Security Experts:

Cyber Intelligence: Competitive Intelligence By Any Other Name…

The current environment around cybercrime is quickly becoming a forcing function that’s causing businesses to begin evaluating how they’re doing cybersecurity across the board.

Most importantly of all, it’s forcing companies to start thinking about how to measure and prepare for the real, business impacts of cyber threats lest they be held legally accountable by, say, the fine folks at the FTC. Or any number of voracious civil suit-seeking lawyers closely monitoring their failings and foibles.

But words and phrases like “begin evaluating” and “start thinking about” don’t equate to decision-making or “doing” anything real about it at all. 

In fact, despite a cyber and business “pop culture” zeitgeist brimming with signs and indicators that people really are starting to notice cyber insecurity (Mr. Robot’s ratings anyone?), an alarming number of companies put some very considerable roadblocks in front of themselves for not getting started on the same sorts of “competitive intelligence” programs for cyber that have become widely used and benefited from across industry.  

Cyber IntelligenceSome of my favorite excuses that I’ve heard from companies who want to avoid engaging in cyber intelligence functions?

• We’re not ready; we’re just not mature enough to make use of it.

• What would I do with this information anyway?

• How can I justify the expense and time if I can’t measure the benefits?

• I don’t have the right people and processes to handle it.

Absurd as this sounds, could you imagine a company being told one of their products presents a choking hazard saying, “Meh, we’re not mature enough to make use of this information.” Shockingly, this is pretty much exactly what’s happening when it comes to equally risky cyber threat information.

But it seems most just don’t see that cyber intelligence needs to become a prioritized, resourced part of what they’re already doing.

Now, in fairness, most of these excuses are actually quite real and tangible for the companies making use of them. In other words, most companies are, in what has become a stark reality, very immature when it comes to cyber defense.

Companies really don’t have the cyber expertise on hand in the right numbers. They don’t have well-developed processes in place internally (and externally to partners and customers) to deal well with even known threats, nor or the right tools on hand or a budget commensurate with the problem. Most companies don’t even know how big their cyber problem is, much less what to do with information about any one threat or the other.

But let’s apply this same set of excuses to, say, product development.

Would a company that wants to be successful in their marketplace not try to establish - and very quickly - all the necessary means to gather and use intelligence on what the customer wants, what their competitors are up to, how their products compare, what they’re doing better or worse, etc.?

Not a chance.

And that’s what is so confusing - and telling - about the reaction businesses have to even getting started gathering this sort of information about their cybercrime competition:

What these excuses say about most organizations is that most simply don’t have a real corporate strategy for cyber defense complete with focused objectives for how they want to defend themselves across the board from exploit.

And most are in fact lethargic, lazy and reluctant when it comes to doing anything about it.

In other words, unlike with products or sales, companies are not devoting time, energy, focus and a long-term commitment to what they want to be and achieve with their cybersecurity. There’s no plan, no blueprint developed for and bought into (and nurtured) by corporate leadership from the lowest rungs of cybersecurity management and all the way up to the board of directors.

In short, there’s just no cyber business plan - and few who care enough to develop it.

Cyber Security Strategy is Becoming Corporate Strategy

When a company develops its products or services for market, it develops an overall plan - a shared strategy that everyone in the organization can see and support by virtue of their part to play in it.

Whether you’re in product development, R&D, finance, marketing or sales, you depend on a cohesive, clear and cared-for map of where you’re going.

In all cases, these plans are highly dependent on data. Research is performed and insights are shared in a collaborative way as key players work together from all parts of an organization to develop ideas into marketable things.

Over time, the process by which companies stay competitive by evolving, pivoting and fixing is rooted in this continual and disciplined data collection and analysis. It forms the basis for refining raw ideas into initial offerings, then supports the perfection of those ideas through a product or service lifecycle.

Most importantly, a clear plan not only provides a unique vision of where you’re going, it governs day-to-day operations. Without it, resiliency and continuity of operations isn’t possible.

As well, it helps companies and their individual organizations avoid:

• Getting complacent across the board

• Becoming disorganized, inefficient and stovepiped 

• Being surprised by disruptions in the market 

• Wasting precious talent and expertise 

• Failing to deliver on continuous improvement, evolution

• Failing to satisfy customers

• Losing money to waste, fraud, abuse and litigation

• Conducting risk management and mitigation 

All of these things lead to a quickly tarnished brand. Like a shark, a business must keep moving and eating or die. And data and analysis is the energy that propels this motion.

Right now, too many businesses across the globe are operating without a proper cyber intelligence function that makes it possible to develop this data-driven plan in the first place. Without it, they have nothing that tells them, quite simply, what their specific cyber risks are based on who they are as a company, including their:

• Customers and suppliers 

• Technologies used

• Internal business organizations

• Products manufactured and sold

• Data stored

• Overall brand and reputation

Under these circumstances, a clear plan and shared strategy is impossible.

Sadly, even with more coverage of breaches, more executives losing their jobs, more companies taking major brand hits… many companies are still putting cybersecurity squarely as a problem for the geeks. The engineers. The people (like me) who are awkward to be alone with in an elevator. As such, cyber is their problem. A technical problem that’s far too “in the weeds” for management to care about.

They get their hour in the quarterly staff meeting, you get some slides and spreadsheets and request for more money.

Until cybersecurity is seen and treated just like any other critical business problem with the same needs for intelligence gathering, tools and analysis to support decision-making, companies will continue to lose. Lose in bottom line revenue, lose customers and lose lots of cash to legal expenses in tough litigation that could also cost them brand and reputation. 

“Cyber intelligence” is “competitive intelligence” by any other name. Kinda the same way “cyber attack” or “data breach” has become just another alias for “legal fees.”

Related: Obsession With "Actionable" Undermines Effective Threat Awareness

Related: Cyber Intelligence-as-a-Service: In-House vs. Outsource Dilemma

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Jason Polancich founder and Chief Architect at SurfWatch Labs. He is a serial entrepreneur focused on solving complex internet security and cyber-defense problems. Prior to founding SurfWatch Labs, Mr. Polancich co-founded Novii Design which was sold to Six3 Systems in 2010. In addition to completing numerous professional engineering and certification programs through the National Cryptologic School, Polancich is a graduate of the University of Alabama, with degrees in English, Political Science and Russian. He is a distinguished graduate of the Defense Language Institute (Arabic) and has completed foreign study programs through Boston University in St. Petersburg, Russia.