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Budding chief information security officers (CISOs) would be better off boning up on business, communication, and risk management skills than getting bogged down in detailed discussions about technology, according to a panel of senior security professionals.

The overwhelming message from the InfoSecurity Summit 2012 in Hong Kong, was that CISOs need to be trusted and they need to add value, but most importantly they must understand risk in all areas of the business and then manage that risk proactively.

“The days of the CISO being technology-focused are over; the role is much more transversal now,” argued Jerome Walter, chief security officer Asia Pacific at French bank Natixis. “You should build relationships. Each department has different risk, different issues and you need to create an image of trust so they’ll come to you.”

Thomas Parenty, MD of fraud prevention firm Parenty Consulting, agreed, adding that security should never be approached out of context of the business.

“You need to deeply understand what the business does to be effective,” he said. “You need to better understand how the business operates more than you need to know about the security technology – that can be handled by someone else.”

This is not to say that CISOs should have no competence in technology, however, according to Dale Johnstone, who heads up security and risk management at the Hong Kong Hospital Authority.

“The fundamental principles of security have stayed the same over the years and a good CISO has to have enough understanding of technology to communicate with the tecchie people and the higher level management,” he explained.

“However, today they’re very reactive: fire-fighting and waiting for problems to happen rather than putting together an overall strategic plan.”

Trying to protect all the organisation’s information all the time can be challenging, especially when the bad guys can put all their resources into nabbing just one bit of it.

Thus, being able to discern “the pythons from the cockroaches” – or those attacks which could seriously damage a firm and those which aren’t so dangerous – is also a key skill, according to Vikalp Shrivastava, info security boss at casino group Melco Crown Entertainment.

There was one final piece of important advice for budding CISOs from Steve Tunstall, head of corporate risk at Cathay Pacific Airways: beware the regulators.

“What scares me is that data moves so fast. For many years our data was in mainframes, but over the past few years that shoe box has not only become porous, now it’s disappeared,” he argued.

“I don’t know where half the stuff is now. Regulators are slow to catch on but when they do the penalties are getting worse and worse. If you’re not alive to the latest changes in penalties you will be when a writ arrives on your desk.” ®

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