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Strengthening cybersecurity: The rise of the Security Assurance Officer
Mon, 29th Jan 2024

In an era dominated by digital advancements and with an increasing number of employees working remotely, coupled with the relentless threat of cyberattacks, the role of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) has become more important than ever. 

However, the increasing complexity and sophistication of cyber threats demand a multi-layered approach to fortify an organisation's defences. To usher in this new era of robust cybersecurity, we are seeing the rise of the Security Assurance Officer (SAO) working in tandem with the CISO.

Traditionally, the CISO has served as the guardian of an organisation's digital fortress, shouldering responsibilities such as setting policies, implementing security measures, and orchestrating incident response strategies. However, the dynamic nature of cyber threats necessitates a proactive approach that extends beyond mere policy formulation. This is where the SAO comes into play, concentrating on the continuous validation and assurance of an organisation's security posture.

This relatively new role functions as an assurance powerhouse tasked with regularly testing, evaluating, and validating the effectiveness of the security measures in place. Through risk assessments, vulnerability analyses, and simulated cyberattacks, SAOs provide real-time insights into an organisation's security resilience. This proactive approach not only identifies potential weaknesses but also enables swift remediation before malicious actors can exploit vulnerabilities.

Collaboration is key
We're witnessing a growing trend among organisations, choosing to retain critical services behind the firewall whilst hosting others in the cloud. This has resulted in the emergence of hybrid environments for specific services. In such a setting, a robust network access solution becomes imperative to mediate and secure connections, determining the appropriateness of a connection based on a given context and circumstances. Additionally, there is rising interest in protecting the endpoint. 

As such, collaboration between the SAO and the CISO is crucial, creating a seamless synergy between strategic security planning and hands-on validation. While the CISO focuses on overarching security policies and frameworks, the SAO dives into the trenches, stress-testing policies and ensuring they withstand the ever-evolving threat landscape and address associated risks. 

But risk has two dimensions. First, there's the probability of attack and the impact it can have. Second, the recovery time and the extent of the damage to the organisation are crucial considerations. Due to this, there is a growing interest and investment in minimising the impact of attacks and greater emphasis on how quickly an organisation can recover. But one of the most significant challenges organisations encounter in practice is the destructive impact of threats such as malware or ransomware on an endpoint. This factor heavily influences the recovery process, emphasising the importance of swiftly rebuilding the affected endpoints.

Dedicated focus
The introduction of a SAO reflects an increasing acknowledgement of the necessity for a dedicated role singularly focused on security validation. This specialisation enables the development of in-depth expertise in the latest attack vectors, threat intelligence, and cutting-edge defensive strategies. Furthermore, it recognises that cybersecurity is not a one-time implementation but an ongoing, dynamic process requiring constant adaptation.

As organisations increasingly rely on digital infrastructure and data, the collaboration between the CISO and the SAO becomes a linchpin for success. This collaborative approach enhances an organisation's cyber resilience by addressing vulnerabilities before they are exploited, minimising the impact of potential breaches. Moreover, it involves having the tools and processes in place to recover and reduce the actual impact of an attack.

Although cyber security and risk management spending in Australia is tipped to rise in 2024 by around 11.5 per cent, CISOs need to demonstrate that security controls are working as prescribed. Given there will still be downward pressure on budgets, investing in security infrastructure that can provide greater visibility and validation will be important. 

In fact, a SAO can be tasked with helping to reduce complexity, often brought about by the increasing volume of tools available. In fact, Absolute Software has been saying for quite some time that complexity is a hurdle in security posture. Our vision is now represented through a new cybersecurity category Gartner introduced called Automated Security Control Assessment (ASCA). Gartner defines ASCA as processes and technologies focused on the analysis and remediation of misconfigurations in security controls, which improves enterprise security posture. 

The good news is that the emergence of the SAO signals a paradigm shift in cybersecurity strategy. By working hand-in-hand with the CISO, this role ensures that security measures are not just theoretical but are rigorously tested and validated in the face of an ever-evolving digital threat landscape. 

As cyber threats continue to evolve in 2024, the collaborative efforts of the CISO and the SAO will undoubtedly play an important role in safeguarding an organisation's defences, boosting resilience, and providing a stronger foundation for a thriving digital economy.