Is GRC the answer to the cybersecurity labor shortage and skills gap?

Governance, risk management and compliance platforms can help agencies optimize operations and make the best use of limited resources.

Cybersecurity is a high priority at all government agencies. The massive breach at the Office of Personnel Management that compromised millions of highly sensitive personnel records confirmed that many critical federal systems are insufficiently protected. The growing amount of unfinished information security work is compounded by the alarming shortage of cybersecurity experts available to fill open positions, as well as the skills gap in cybersecurity. These problems are a global phenomenon affecting private and public entities alike. Furthermore, federal agencies (not to mention state and local governments) find it difficult to compete with the rising salaries offered by commercial enterprises and are losing valued employees to the private sector.

Could this high-profile staffing problem be best addressed by technology that empowers organizations to manage incidents and be proactive with information security? That technology is called GRC, which stands for governance, risk management and compliance.

Comprehensive cloud-based GRC platforms are uniquely positioned to enhance, automate and systematize the expertise of cybersecurity professionals. Here are three significant ways GRC can augment staff and compensate for missing skills all while addressing security gaps:

1. Automate and outsource. Within comprehensive GRC platforms, processes can be modeled, automated and easily operated, removing human error from the equation. In this way, GRC platforms make employee work more efficient and less error prone. Opting for cloud-based GRC solutions frees up time and money that once was directed at installing, implementing and maintaining on-premise solutions, which required staffing. Expert service and support can be part of the deal with subscription model solutions, allowing in-house cybersecurity professionals to focus more on strategy and less on small hiccups.

2. Empower the cybersecurity team. When organizations are short-staffed, each cybersecurity team member ends up being responsible for outsized portions of the technology estate. However, even the most efficient team can’t monitor what it can’t see. Comprehensive GRC solutions centralize IT assets information in an asset database. Data from vulnerability and web application scanners and security information and event management software can be correlated, then tied to specific assets to help identify the likelihood and impact of a risk. Processes and policies can be mapped to controls, making it easy to identify gaps in compliance.

GRC solutions also help manage vendor and third-party risk by managing contracts, assessing risk and tracking vendor performance in one place. Monitoring, tracking and reporting of remediation and risk metrics are streamlined with workflows and analytics. Through these capabilities, GRC solutions increase the efficiencies of IT team members, allowing them to do more with less.

Risk dashboards help team members get the most important and up-to-date information about their contribution to risk management. These dashboards could include tactical or strategic activities, based on the employee's role in the organization from the front lines to the board. The increase in visibility and integration across assets, policy, regulation and scanned data gives the security team, compliance managers and auditors a more comprehensive and granular picture of security effectiveness and IT risk. These efficiencies help to facilitate and expedite decision making.

3. Make better, faster decisions. Cybersecurity teams are inundated with data. Federal agencies are often responsible for more personnel, endpoints and records than the average corporate enterprise. Most security teams spend the majority of their time and focus figuring out situational awareness, reacting to their current state and strengthening their network. The automation and analytics capabilities of GRC solutions collect and correlate high volumes of data to inform threat intelligence and create asset inventories to help prioritize those risks. Workflows streamline a variety of tasks, including those related to tracking, documentation and remediation. With GRC solutions, data is turned into information, making answers and actions more immediate, accurate and complete. In other words, the cybersecurity team can accomplish more without adding staff.

4. Solving the labor shortage and skills gap in cybersecurity

Many public and private initiatives are underway to fill the cybersecurity expert pipeline, but hackers aren’t waiting around. OPM just released a timeline for implementing the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act. It will take several years to reap the benefits of the plan, as curriculum and career initiatives aimed at high school and college students won’t come to fruition for years. Retraining current infosec professionals places more burden on an already stretched workforce.   

The solution to addressing the cybersecurity labor shortage and skills gap may well be GRC solutions that automate many manual, labor-intensive tasks.  A recent study from Intel and the Center for Strategic and International Studies surveyed IT decision makers from eight countries, and the picture it painted was bleak: 82 percent reported a shortage of cybersecurity skills in their organizations, and 71 percent claimed the shortage does “direct and measurable damage” to their IT security programs. On a more optimistic note, nine of 10 respondents said technology could help compensate for the lack of skilled professionals. In fact, more than half believe that technology solutions will meet the majority of their organization’s cybersecurity needs within five years.

If government agencies haven’t already, now is the time to consider adopting GRC. Managing information security, risk and compliance is a complex and continuous challenge, further impaired by a lack of resources. In the face of a skills gap and personnel shortage, GRC platforms systematize expert knowledge and correlate disparate data into actionable information, plans and strategies to optimize tactical operations, allow top-tier talent to stay focused on strategy and critical issues and make the best use of limited resources.

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