A cybersecurity report shouldn’t be feared. Instead, it should be regarded as an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of your cybersecurity program, and while management is brimming with delight over your efforts, maybe also a chance to sneak in a request for that cyber budget increase.
The problem, however, is that most CIOs and CISOs struggle to put together a decent cybersecurity board report, and as a result, risk management programs fail to receive the funding required to achieve a competitive security posture.
Thankfully, you don’t need to go back to school and complete a writing degree to produce a persuasive cyber report. You just need to follow some strategic best practices.
To learn how to put together an effective cybersecurity report optimized for senior management teams, read on.
3 Best Practices for Preparing a Cybersecurity Report for Senior Management
Whether you're creating one for board members or senior management, a cybersecurity report needs to be adapted to your organization’s unique cybersecurity strategy and reporting objectives. Detailed step-by-step walkthroughs are of little use since they risk pigeonholing you into a reporting style not aligned with your company's standards.
A much safer alternative is to provide a best practices framework outlining the key components that should be addressed and the primary expectations of your intended audience, which in this case is senior management.
1. Understand the Reporting Expectations of Senior Management
An effective cybersecurity report begins with an accurate understanding of your target audience. Board members and senior management staff have differing duties, so a cyber report for each group needs to be designed with a specific approach.
The board of directors is primarily tasked with setting the organization's overall strategic direction, which could include the design of a cybersecurity governance structure ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. So, a cybersecurity board report for board members would need an increased focus on communicating alignment with corporate objectives and compliance KPIs.
On the other hand, senior management staff are tasked with implementing the board's strategic initiatives by overseeing the day-to-day operations of cybersecurity teams. They're also responsible for reducing the impact of cybersecurity incidents and cybersecurity threats by overseeing data breach mitigation efforts, the implementation of security policies, and the testing of security controls.
The board is responsible for setting strategic goals and compliance objectives against the organization’s risk tolerance and risk appetite. Senior Management ensures these security policies are implemented across the organization’s security program.
As such, senior management is primarily interested in operational metrics impacting the organization’s cybersecurity posture and any threats to achieving stakeholder objectives.
Some examples of such information includes:
- An update on vulnerability remediation and cybersecurity risk patching efforts.
- Performance summaries of Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM) and Vendor Risk Management (VRM) programs.
- Any changes to the organization’s risk profile - such as increased susceptibility to phishing, malware, or ransomware attacks.
- The presence of alignment gaps against cybersecurity frameworks, such as NIST CSF and ISO 27001.
- The emergence of new vectors across internal and external attack surfaces, such as Zero-Days.
- The state of third-party vendor vulnerabilities increasing the risk of supply chain attacks.
- The impact of incident response efforts.
- Penetration testing results.
- The details of any cyberattacks that have taken place.
- The roll-out of information security initiatives in response to regulation mandates, such as Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and sensitive data encryption technology.
Here are some examples of reporting features conveying some of this information. These examples have been pulled from cybersecurity reports in UpGuard’s report template library.
Vendor Summary Report Benchmarking Vendor Cybersecurity Performance Against Industry Standards.
Vendor Security Score Distribution Indicating The Overall Security Posture Trend Across The Third-party Attack Surface.
Security Rating Changes Over 12 Months, Indicating Overall Cybersecurity Posture Improvement or Decline.
Note: Not all senior management and C-Suite staff expect a separate cybersecurity report addressing all these details. Some are perfectly content with the cybersecurity performance updates outlined in general board member cybersecurity reports.
When this is the case, a generic cybersecurity board report template can be used for all parties.
2. Clearly Articulate Your Efforts in Addressing Supply Chain Attack Risks
Thankfully, board members now understand the importance of cybersecurity investments and are more open to using security insights to influence their decision-making. This increase in enthusiasm, however, doesn’t translate to a corresponding increase in cybersecurity knowledge.
Board members understand that having an arsenal of the latest cybersecurity tools decreases cyber threat impact, but that still doesn’t quite address their fears of cyber attacks. A survey by the Harvard Business Review found that most board members believe their organization is at risk of a material cyber attack despite investing in protective measures.
An HBR survey of 600 board members found that 65% of respondents still believe their organizations are at risk of a material cyber attack within the next 12 months despite investing time and money in cybersecurity initiatives.
To address these concerns, your report should outline tangible efforts in addressing significant cyber attack risks, particularly of a type responsible for the most gut-wrenching anxiety amongst senior management - supply chain attacks.
Your organization’s degree of supply chain attack resilience is measured by the strength of your Vendor Risk Management (VRM) program. Communicating VRM performance while remaining sensitive to limited cybersecurity knowledge is best achieved with graphical elements, such as a Vendor Risk Matrix.
A vendor risk matrix indicates risk criticality distribution across your third-party attack surface. This reporting feature is an excellent option for concisely community VRM performance as it illustrates the degree of residual risks still impacting your organization despite implemented security controls.
If more details about the remediation efforts of particular critical vendor risks are required, you could supplement your cybersecurity report with a risk assessment result summary for each vendor in question.
Watch this video for an overview of the risk assessment process. It may inspire some ideas of information you can pull from the process to include with your report as evidence of your critical Vendor Risk Management efforts.
3. Speak in Terms of Financial Impact
Information technology concepts may fly over the heads of some senior management staff, but there’s one language that is sure to get everybody’s head nodding - finances. Explaining the performance of cybersecurity programs in terms of financial impact is the best way of ensuring senior management understands the impact of your efforts.
Understanding the financial impacts of specific remediation tasks helps senior management make informed decisions about which aspects of a cybersecurity program are performing the best.
In a cyber report, financial impact can be represented in two different ways:
- In terms of damages caused by cyberattacks or risks associated with prospective vendors
- In terms of resource bandwidth required to respond to cybersecurity risk.
The former is calculated with a methodology known as Cyber Risk Quantification (CRQ). The latter may require a more nuanced approach involving a remediation weighting system quantifying the impact of response efforts.
Using the UpGuard platform to illustrate the application of this approach, the impact of selected remediation tasks is represented as a projected improvement to an organization’s security posture. Not only does this help security teams prioritize the most impactful remediation tasks (an approach supporting efficient and cost-effective remediation planning), it also helps senior management understand how previous cyber solution investments are being utilized.
Also, by considering the costs involved in each remediation task and then determining which response efforts have the greatest positive impact, a case can be made for increasing cyber investments in areas showing high levels of potential improvement.
For example, if the data indicates that outdated web server software accounts for a majority of your risk exposure, a case can be made for either investing in a server upgrade strategy, or an Attack Surface Management tool for keeping track of vulnerable internet-facing assets.
Senior Management Cybersecurity Reporting By UpGuard
UpGuard offers a library of cybersecurity reporting templates consolidate cybersecurity performance insight commonly required by senior management teams, including Vendor Risk Management performance, supply chain attack susceptibility, critical risk distribution, etc.
UpGuard's board summary report can also be instantly exported into editable PDF slides, significantly easing the burden of preparing for board and senior management presentations.