Your board of directors expects to be regularly updated about your data breach prevention efforts, but board members often lack the necessary technical insight to understand the cyber risk mitigation processes making up your cybersecurity posture. CISOs are tasked with bridging the gap between awareness of your organization’s security efforts and stakeholder KPIs with the support of an invaluable tool - a cybersecurity board report.
This post outlines three best practices for creating a cybersecurity board report that effectively represents the efficacy of your cybersecurity strategy.
Best Practice 1: Understand the Structure of a Board Report
There isn’t a set cyber board report structure that needs to be followed. In fact, obsessing too much over the report’s structure increases the risk of not meeting the board-level requirement. A better approach is to think in terms of broad stakeholder metrics. Understand the primary areas your board members are concerned about, and structure your report to address them.
Don’t overcomplicate the design of your cybersecurity board report. Keep it simple, straightforward, and concise.
The most basic structure of a cyber board report consists of three parts - cyber risk outlook, business strategy outlook, and operations outlook, the three primary variables of business success or failure.
Following this simple structure will make your report adaptable to your reporting objectives while also covering the broadest scope of board member concerns in terms of cybersecurity.
1. Cyber Risk Outlook
This section overviews the organization’s current risk exposure across internal and third-party attack surfaces. It’s imperative also to cover third-party vendor risk exposures since exploited third-party vulnerabilities account for almost 60% of data breaches.
Not covering third-party risk exposure in your board report communicates to board members that you don’t fully understand the cybersecurity risks contributing to data breaches.
The cyber risk reporting component should address the following information:
- Your organization’s most critical security risks and their respective remediation efforts (security controls).
- The effectiveness of your cybersecurity framework’s efforts in ensuring vendor cyber risks remain within risk tolerance and risk appetite limits.
- Details of any significant cybersecurity incidents and associated incident responses since the last reporting period. Including details of their business impact and resulting degree of reputational damage.
- The initiatives being prioritized to mitigate dangerous cyber attacks and cyber threats topping the list of board member concerns, such as ransomware and phishing attacks.
- An overview of your organization’s overall cybersecurity performance represented by benchmarking against your industry average and competitor’s efforts.
- Risk management performance overview (including Vendor Risk Management (VRM), Third-Party Risk Management, etc.).
- How your security teams are tracking against corporate cybersecurity metrics.
- Risk assessment and patching efforts that were undertaken as a response to unexpected threat landscape disruptions, such as zero-day vulnerabilities and hackers compromising third-party service information security.
Don’t conflate the comprehensive nature of this list with a need to make the cyber risk outlook section of your report lengthy. With the exception of the CIO, most board members are not technically minded, so demonstrating alignment with NIST CSF likely won’t impress them.
The best hack for communicating complex cybersecurity concepts as concisely as possible is to use visuals. Graphics eradicate the need for long-winded explanations, making your presentation easier for board members to follow while referencing the report.
To demonstrate how the communication of detailed cybersecurity efforts can be significantly simplified, here are a few examples of visuals mapping to some of the cyber risk reporting items in the list above.
Cybersecurity Performance Benchmarking Against Industry Average and Top Competitors.
Overview of Security Risk Criticality Distribution Across Four Primary Attack Vector Categories
Vendor Risk Overview Across Five Risk Categories
Vendor Risk Management Performance Overview
2. Business Strategy Outlook
The strategic outlook component outlines how your cybersecurity program will adapt to new business risks in the evolving threat landscape.
These could include:
- New cyber threats changing your cybersecurity priorities, such as a rise in ransomware attacks triggering a revision of your current ransomware defense strategy.
- Risks preventing the achievement of business objectives, like a critical third-party vendor’s security posture falling below acceptable levels.
- An increased likelihood of suffering a supply chain attack, like when a fourth-party vendor is breached.
- New regulations or executive orders mandating specific security controls, like Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).
3. Operations Outlook
Operational performance can be summarised with maturity models or by demonstrating adherence to Key Performance Indicators.
Platforms like UpGuard simplify the complicated processes of collecting evidence of regulation and framework alignment for board reports and meetings. Watch the video below for an overview of how easy it can be.
Best Practice 2: Express Impact in Financial Terms
If you want your cyber board report to be effective, it needs to speak a language all board members, regardless of where they are situated in the world - money.
Even with visuals concisely representing risk information, board members will only truly appreciate your cyber risk mitigation effort when its impact is quantified in dollars.
You should already have outlined some semblance of a Cyber Risk Qaunatifacion process while calculating your risk appetite.
CRQ methods can be used to justify new cybersecurity investments in this report by demonstrating the likely financial impact of critical assets being compromised.
Best Practice 3: Don’t Use Cyber Jargon
Board members are not equipped to interpret cybersecurity complexities. That’s why you have a CISO and a cybersecurity reporting tool in place.
As a cybersecurity professional, you must suppress your proclivity towards technical explanations in the board report. A trick to keeping your report palatable for the average non-techie is to take advantage of every opportunity to express concepts in visuals and numbers.
Numbers and visual elements are your best friends in a cyber board report.
Security ratings are invaluable in this area, representing a concept as advanced as your organization’s cybersecurity posture as a single number value.
Security ratings are calculated with a complicated algorithm considering the impact of multiple critical attack vectors, with the final quantified value represented as a rating ranging from 0 to 950 (the maximum cybersecurity rating).
In a board report, security ratings can be used to benchmark your organization’s cyber performance against industry standards and also represent the efficacy of your cybersecurity efforts over time - information that’s very valuable in a boardroom setting.
Cybersecurity Board Reporting by UpGuard
UpGuard’s cyber report generation feature allows you to create a report optimized to meet the primary reporting expectations of board members in just one click. Once generated, Board summary reports can be exported into editable PowerPoint slides to also remove the stress of preparing your board report presentation.