How ME Bank moved information security from IT to the boardroom

A concerted effort to push information-security risk from the IT group across the business organisation has had “a dramatic effect” on the profile of IT security at ME Bank, according to information security manager Lachlan McGill.

ME Bank has implemented a range of next-generation security technologies in recent years, including the Sourcefire 3D intrusion prevention tool, related network monitoring applications, and managed-security services from Earthwave. Speaking during a panel discussion at IBM’s Pulse conference, McGill said that the bank had also recently put a significant focus on pushing responsibilities for high-level information-security policies away from the IT organisation, and into the purview of the bank’s business side.

This had brought about significant change at a range of levels: for example, business organisations have been given the responsibility for managing user security access. Business-based team leaders have been given responsibility for managing user access requests and performing regular user access reviews – and have been forced to quickly school themselves on IT-security minutiae that they rarely considered in the past.

“The need to develop an understanding of the segregation of business units, and understanding what are the implications of providing this access,” McGill explained. “It’s led to an uplift in security’s profile.”

Equally important has been a flurry of security audits – five of them in the past 15 months – that has kept the issue on the boardroom table and “has the guys actually talking about security and how to mitigate some of these risks,” McGill said. “Internal and external auditors are a great way to raise the profile of IT security.”

Even more effective, however, has been a recent restructure of the bank’s CIO reporting lines. Information security was previously handled as a function of the IT operations team, with the security team’s reporting lines leading to the IT team.

That responsibility has now been redirected straight to the CIO’s office, and with “dramatic effect” as messages about information security rise to the top of the organisation with far greater regularity. “I don’t think you can understand how important the structure in your organisation is,” McGill explained.

“Previously, information security updates, information initiatives and risk assessments were getting fed through IT operations – and were getting that IT operations filter applied, if you like. I think the message was being missed [at the board level].”

ME Bank is continuing to redouble its efforts around IT security policies and procedures, with McGill currently working through a way of integrating IT-security requirements into business project planning. Instead of being treated as a bolt-in to be added by the IT operations team, information security is being pushed into the project lifecycle.

“We’ll be developing security requirements at the beginning of the project and evaluating those at each stage of its progress,” he explained. “If we find those requirements are not being met, we will feed those into the risk management framework we have in the organisation. We think that will raise the profile of security a fair bit more, and will provide some real value for us.”

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