CSOs need to walk the walk before they talk the talk

According to this article from CSO Magazine’s web site, “several security execs expressed surprise” over the CISO of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania found himself unemployed after making a speech at the RSA Security Conference describing a cyber security incident at his state’s motor vehicle agency without getting prior approval.  As a CSO myself, I don’t understand why anyone is surprised – I think that this firing was pretty easy to predict and, unfortunately, deserved.

Yes, the incident that the CSO talked about was pretty minor – it involved what sounds like an application error that allowed some people to jump the line when scheduling driving tests – but that is not the point.  Like most organizations, Pennsylvania’s government has a policy requiring employees to get prior approval before disclosing official matters.  I am sure that the CSO was aware of this policy and as a security professional and as a C level employee, he had a dual responsibility in this matter – to follow policies like any other employee and to set an example for others in his organization to follow in security matters.   He also had a responsibility to protect the image of his organization… at the very least, before speaking about this kind of an incident in public, he should have made sure that management was on board and that there was a public relations plan for any negative blowback.

Could this incident have been discussed in public without the need for firing?  I think so, although the final decision should have come from management.  Had the CSO given them a chance to weigh in, his participation in the RSA panel could have been a positive event for the DMV – showing lessons learned and all that.

If this particular CSO reported to me, I would have some serious questions about their judgment and their ability to safeguard confidential information.    I think it would be really difficult to regain that trust after this kind of incident.

Don’t get me wrong – I feel badly that this person was fired – this was probably one negative incident in a career filled with accomplishment and service.  But in the end, he made the choice that ended his employment.

OK – I just can’t resist one thing…  The Security on this site page of the DMV’s website recommends the use of Netscape Navigator 4.7 or IE 5.0 or greater as secure browsers and then goes on to tout the agency’s use of the “most recent versions of security software”…  DOH!

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