The 5 Golden Rules of a CEO for Handling an IT Cybersecurity Crisis

Dec 28, 2022

Without a strong cybersecurity program, you can't protect your business from data breaches, which makes it a prime target for hackers. Decision-makers can't rely just on cybersecurity tools like antivirus and firewalls because cyber criminals are developing more sophisticated tactics every day. A cyber breach could seriously harm a company's operations, sales, reputation, and stock price. It can abruptly destroy the successful career of a CEO or CSO, as happened with some cyberattacks in recent years. The Allianz Risk Barometer 2020, the largest risk survey ever conducted, identified cybersecurity breaches as the greatest risk to organizations.  

Having a good plan for the cyber crisis is half the battle. To be able to respond quickly and prevent long-term damage, businesses must simulate a cyberattack to identify the appropriate roles, potential process gaps, and technical difficulties. This could entail a tabletop exercise when relevant executives meet around a table to discuss. 

Cybersecurity issues

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Cybersecurity Management

Cybersecurity management is an organization's strategic level skill to safeguard information resources and competitive advantage in a complex and dynamic threat environment. Today’s highly dynamic and fast-paced business environment shapes how businesses leverage their assets, such as digital processes, information, and IT systems to create a competitive advantage. These resources are increasingly vulnerable to internal and external security threats such as industrial espionage, theft, fraud, sabotage, and embezzlement. Cybersecurity management reduces the risk exposure of organizations using a variety of managerial, legal, technological, process, and social controls.

Also read: Continuous Security Defined and Explained: A Leader’s Guide

Most Recent High-Profile Company Data Breaches in 2022

Recent companies that faced cybersecurity breaches are listed below:

  • MediBank: October 2022

  • Uber: September 2022

  • Plex: August 2022

  • Ronin: April 2022

  • GiveSendGo Breach: February 2022

  • Breach: January 2022

Even though you can delegate cybersecurity, if something goes wrong, everyone will be looking at you and not your CTO. The threats are greater than ever, but don't worry—you already have the knowledge and abilities to prevent a cyber epidemic. But even for the best prepared, a cyber crisis could occur at any time. 

What should you do if you are the CEO of a company that has been hacked?

Golden Rules of a CEO for Handling a Cybersecurity Crisis

  • Take Charge

  • The key is Communication

  • Utilize the expertise of cyber security professionals 

  • Use smart containment

  • Don’t forget to take precautions ]

1. Take Charge

Simply giving the IT team the job during a cyber breach can be risky for the business and you personally. Several CEOs of large organizations recently discovered this. Although businesses have always faced a variety of risks, in the last 20 years, cyber risk has emerged as one of the most serious dangers to enterprises, their data, and their ability to prosper financially. Cyber risk affects not just your IT network but also your entire company.

Organizational disruption and litigation costs have a direct impact on your reputation if you don’t prioritize your concerns. Therefore, it should not be surprising that shareholders are starting to demand personal responsibility for corporations involved in a cyber crisis. Effective management of a cyber crisis involves board-level engagement at both the COO and CFO level. The CEO is the best person to manage it.

2. The key is communication

The cyber crisis is quite complicated. To fully address all of those questions can take months or even years. However, your right communication strategy will influence the public perception of how professionally you handled the situation. The majority of large businesses that tried to hide a cyber issue but were exposed later suffered severe damage to their reputation. 

Additionally, you must oversee all relevant internal stakeholders and vendors and adhere to any applicable rules for essential documents. Some regulatory bodies demand exceptionally quick reports, like the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which requires notification within a short period.

However, there are a lot of technical factors that are beyond your control. For instance, several significant attacks such as CAM4 have been disclosed by security researchers who spotted signs of a compromise based on malware samples and external telemetry. Transparency in handling your cyber crisis may result in advantages like support from authorities, researchers, and consumer assistance. However, you must be prepared to handle pressure throughout both communication and execution. 

To facilitate communication, it’s important to have a solution like Plutora Value Stream Management that expedites continuous security monitoring and builds trust across the whole team (from managers to engineers) as well as between teams (from DevOps to SRE). That way, when issues do arise, there is a framework there that engenders visibility, transparency, and collaboration.

3. Utilize the expertise of Cyber Security professionals

The majority of businesses have in-house CISOs and security personnel who respond to their cyber crisis. But the question is: Do your staff dig deeper into your cyber security problem? Don't try to figure it out on your own if your team has never handled a cyber crisis and you haven't conducted sufficient tabletop exercises yet.

Instead, a CEO ought to think about involving the following stakeholders in the crisis process:

Security Vendors

The majority of businesses are hesitant to accept security vendors as partners. Security vendors are one of your finest allies in reducing the threat. 

Cybersecurity Crisis Experts

Reporting on the problems and conducting the technical analysis can be done more effectively by external businesses that have dealt with the same threat or similar scenarios. For instance, the majority of businesses usually lack legal expertise or are unfamiliar with the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP).

Law Enforcement

Engaging law enforcement is frequently more of a formal action to record the incident. However, some countries have potent tools that can aid in protecting your networks. To tackle cybersecurity issues sustainably, it’s always a good idea to engage with law enforcement during or after an incident.


Because cybersecurity is a team sport, we must exercise greater humility when cooperating with colleagues or even competitors. Most of the threats to your company have already affected some of your peers. Asking for assistance and involving others is essential.

Having a sound cybersecurity plan is insufficient; you also need a staff that can carry it out properly. Do you have a team like that? If not, a solution like PeoplActive can help you find the ideal cybersecurity engineer who possesses the precise qualifications you require. 

4. Use smart containments

It might take years to solve the cyber crisis issue if you blindly follow every suggestion provided. Instead of trying to solve everything, your task force can use a risk-driven containment strategy that focuses on the following issues:

  • Who hacked us and why?

  • How can threats be reduced?

In some cases, it may even be necessary to keep the attacker in your network for some time to ascertain their true intentions; nevertheless, if those intentions are negative, you should remove them from the network as soon as possible.

For any targeted attacks directed particularly at your business and with a specified purpose such as destroying the IT system or stealing information for espionage, there is one crucial question you should always ask your CSO: Is patient zero identified? 

Similar to viral outbreaks in the real world, patient zero can assist you in reconstructing the attack's path and locating any potential hidden backdoors the attacker installed in your network as a fallback in case he is identified. If your task force is unable to trace patient zero, they will be unable to confirm whether the attacker is still present in the network or determine the nature of the attack.

5. Don’t forget to take precautions

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, global cybercrime costs will increase by 15% per year over the next five years, reaching USD 10.5 trillion annually by 2025, up from USD 3 trillion in 2015. How has the cyberattack affected your company technically, legally, financially, and reputationally? Have you suffered financial losses as a result of the last 20 hours of server downtime? 

Calculate the attack’s total cost. Look for an ongoing operational impact if time was lost working on significant projects. You must conduct a study if you have purchased insurance to offset your cyber risk. It will also assist you in determining the investment required for cybersecurity.

Most businesses that go through a cyber crisis ultimately raise their investment in cybersecurity significantly. Concentrating on concepts like Zero Trust, enhancing cyber hygiene, and simplifying security processes and technologies are some of the most essential — and fundamental — actions to be taken.

Want to know how prepared your company is? 

Read this: A Cyber Attack Can Ruin Your Business – Are You Really Prepared?

In a Nutshell

Regardless of the industry, a CEO must have a sound cyber resilience plan if they want to be ready for the worst situation. The main goal of a cyber resilience plan is to minimize the amount of damage brought by a cyber attack. Implementing a well-thought-out and stress-tested business-continuity strategy in the event of an attack saves your company enormous money and time.

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