of technology with the art of leadership is the challenge facing many CISOs, who are regularly thrust into the spotlight as companies continually deal with cybersecurity threats and events. Indeed, 81% of CISOs report to a firm’s board of directors at least annually; most do so every quarter.1

If that is not exactly what you signed up for when you got into computer science or IT, and you are feeling the stress of this high-profile position, you are not alone. The overwhelming majority of CISOs (88%) are “moderately” or “tremendously” stressed in their job – and why not? Two-thirds (66%) said their organization had at least one security breach in the past 12 months. Plus, they feel the pressure of performance, as 97% of their C-suite stakeholders believe IT security should deliver more value for the cost.2

While the demands on a CISO are considerable, the job can be more satisfying and less stressful when CISOs work to refine the “art” part of their responsibilities: leadership. And many of the leadership qualities and skills that can breed success (and less stress) for CISOs can be learned, practiced, and mastered.

Five CISO Leadership Attributes

As CISOs, CIOs, and other technology leaders gain more importance within organizations, they also undergo more scrutiny as expectations for their roles continue to rise and expand. Not only are they expected to guide and oversee a critical element of the business, but they also do this with the realization that their performance plays a key role in the organization’s reputation.

Central to their responsibilities is helping their organizations gain and maintain the trust of stakeholders, something we have coined as “The Trust Imperative.” The importance of this cannot be overstated. As we see it, trust is the ultimate business enabler. When enterprises inspire trust in all their stakeholders, they create a platform for better business performance – including responsible growth, bold innovation, and sustainable advances in performance and efficiency.

To succeed against this challenge, CISOs must inspire confidence, help strike a pragmatic balance between threat and opportunity, and demonstrate the ROI on their recommendations – in short, they must emerge as respected and integral company leaders. But trust is hard-earned and easily lost. And nothing will break trust faster than a security breach. This leaves the CISO in a precarious position, shouldering outsized responsibility for the organization’s brand affinity.At KPMG, we have delved deeply into the technology leadership arena and unearthed what we believe are five key attributes that make a CISO or other technology executive a strong and effective leader – one who will help the company earn the trust that stakeholders seek.

1. Create value. While CISO and related cybersecurity roles are primarily created to address compliance issues and security, that mindset is evolving. The C-suite demands all functions generate active value, and IT (or broader) security is no different. That requires a broad view of risk to the organization and the courage to make hard choices.

According to a KPMG survey,4 CEOs are well aware of the importance of digital technologies in creating value for the company. Indeed, about two-thirds said they had plans to invest in disruption detection and innovation processes to spur growth, demanding new approaches to managing data and information risk.

The key to this is determining the boundaries of digital security to enable growth and value without exposing the company to undue peril. CISOs who adroitly apply risk management to decision-making and recommendations will sync with their fellow business leaders.

2. Influence. While most corporate leaders have control of their budget and infrastructure, the CISO depends on others to implement and embed security policies and standards. Yet, even if your budget is “owned” elsewhere, you will be measured – and appreciated for – the influence you and your teams have on the company as it strives to keep cyber threats at bay.

You need to understand how and when to use your influence to motivate, enact change or propel a project forward. This requires some skillful maneuvering. If you can positively influence stakeholders with recommendations that will benefit the organization, your leadership will be respected, and your influence will grow. When you raise concerns, they will be listened to, treated seriously, and acted upon.

Influence is such a critical leadership attribute that the KPMG Executive Leadership Institute for Women devotes a course to this topic, but its principles apply to leaders of any gender.

3. Willingly collaborate. The days of the IT security team working stealthily in a dark room, with little interaction with business leaders, are long over. While CISOs may often be seen as “servant leaders,” as they put the needs of the business divisions they serve, their true value will stem from their ability to be seen as true partners with their C-suite colleagues. Those who develop and exercise collaboration skills will earn a seat at the decision-making table that extends well beyond cyber events.

Moreover, CISOs must extend their influence and integration abilities outside the company’s four walls. An organization is truly safe from cyber threats only if its broader ecosystem is. So forging relationships with vendors and partners is a critical aspect of CISO function – especially since 79% of CEOs say that protecting the partner system and supply chain is just as important as building the company’s cyber defenses.5

4. Top off your tech skills. Sure, technology acumen is a given for the CISO job, just as mastering accounting and finance is for the CFO. But it is imperative to stay on top of your game. Cybersecurity is a mercurial field, and CISOs must keep abreast of the latest technology developments, threats, and compliance issues; when it comes to IT and data security, no one likes surprises – and you will be in the hot seat if one emerges.

5. Become immersed in the business. The CISO ultimately exists to protect the organization and the data, which is its lifeblood. To be the most effective CISO leader, you require understanding of the nuances of technology as well as the nuances of the industry in which your firm competes. The more you understand the business, the more you will be able to weave cybersecurity into the company’s DNA.

CISOs must speak the language of the C-suite and learn how to navigate company politics. It is the only way to build trust, be involved in forming consensus, and ensure your fellow leaders fully recognize how strategic decisions impact – and are impacted by – digital technology and cybersecurity.

Also see:

Today’s CISOs Wear Multiple Hats; The Role is Evolving

Build your Skills

So, now that we have identified some of the skills needed to be a successful CISO leader, the question remains: How do you acquire them?

That can be an especially vexing problem for IT natives who have little background in business management. But there are several tactics you can employ to acquire leadership techniques and the confidence to use of them.

An excellent place to start is to learn from more experienced leaders, be they in IT or other functional areas. Seek out a mentor, inside or outside your organization, who can serve as both a sounding board and a counselor as you face new and unfamiliar challenges.

It is also important to hone your communications skills further through one-on-one or group training sessions that focus on public speaking or interpersonal communications. Do not let shyness or an affinity for staying in the background disrupt your ability to lead effectively.

You may also seek the services of executive leadership training & development programs offered by universities or consultancies. The best programs cater to the busy, working executive with online options, or you can participate on evenings or weekends.

But most of all, you should seek to forge strong alliances with other business leaders in your organization, especially those in adjacent areas such as the top risk, digital, and information officers. These alliances are key to influencing, broader understanding, and to mutual challenge and support.

As a CISO, you may have embarked on a career path you were not anticipating. But if you embrace the challenge, honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses, and reach out for assistance to build your leadership muscle, you will earn your seat at the corporate decision-making table.


  1. Hitch Partners, 2021 CISO Survey
  2. Nominet, “The CISO Stress Report – Life Inside the Perimeter: One Year On,” 2020.
  3. Navisite, “The State of Cybersecurity Leadership and Readiness,” November 2021.
  4. KPMG 2021 CEO Outlook
  5. Ibid.

 About The Author

CISOs rolePrasad Jayaraman is a Principal in KPMG’s Advisory Services practice with more than 17 years of experience in identity management and a strong track record of performance in technology professional services organizations.



Views expressed in this article are personal. The facts, opinions, and language in the article do not reflect the views of CISO MAG, and CISO MAG does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. 

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Cyber Security

JSON-based SQL injection attacks trigger need to update web application firewalls



Security researchers have developed a generic technique for SQL injection that bypasses multiple web application firewalls (WAFs). At the core of the issue was WAF vendors failing to add support for JSON inside SQL statements, allowing potential attackers to easily hide their malicious payloads.

The bypass technique, discovered by researchers from Claroty’s Team82, was confirmed to work against WAFs from Palo Alto Networks, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cloudflare, F5, and Imperva. These vendors have released patches, so customers should update their WAF deployments. However, the technique might work against WAF solutions from other vendors as well, so users should ask their providers if they can detect and block such attacks.

“Attackers using this novel technique could access a backend database and use additional vulnerabilities and exploits to exfiltrate information via either direct access to the server or over the cloud,” the Claroty researchers said in their report. “This is especially important for OT and IoT platforms that have moved to cloud-based management and monitoring systems. WAFs offer a promise of additional security from the cloud; an attacker able to bypass these protections has expansive access to systems.”

Bypass found while investigating other vulnerabilities

The Claroty researchers developed this attack technique while investigating vulnerabilities they found in a wireless device management platform from Cambium Networks called cnMaestro that can be deployed on premises and in the cloud. The cloud service operated by Cambium provides a separate isolated instance of the cnMaestro server for each customer and uses AWS on the backend.

The team found seven vulnerabilities in cnMaestro including a SQL injection (SQLi) flaw that allowed them to exfiltrate users’ sessions, SSH keys, password hashes, tokens, and verification codes from the server database. SQL injection is one of the most common and dangerous web application vulnerabilities and allows attackers to inject arbitrary SQL queries into requests that the application would then execute against the database with its own privileges.

After confirming their exploit worked against an on-premises deployment of cnMaestro, the researchers attempted it against a cloud-hosted instance. From the server response, they realized that the request was likely blocked by AWS’s web application firewall, which detected it as malicious.

Instead of giving up, the researchers decided to investigate how the AWS WAF recognizes SQL injection attempts, so they created their own vulnerable application hosted on AWS and sent malicious requests to it. Their conclusion was that the WAF uses two primary methodologies for identifying SQL syntax: searching for specific words in the request that it recognizes as part of SQL syntax and attempting to parse different parts of the request as valid SQL syntax.

“While most WAFs will use a combination of both methodologies in addition to anything unique the WAF does, they both have one common weakness: They require the WAF to recognize the SQL syntax,” the researchers said. “This triggered our interest and raised one major research question: What if we could find SQL syntax that no WAF would recognize?”

WAF vendors overlooked JSON in SQL

Starting around 10 years ago, database engines started to add support for working with JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) data. JSON is a data formatting and exchange standard that’s widely used by web applications and web APIs when talking to each other. Since applications already exchange data in JSON format, relational database engine creators found it useful to allow developers to directly use this data inside SQL operations without additional processing and modification.

PostgreSQL added this capability back in 2012, with other major database engines following over the years: MySQL in 2015, MSSQL in 2016 and SQLite in 2022. Today all these engines have JSON support turned on by default. However, WAF vendors did not follow suit, probably because they still considered this feature as being new and not well known.

“From our understanding of how a WAF could flag requests as malicious, we reached the conclusion that we need to find SQL syntax the WAF will not understand,” the Claroty researchers said. “If we could supply a SQLi payload that the WAF will not recognize as valid SQL, but the database engine will parse it, we could actually achieve the bypass. As it turns out, JSON was exactly this mismatch between the WAF’s parser and the database engine. When we passed valid SQL statements that used less prevalent JSON syntax, the WAF actually did not flag the request as malicious.”

After confirming that the AWS WAF firewall was vulnerable and they could use JSON to hide their SQLi exploit, the researchers wondered if other WAFs might have the same loophole. Testing of WAFs from several major vendors proved that their suspicion was correct, and they could use JSON syntax to bypass SQLi defenses with only minimal modifications among vendors.

The researchers reported the issue to the vendors they found vulnerable but also contributed their technique to ​​SQLMap, an open-source penetration testing tool that automates SQL injection attacks. This means the bypass technique is now publicly available and can be used by anyone.

“Team82 disclosed its findings to five of the leading WAF vendors, all of which have added JSON syntax support to their products,” the researchers said. “We believe that other vendors’ products may be affected, and that reviews for JSON support should be carried out.”

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Cyber Security

In-house vs. Outsourced Security: Understanding the Differences



Cybersecurity is not optional for businesses today. Ignoring security can result in a devastating breach or a productivity-sapping attack on the organization. But for many small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the debate often revolves around whether to hire a third party or assemble an in-house security operations team.

Both options have their own pros and cons, but SMBs should weigh several factors to make the best decision for their own unique security needs. An in-house team, a managed security services provider (MSSP), or even a hybrid approach can make sense for various reasons.

Before choosing to build an in-house security team or outsource to an MSSP, businesses must first evaluate their unique needs to ensure the choice lays a foundation for future success.

Weighing control vs. costs

The obvious reason for assembling your own security team is control and immediate knowledge of what goes into your security operations.

“Handling security internally means you will sometimes have better visibility and centralized management,” says Scott Barlow, vice president of global MSP and cloud alliances at Sophos. “That said, if you outsource with the right service provider, visibility into what is going on should not be an issue.”

For many smaller organizations, the cost of running an in-house security program is prohibitive. Hiring skilled security specialists is expensive, and they are often difficult to find. They require regular training, and certifications must be kept fresh – typically at a cost to the employer.

“When you outsource to an MSSP, you will be paying a lot less than paying a senior security executive,” Barlow says. “I suggest that organizations conduct a cost analysis of outsourcing compared to paying salaries. Much of the time, it’s better to outsource.”

There are also technology and license costs to consider. Keeping software licenses up to date can consume both time and money, whereas working with an MSSP means access to the latest technology without worrying about license costs.

If both are important, try a hybrid model

Of course, some large organizations might need an in-house security presence.

“Generally, the larger you become, the more you need someone internally. That is where a co-managed model makes the most sense,” Barlow says.

In a hybrid model, companies tap outside support to collaborate with an internal security executive or team. This approach allows for more scalability while also providing the business with plenty of expertise through their relationship with the MSSP.

“Maybe you want to outsource a portion of the services because you can’t cover 24-7. Or maybe you need coverage on weekends,” Barlow says.

One major benefit to tapping outside support: your in-house team will have more time to focus on mission-critical objectives.

“With a hybrid approach, the internal IT and security teams can pivot to focus on more revenue generating activities,” Barlow says.

Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Cyber Security

Prevention or Detection: Which Is More Important for Defending Your Network?



When it comes to physically protecting a building, you have two primary defenses: prevention and detection. You can either prevent people from entering your property without your permission, or you can detect when they have already trespassed onto your property. Most people would prefer to prevent any trespassing, but a determined adversary is always going to be able gain access to your building, given enough time and resources. In this scenario, detection becomes the only alternative.

The same holds true for protecting assets in the digital world. We have the same two primary defenses: prevention and detection. And just like in the physical world, a determined adversary is going to gain access to your digital assets, given enough time and resources. The question will be: How quickly are you able to determine that an adversary has penetrated your network?

If you can’t prevent, you must discover

This is where detection comes in. Do you have the right tools and procedures in place to find attacks quickly when they are occurring? Most businesses do not. It takes days, weeks, and often even months before an attack is discovered. The gap between breach and discovery is known as dwell time, which is estimated to be more than 200 days in most cases and, according to IBM, as many as 280 days in some instances. If it takes this long to discover that an attack is in process, it may be impossible to determine the root cause if you don’t have enough historical data to review.

Therefore, it is just as important, and maybe even more important, to spend money increasing your ability to detect when a breach has occurred rather than to determine when a breach is actively occurring or to see that specific firewall (FW) or intrusion detection system (IDS) rules have actively prevented an attack. New attacks are taking place all the time, and bad actors are constantly coming up with new ways of infiltrating your network. It is important to understand that, at some point, a bad actor is going to get through and penetrate your network. What will be vitally important is whether you are able to see the attack when it is taking place, or shortly after, or whether instead the attack will be discovered weeks or months after the fact. In the latter case, do you have enough historical data to go back and determine when the attack started, or will that data be long gone by the time you notice something is wrong?

Saving the data you need

It is important to have several months’ worth of data so that you can go back and determine the initial compromise on your network. Having an advanced network detection and response (NDR) tool such as NETSCOUT’s Omnis Cyber Intelligence (OCI) can ensure that you have the data you need. OCI stores all of the relevant information, including layer 2-7 metadata and packets that you need to determine the root cause of an attack—not just flow data that won’t help in this situation.

How much historical network traffic are you storing? Do you have enough data to go back and research the start of an attack if it occurred 200 days ago? Or are you going to rely on catching bad actors faster than the industry average? It is important to understand the need for leveraging both prevention and detection capabilities and ensuring that you have enough storage to thoroughly investigate an attack when it occurs.

Watch this video to see how NETSCOUT can help your back-in-time investigation.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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