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Rise of the CISO

Chief information security officers have more influence -- and greater challenges -- than ever before.

October 4, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - As the chief information security officer at General Motors Corp., Eric Litt is in charge of integrating security into every aspect of the company's vast $186 billion business.
It's a job that has given him a spot at the executive table, support from the board level down and a chance to implement far-reaching decisions related to information security at the company.
"I get plenty of attention, which is a very good thing," Litt says. When it comes to security at the automaker, "resources are not an issue," he says.
Litt is one among a small but growing number of executives who say that heightened concerns are driving a gradual evolution of the security function and investing it with more influence than ever before.
"Security folks have often been viewed as a necessary evil who always get in the way of your doing business," says Howard Schmidt, CISO at eBay Inc. in San Jose and former White House cybersecurity adviser. But regulatory compliance issues and the increasing losses related to worms, viruses and other hacker attacks are making security a part of the core business process, he says.
Kim Milford agrees. "Security is now viewed as a critical requirement in the purchase, design, development and deployment of applications and services," says Milford, information security manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There seems to be a shift from the emphasis on predominantly technical controls to risk assessment, policies and user education," she adds.

Eric Litt, chief information security officer at General Motors Corp.
Eric Litt, chief information security officer at General Motors Corp.
Image Credit: Michelle Andonian
For instance, Litt has crafted a model under which all security planning at GM starts with an analysis and understanding of the specific threats and risks faced by a business unit. A central security team evaluates and analyzes everything from regulatory requirements to intellectual property protection, inappropriate use, access control and threats such as denial-of-service attacks, worms and viruses.
The group then architects a detailed security implementation requirement for each of the business units based on its specific risk profile. Each of the business units is responsible for implementing the needed technology and process measures and is periodically audited for compliance against its requirements. A color-coded security dashboard for senior management at GM rates the performance of each business unit, with green representing full compliance, yellow showing partial progress and red indicating a total lack of compliance.
It's an evolving holistic approach to security that includes "the people, the organization, governance, process and, lastly, technology," Litt says.
Strategy, Not Tactics
A similar focus on high-level concerns such as regulatory compliance, digital rights management, intellectual property protection and


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