SAP appoints ex-Yahoo security boss in new CSO role

SAP has appointed former Yahoo security chief Justin Somaini as its new CSO as a new study claims to show that firms underestimate the risks SAP security poses to profits.

SAP announced the appointment of Somaini on Monday, which it said was effective from January 1.

"The newly created role of CSO at SAP highlights the relevance of security in a digitally connected world," said Bernd Leukert, an SAP board member in a statement.

Somaini arrives at SAP after a stint as “head of trust” at cloud storage startup Box, which he joined after departing Yahoo in 2013 as its CISO. He’s also served in senior security role at Symantec.

SAP did not explain in its announcement why it waited until today to announce Somaini’s appointment, however it coincided with the release of research by Ponemon Institute that highlights the link between security flaws and threats to company profits.

Ponemon's survey of 600 executives was sponsored by Boston-based SAP Security specialist, Onapsis. The study found that only 35 percent of respondents said they were “very confident or confident” a breach would be detected in within a week of it occurring.

While a week is a long time for a hacker to be rummaging unfettered through a compromised system, it’s also well below the 205 days on average that it took firms to discover an actual breach in 2014, according to security firm FireEye.

However, Onapsis last year claimed that it took SAP 12 months to fix reported vulnerabilities and then six months for companies to deploy them. Google's Project Zero team offer vendors three months to report or disclose a bug before going public with a flaw its researchers have found.

Announcing Somaini’s appointment, SAP said that “early detection is becoming increasingly important, as is the development of tools to efficiently eradicate the threat of security breaches.”

SAP spokesman Hilmar Schepp told CSO Australia the announcement of Somaini’s role was unrelated to the Ponemon report. Rather, SAP wanted to introduce its new CSO ahead of the RSA security conference next Monday. SAP will be present there and Somaini will be available for customers to talk with, said Schepp.

“We wanted to introduce Justin exactly prior to this conference to emphasize that security is such an important topic for SAP,” said Schepp.

Onapsis' will also be at RSA where it will deliver a talk about “taking control of cyberattacks on SAP”.

Alexander Polyakov, a researcher with ERPScan, another security firm that has uncovered multiple flaws in SAP software, questioned whether Somaini had been hired to protect SAP products or SAP’s own systems.

Read more: The week in security: Warnings on open-source spinoffs, US-Europe privacy compromise

“The CSO's role is more about securing the company's assets rather than taking care of a product's security, so I don’t think that this new hire can somehow impact the security of SAP products,” said Polyakov. He added that he didn't know SAP's organisational structure.

Schlepp however said Somaini’s role will straddle both product and internal IT systems.

“Justin's role focusses on both: securing SAP's products and our own IT infrastructure. And this is exactly what we meant to say with ‘newly created role’,” said Schepp, referring to reports that SAP had hired its first CSO.

For the record, one of SAP's former CSOs was Dr. Sachar Paulus.

“In the past our CSO was more to secure SAP's own infrastructure rather than overseeing to secure the products. And with our own transformation becoming a cloud company this role is even more important,” he said.

ERPScan's Polyakov recently told CSO Australia that SAP’s response to bug reports had improved over the past five years. In 2007, he said, SAP had one person responsible for security response, but today the SAP Security Response Team had dozens of “highly skilled” security personnel worldwide.


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Tags OnapsisFireEyePonemon InstituteCSOCSO AustraliaGoogle's Project Zerorsasecurity flawsJustin SomainicyberattacksYahoosymantecSAP

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