As Remote Working Becomes Normal, What Do CISOs Expect Of Vendors?


One of the most significant changes brought about by the Coronavirus outbreak has been the mass move to working from home. From an operational perspective, the impact on technology companies has been hard to overstate both in its depth and its breadth. A now-famous meme identifies COVID-19 as the one factor which has finally realized the promise of digital transformation. While amusing, this presents an important point: this pandemic, like many other crises before it, accelerates many processes that would have otherwise taken months or years.

Digital Transformation Quiz SUSANNE WOLK (TWITTER)

While some changes will be temporary or partial, others will transform our world. The implications of accelerated change are of concern to anyone responsible for risk management, and Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are no exception. So, what is on the minds of CISOs of key technology companies in this challenging time?

Polling the CISOs

In their latest CISO Current report, cybersecurity-focused venture and research firm YL Ventures asked their advisory board—made up of around 80 CISOs for leading companies such as Wal-Mart, Netflix and Spotify—similar questions. YL Ventures have been making use of this advisory board in investment due diligence processes over the years, and in 2019 decided to start publishing their findings for the benefit of the industry. The below list includes a combination of feedback from that report, as well as from other sources, where noted.

1. A good time to reconsider technology choices

Originally, the YL Ventures report was focused on DevSecOps, and found that many current tools—for example, most static application security testing (SAST) and runtime application self-protection (RASP) platforms—were considered cumbersome and difficult to adopt within software engineering teams. Another major (though perhaps unsurprising) finding was that the biggest challenge was in creating a system of processes and incentives, to support transformation. It was noted that technology should be evaluated in how it supports and safely accelerates these non-technological changes: it should bridge the long-cycle, “breaking” culture of security engineering and the short-cycle, “building” culture of software development.

2. Everyone is remote, and some will stay that way

With the acceleration of the pandemic, YL Ventures quickly pivoted and included a second and more pertinent part of their report, which deals with the work-related transformations that are on the minds of CISOs in light of the pandemic. The biggest challenge that was cited was establishing fully remote workforces in a tight timeframe, in a way that will be sustainable for a partially-remote future of work; a close second was severe budget constraints, unsurprisingly. According to Naama Ben Dov of YL Ventures, both these concerns present opportunities for vendors in how they interact with CISOs from this point on.

3. The risk map is being reshuffled

There are things that CISOs worry about, that are getting easier in the new reality, such as controlling location-based risks: an employee residing in London could not have logged into their laptop from Moscow, for example, since there is no business travel. Similarly, Adrian Ludwig, CISO of software giant Atlassian, was a guest on Snyk’s webinar on working from home last week, and noted that he has seen an uptake around bug hygiene, as engineers have more time to be thorough and at times gravitate to smaller tasks.

Other issues are made more complicated, for example VPNs and DDoS mitigation. Yair Melmed, VP Solutions at DDoS start-up MazeBolt, reported that over 85% of companies he works with are proactively identifying DDoS Mitigation vulnerabilities that would have impacted their business continuity had they been hit by a DDoS attack. Because VPN Gateways weren’t critical to business continuity before COVID-19, most companies are finding that their DDoS mitigation solutions don’t adequately protect them. This has become a critical issue, with the risk of employees being be cut off and other services might be impacted if they come under DDoS attack.

Engaging with CISOs in a time of crisis

As many vendors know, and as the YL Ventures report confirms, budgets are being scrutinized for the short term, but in many cases also for the long term—under the assumption that remote workforce concerns will stay for the foreseeable future. In general, says Ben Dov, for now it’s much more ‘defer and delay’ than ‘reprioritise’, and therefore how vendors react to their customers’ plight will be etched into the memory of CISOs and procurement officers alike when budgets recover or get retargeted.

1. Careful with those emails

The YL Ventures report explicitly calls out alarmist sales pitches, as well as sending too many emails. CISOs polled recommend to simply show goodwill and empathy with personalized messages to check in on customers’ state of mind. Alongside companies who keep sending alarmist messages, there are, of course, many examples of other vendors who are leaning in with empathy and patience towards their customers and prospects.

Getting involved with communities and community initiatives related to the specific sector is also something that is called out. Snyk’s developer advocacy team, for example, organized an online event called AllTheTalks, with all proceeds from ticket sales going towards the World Health Organization.

2. Walking the path with the buyer

While the budget may have been cut, the business need probably still exists. Many companies, from AWS to Atlassian and beyond, have come out with special offers to support businesses during this transition, as was summarized in this Forbes piece as well as elsewhere. Many, like Snyk, have created specific offers for small businesses and those in the healthcare, hospitality, travel and entertainment industries. MazeBolt has decided to offer free DDoS assessments to cover the most common DDoS vectors, resulting in a detailed vulnerability report.

3. Conscious relationship-building

On the Snyk webinar, Ludwig also spoke of his habit to informally communicate with colleagues in the company canteen (since a formal invite to a meeting with the company CISO is something no developer wants to receive). With everyone working remotely, in order to foster engagement with colleagues Ludwig recommends to make a list of those we need to reach out to and how often, and then schedule those catch-up meetings. In some cases, ‘office hours’ sessions could be set up where everyone can drop in and share their perspectives and concerns on the day to day.

Crucially, there is no reason to not extent this practice to our customers, catching up about everything and nothing on a regular basis to cement our closer relationships. While this could seem artificial, it is an effective way to keep conversations going when the operating model does not allow for any coincidental conversations.

Perhaps that is a take-away that touches on all aspects of our lives under quarantine: being conscious about our priorities, about who we interact with, and how we do so in a way that helps us achieve our goals now and later on.

(Originally posted on