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What is the first thing a CISO does when they wake up?

over 3 years ago by Chris Holt

What is the first thing a CISO does when they wake up?

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What is the first thing a CISO does when they wake up?

If you ask a Chief Information Security Officer or someone with another title but all the responsibilities, what the first thing she or he does once they wake up you will get a variety of answers, but first, they will respond by letting you know that it is nice that you assume that they sleep in the first place. With the current shortage of resources, security personal and ever-increasing volume of cyber attacks and threats, most CISO have a lot on their plates. Add the fact that hackers and various threats don’t exactly keep a considerate working schedule, it’s hard to find a good CISO that has a regular sleep timetable.

However, most CISO does have a routine of set tasks and processes they perform at the start of each new day. Whilst this can range wildly depending on the size and maturity of the business it usually starts around the discovery phase. Or as a wise manager once told me ” seek first to understand”.

A variety of tooling, dashboards, email / portal updates from external MSSP, threat feeds dark web monitoring etc. There is a long list of potential options here and the size of the business will dictate how these are reviewed personally or assigned to team leads.

The current remote nature of working fills the diary with an array of calls and video meetings (insert your favourite Zoom, teams tool of choice) with department leads on project update, strategy reviews, board meetings, “the audit” (which seems to have come around quickly), Risk meetings, 3rd party supplier meetings, dealing with technology based improvements, reviews, sales calls etc.

Surprises usually aren’t a good thing, so any impromptu urgent meetings dictate the course of action.

If the day goes to plan project milestones are delivered, audits are recommendations are reviewed and planned, and the teams in the cyber business are empowered and supported.

Lunch, ha… a lightning quick grab something on the go does the job. Have another coffee, look at your phone and see a number of missed calls, VM’s, texts, etc those wanting your time.

Oh yes, don’t forget that interview you have arranged in the diary from DCL at 13:00. That certainly did look like a great candidate. You are please you saved their number and gave them a call.


Comments from an expert.

Helen Rabé, Global CSO, Abcam.

This insight is likely to disappoint if you were expecting dynamic, hardcore behaviours, but…barring any disaster that has come to my attention overnight (my phone is always on as it’s a 365x24 job)…I have a fairly calm morning routine.  If I am travelling into work that day, I am up at 5:30am to get ready.  I check my diary every morning to ensure I am clear on my schedule and in the event I have any early morning meetings with our China team, I ensure they know to dial me in as I am driving. Full disclosure, I am not a great morning person.  I leave the house at 6:30am and on my drive into work, I have a regular ‘pit stop’ at a service station to get my large latte with an extra shot, it helps me focus. I get into the office by 8am (have another coffee) and its non-stop from there.

On mornings where I am not commuting, I am up at 7am and get myself into the frame of mind to exercise from 7:30 to 8:30am…I block out my diary for these sessions to ensure no schedule conflicts.  The job is incredibly stressful and I do strive for balance where possible in my life so this exercise time is crucial to me.  In truth, I do my best to keep my mornings as hassle free as possible.  Usually come 9:30 my day is booked out in meetings etc and I do not stop until early evening.  If my mornings are kept fairly routine and laid back, it sets me up for a constructive day.  Obviously a CISO’s life is unpredictable as a result of the job so there is the odd morning where you are having to deal with an unforeseen incident, that’s to be expected and those mornings are when you just deal with what life throws at you and use the support from your team.  Sleep has always been an issue for me so I am accustomed to living with only 5 hours a night on a good night.  It’s another reason why I need calm mornings, things hitting me full on in addition to little sleep makes it challenging to keep patient and logical.  CISO’s are just normal people with normal routines and behaviours…we all have different ways of coping and I know some of my peers having extremely demanding mornings as a result of families and other responsibilities, I am fortunate to have few outside influences to my mornings and have found over the years that my calm morning routine helps me manage the stressors of the job more effectively.

Shan Lee, CISO & DPO, TransferWise

Due to COVID, my 5:30am commute is currently a thing of the past, but I’m rarely still in my pit at 6:00. I am a morning person, which is a good thing as about 2/3 of my team are based in Tallinn, 2 hours ahead of me, and as much as possible I try to work Tallinn hours (that means starting early, and on very rare occasions even finishing early – no one in Infosec ever worked regular hours). The nature of the job means that a significant portion of any day consists of impromptu “drive-by’s” and attending a lot of meetings, be they with my own teams, other areas of the business or external auditors, partners and regulators. Any “work” I need to do generally has to be completed before about 9:30 or I have to block out time in my calendar for it if there is a deadline, but the crux of my role is to give assurance and/or advice and help others make decisions. Luckily, I have an amazing team that make all the things that are needed for me to achieve that happen.

Of course, all of the above is dependent on what is waiting on my phone when I wake up, or if one of my team has been sufficiently spooked to actually phone me in the middle of the night, which I might add has not yet happened in 4+ years at TransferWise (crosses fingers). Many comparisons are drawn between Infosec and the military, from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the one that does hold true is that however well you plan, exercise and review, there will always be surprises, and this job can always guarantee one thing: It won’t be boring.

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