It amazes to me that articles like CISOs Must Engage the Board About Information Security and The Demise of the Player/Manager CISO even need to be written.

If you sit in the CISO chair and this wasn’t already obvious to you, you need to find another job. Back when I launched the Pragmatic CSO in 2007 I wrote a few tips to help CSOs get their heads on straight. Here is the first one:

Tip #1: You are a business person, not a security person

When I first meet a CSO, one of the first things I ask is whether they consider themselves a “security professional” or a “finance/healthcare/whatever other vertical” professional. 8 out of 10 times they respond “security professional” without even thinking.

I will say that it’s closer to 10 out of 10 with folks that work in larger enterprises. These folks are so specialized they figure a firewall is a firewall is a firewall and they could do it for any company. They are wrong.

One of the things preached in the Pragmatic CSO is that security is not about firewalls or any technology for that matter. It’s about protecting the systems (and therefore the information assets) of the business and you can bet there is a difference between how you protect corporate assets in finance and consumer products. In fact there are lots of differences between doing security in most major industries. There are different businesses, they have different problems, they tolerate different levels of pain, and they require different funding models.

So Tip #1 is pretty simple to say, very hard to do – especially if you rose up through the technical ranks. Security is not one size fits all and is not generic between different industries. Pragmatic CSO’s view themselves as business people first, security people second.

To put it another way, a healthcare CSO said it best to me. When I asked him the question, his response was “I’m a healthcare IT professional that happens to do security.” That was exactly right. He spent years understanding the nuances of protecting private information and how HIPAA applies to what he does. He understood how the claims information between providers and payees is sent electronically. He got the BUSINESS and then was able to build a security strategy to protect the systems that are important to the business.

I was in a meeting of CISOs earlier this year, and one topic that came up (inevitably) was managing the board. I told those folks that if they don’t have frequent contact, and a set of allies on the Audit Committee, they are cooked. It’s as simple as that. The full board doesn’t care too much about security, but the audit committee needs to. So build those relationships and make sure you can pick up the phone and tell them what they need to know.

Or dust off your resume. You will be needing it in the short term.