Executive reporting in cybersecurity is important because it keeps business leaders and stakeholders informed about the progress of cybersecurity initiatives, allowing them to track cybersecurity alignment against overarching company goals.
An efficient executive reporting system strengthens the chain of command between leadership personnel responsible for overseeing the company’s security policies and strategies - such as the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) - and the cybersecurity teams implementing these initiatives.
Stakeholders and decision-making executives that may have in the past preferred to avoid the technical details of cybersecurity initiatives are now more informed about the financial risks associated with data breaches and poor cybersecurity postures. According to Gartner, executives are increasingly demanding more transparent reporting to assist business decisions and track incident response improvements.
To better understand the importance of cybersecurity reporting and to inform your decision on the best executive reporting style for your cybersecurity program, read on.
What is Executive Reporting in Cybersecurity?
In cybersecurity, an executive report is a broad summary of an organization’s cybersecurity risks and remediation initiatives for all C-Suite members, board of directors, and company executives. This report aims to help the leadership team rapidly understand how well the efforts of a security program align with the company’s overarching cybersecurity threat mitigation goals.
This direct line of communication provides an opportunity for feedback and informed decisions about which strategies to follow or optimal cyber risk management.
What Executives Look for in a Cybersecurity Report?
A valuable cybersecurity report is one that actually provides executives with useful information. The process of creating an effective cybersecurity report should, therefore, begin with a clear understanding of the key information requirements of executive teams.
To help you understand the mindset of an executive, here are the three primary concerns and attributes of a typical leadership team consisting of board members, stakeholders, and C-Suite executives.
1. The Leadership Team Doesn't Want to See the Company in a News Headline
This fear is likely top of mind amongst board members. Not only because of the threat of irrevocable reputational damage, but also because of the immense damage costs involved in large-scale data breach events.
In 2022, the average cost of a data breach was US$ 4.35 million.
Because of the constant anxiety of an impending data breach and ransomware attack, the leadership team wants the following questions clearly answered:
- What is the company’s overall risk of suffering a data breach?
- What security vulnerabilities are increasing risk exposure?
- How good is our cyber incident response plan?
- What cyber incidents have occurred recently?
- Which risk mitigation strategies are in place?
- What are we doing to defend against ransomware?
- How do the company’s security efforts benchmark against industry standards?
Since executives are now paying more attention to cyberattack events in the news, it helps if your report includes a summary of emerging threats and attack surface trends. This will demonstrate your awareness of the evolving threat landscape and potential disruptions to regulatory compliance efforts.
2. The Leadership Team Doesn’t Like Technical Jargon
It can be very tempting to provide too much technical detail when justifying the efficacy of your cybersecurity program, but this effort is often unnecessary and could even do more harm than good.
With the exception of the CISO, the leadership team has very limited cybersecurity knowledge. To ensure your report is understood by everyone, optimized for an audience with a simplistic understanding of cybersecurity concepts.
Achieving this standard is more of an exercise of what to leave out than what to put in. A cybersecurity report outlining all malware and phishing threats within an organization’s risk profile would be regarded as too lengthy and superfluous.
However, not all board members want a concise cybersecurity report. Some prefer a more lengthy evaluation. Others prefer something higher up on the technical scale. Your cybersecurity report generation tool should be capable of adapting to these different requirements through a library of different reporting templates and styles.
Thankfully, you have a technical representative in the leadership team - the CISO, so you don’t need to obsess over maintaining an ideal level of complexity. The CISOs role is to develop a strategy for ensuring all company assets remain protected against cyber threats and to help the board understand the company’s state of cybersecurity (or security posture).
A cybersecurity report should address all of the primary components of the CISOs security strategy to support discussions the CISO has already been having with the leadership team. The final executive report must, therefore, be approved by the CISO before submission to the board.
“The board isn’t entirely disconnected from cybersecurity strategy design. The leadership team sets the security expectations for the company, and the CISO is tasked with ensuring the cybersecurity program meets these expectations.”
The performance of a cybersecurity program is more efficiently summarized with an evaluation of key security metrics. These metrics should align with the Enterprise Risk Management strategy being implemented by the CISO. This list of metrics could still be more exhaustive than the board prefers. If this is the case, the following questions will help you filter out the most meaningful security metrics.
- What information are you trying to communicate to the board?
- What responses are you aiming to spur (investments into new technologies etc.)?
- What details do you want the board to understand better?
- What key fears or frustrations are you aiming to address?
Once your list of metrics have been finalized, it always helps to support them with relevant graphics.
Examples of Security Metrics that Matter to the Executive Team
Below are some examples of key cybersecurity metrics that matter to an executive board. Each listed item also includes examples of graphics that could make each metric easier to understand.
Vulnerability Scan Results
Vulnerability scan results showing security rating deviations across a given period.
Security Risk Breakdown by Category
A breakdown of security risk across all primary threat categories within the company’s ecosystem, categorized by degree of criticality.
3. The Leadership Team is Now More Concerned About the Threat of Third-Party Breaches
In the last few years, third-party security risks have been the major cause of some of the most devastating data breaches. The ubiquitous SolarWinds attack, the Accellion breach, and the countless breaches facilitated by the Log4Shell vulnerability were all made possible by a third-party attack vector.
Because of the growing trend of this cyberattack category, the executive team is now more concerned about third-party risks than ever before. The burning questions your leadership team has about your Vendor Risk Management (VRM) efforts should be known in advance and addressed in your cybersecurity report.
A comprehensive evaluation of a company’s Vendor Risk Management efforts addresses the following program components:
Overall Security Rating Summary
Security ratings, like credit card ratings, are quickly becoming the objective standard for rapidly evaluating a company’s security posture.
Vendor Risk Overview
A vendor risk matrix will help the leadership team understand the most critical risks to the organization.
Industry Average Benchmark
Demonstrating how the company’s current security rating compares with the industry average will help the leadership team contextualize your security efforts.
A Summary of Third-Party Risks Across Criticality Tiers
Residual third-party risks will always be present. It’s helpful for the leadership team to understand how your third-party risks are distributed across the criticality spectrum and which risks your team should prioritize. All of these risks should sit comfortably within your predefined risk appetite.
UpGuard Helps You Generate a Comprehensive Executive Cybersecurity Report, Fast
UpGuard’s executive report feature helps security teams rapidly generate a cybersecurity performance report for key stakeholders.
From a concise two-page security posture snapshot to a more in-depth evaluation of third-party risk exposure, UpGuard’s report library includes a variety of report templates that meet the common security information requirements of board members.
Once generated, a board summary report can be instantly exported into editable PowerPoint presentation slides, significantly reducing board meeting preparation time (and stress).