It has been a couple weeks since Target’s CEO was fired. Maybe not officially fired, but for all intents and purposes that’s what happened. The data breach was the most visible reason, though as George Hulme points out that was really a red herring.

It’s easy to peg all of these changes at the feet of the data breach, and I think the breach is certainly part of the mix for these recent shake-ups. But Target was having execution troubles prior to the breach. Most notably its huge misstep into the Canadian market…

The Slant blog, at InvestorPlace, advised its readers to sell Target stock, not because of the breach, but because of weak sales and profits that had nothing to do with the data breach

That said, any time a CEO’s head rolls down the hall, every other CEO with their head still attached wants to make sure that won’t happen to them. So they make a couple calls. The first is likely to the CFO, and then the CIO. They will offer up some platitudes, and tell how much work has been done on security, and what the amount of investment looks like. Then they will talk about how the CISO has been driving that program.

So if you are the CISO (or the senior security professional), you get the call after those. In fact I would be pretty surprised if many CISOs in enterprise-class companies weren’t having little sit-downs with their CEOs, and maybe even the audit committees, to revisit program and address gaps. Obviously this should be happening on an ongoing basis (and probably does), but these out-of-cycle meetings will happen as well.

Which brings up the question: what do you say? Are you honest when the CEO asks whether that kind of breach can happen to your organization? Do you tell him/her that despite continued (significant) investment, your answer is the same: you have no idea?

Actually, that’s exactly what you do. You stay consistent, which (should be) brutally honest about your security posture and your risks. Some CEOs want you to blow smoke up their backside, and if that’s the case dust off your resume. If the CEO wants to hear the truth, tell him/her. They should know what’s at stake. As Dave Lewis says:

But, the reality in a large corporation such as this there is often a need for a significant event in order to affect change.

Though hopefully you don’t need to parade into your CEO’s office with another CEO’s head on a pike to make your point. All the same, it’s an opportunity, so don’t squander it.

Photo credit: “Head on a pike” originally uploaded by Newtown graffit