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For CTOs: 5 Strategies to Get Buy-In from Your Organization for Information Security

November 17, 2021

There’s a famous quote from Albert Einstein: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” That’s often true in information security. It’s a topic that most people don’t think much about until they learn enough to realize how at-risk their data may be. As a CTO, you have enough knowledge to realize that information security needs to be a high priority for your organization.

The tricky part is finding a way to express the importance to the rest of your organization in order to get buy-in for security strategies and protocols. Most of your colleagues, from production employees to executive leaders, don’t yet know enough about data security to understand the risks and dangers of overlooking it.

While every circumstance is unique, there are plenty of ways to express the importance of information security and get buy-in from leaders and employees in your organization. Start with these five strategies:

1. Lay out the dollars and cents

Money talks, as they say, especially when it comes to making decisions for a business. Chances are the financial leaders in your organization just don’t realize how much money is at stake if their information security is lax.

That’s why they need you to explain it to them. Present clearly the potential costs of letting your data security fall by the wayside.

Be sure to include all the probable costs. For example:

  • Fines and fees associated with not complying with in-demand security standards like ISO 27001, SOC 2, and, depending on your industry and your business, HIPAA and PCI DSS
  • Cost of a data breach, which varies significantly but was calculated to be about $4.24 million in 2021 on average
  • Expected loss of customers or clients as a result of a data breach that loses those customers’ trust
  • Drop in stock price if your organization is publicly traded
  • Loss of new business opportunities due to a lack of trust from potential business partners

When people recognize just how much money and stability is at risk because of poor security, they are more likely to understand the importance of making security a priority. This is particularly true for any leaders that focus on the financial aspects of the business, like your CEO and CFO, but it doesn’t hurt for employees to also understand that the organization’s stability (and all of their jobs along with it) is at stake.

2. Host knowledge sharing sessions

Ultimately, knowledge of information security and its importance is the chief factor that will convince your colleagues to get on board with strengthening your data security. You don’t just want them to know the risks; you want them to have a basic understanding of how information security works too.

People are much more likely to buy into security projects if they can conceptualize the projects because they have a basic familiarity with data security. If they’re largely blind to the topic and you’re asking them to say yay or nay, it’s more likely to be a nay because they don’t have a picture of what you want to accomplish or how it will help. Something as simple as a short seminar series or lunch-and-learn series can help to educate leaders and employees alike.

3. Offer up a clear plan

Every project is more intimidating if it has a lot of question marks and unknown variables. You probably wouldn’t agree to a home improvement project if your contractor had no idea of the potential cost or timeline, and your organization’s leaders will react the same way if you present them with a vague description of security protocols you want to implement.

If you want to get buy-in for a security project, have a clear plan for how the project will play out. Include practical steps to make the project run as smoothly and predictably as possible. For example, start by using automation software to scan your system for compliance with select security standards so you have a clear picture of what still needs to be done to reach compliance.

4. Advocate to earmark security funds in the annual budget

Each organization operates differently, so you may have a large role to play in establishing your organization’s annual budget or you may get minimal consideration. In any case, advocate however you can to earmark funds in the budget specifically for information security.

This is a good time to outline all those potential costs and risks we discussed earlier so you can show your colleagues that security is an investment, not just an expense. Once there is money earmarked in the budget for security, it will be far easier for you to get buy-in for projects like hiring security specialists, performing audits, updating security software, and so on, because the money is already there.

5. Perform vulnerability testing

Leaders and employees have a tendency to assume their organization is more protected against data breaches than it is. It’s the “It won’t happen to me” fallacy. The only way to overcome this is to prove them wrong.

Perform testing designed to fake an attack or breach attempt to see how your organization handles it. This could be social engineering testing or penetration testing, but remember that hackers can use a wide variety of social and digital strategies to get access to your data, so ideally, you should perform several types of tests.

In any case, make sure you get a clear report of how your organization performed and how much information the testers were able to access so you can show your leaders clearly that your security needs attention.

Getting buy-in from your organization for information security

As a CTO, you have the knowledge to understand the importance of data security, and the rest of your organization is relying on you to advocate for the cause as you see fit. Your colleagues don’t realize how much they don’t know about information security, but with the strategies above, you can bring them up to speed and get their buy-in for the security projects you need.

Learn more about information security

Cybersecurity vs information security: What's the difference?

What is an Information Security Management System (ISMS)?

Five principles for building a secure product