Have you ever stayed awake at night, worrying that a basic phishing attack or buggy code will bring your whole company crashing down?

You’re not alone. The threat of data breaches and malware attacks are real. Ransomware is the latest iteration of hacking. Rather than breaking in to retrieve sensitive data, ransomware aims to lock a company out of its own data, only to demand a ransom for access to the company’s own data. Whether it is a coordinated hack or a basic human error, cyber security failures threaten the life of a tech company.

CTOs invest time and money to prevent cyber security breaches, but when there are so many ways to be attacked, creating an effective security program can be overwhelming. Fortunately, this article will help you sort through some of the major issues associated with security and provide best practices as you make critical cyber security decisions.

CTOs Must Overcome Security Misconceptions

Technology developments in security and compliance grew out of government programs. The Defense Department wanted technology systems that transmitted information privately and securely. And—unlike your CFO—the Defense Department wasn’t counting pennies. So, there’s a bit of a disconnect when technology companies today have to weigh the costs and benefits of security. Security risks are met with uncertainty and doubt. Questions arise, like, “Are we really in danger of an outside attack?” Threats become over-exaggerated, and security becomes underappreciated.

A CTO’s goal is to overcome this misconception and create a company culture that embraces security. The reality is that almost all security breaches stem from human error. Security threats can come from mistakes in information exposure, developer access, and sensitive information access. Regardless of the source of the problem, humans make mistakes, so limiting human error is a major security priority.

Another misconception centers on the conflict between technological advancement and security, suggesting that changes in technology are too fast for security to manage. Though a real challenge exists, the tension between evolving technology and security can be beneficial. These competing interests can force a security team to operate with better functionality and speed, addressing more security risks than ever before.

A strong security culture requires overcoming some common misconceptions, but it also requires regular maintenance. A good analogy here is maintaining physical health. Physical health is not accomplished by a one-and-done visit to the doctor. It requires small investments every day. For example, healthy eating habits, exercise, and smart lifestyle choices all contribute to great physical health. A great security culture is not much different; it has daily routines built into its operation that maintain its fitness in addition to checkups at regular intervals.

It is important to remember that as a security culture is built, the CTO must respect the talents of each department. Engineers should have a relationship with the security structure and training to help create a strong security culture. But their focus should be in—you guessed it—engineering. Respecting the talents of your employees will go a long way in gaining the respect and trust you need for a successful security culture.

A Note on Compliance

Security and compliance are intertwined, so security programs almost always address compliance issues. As you read through threat modeling, be aware that threats can occur through failures in compliance. Legal issues arising from failures to comply with statutes and regulations can create roadblocks and costly hurdles for your company to move through. Contractual compliance issues can cause huge losses in time and money.

A ubiquitous example is the payment card industry’s (PCI) security standards for cardholder data protection. These standards are enacted through a chain of contracts from service providers, partners, vendors, and customers through vendors. Customers in a highly regulated industry will have more specific requirements to do business. Here, regulatory and contractual forces combine to create potential threats to your company. A strong security program will acknowledge and address these concerns as well as internal errors or external attacks.

Threat Modeling as an Approach to Building a Security Structure

One way for a CTO to create a security program is to engage in threat modeling. Opportunities for security breaches are everywhere, but threat modeling can prioritize the most important security risks for your company. Threat modeling is the process of organizing abstract security risks in a structured manner. The main objectives of the assessment identify and address the assets, the threats to those assets, and how those threats can occur. The goal is to bring security consciousness front of mind, giving the CTO the power to minimize risk.

Threat modeling is a functional tool for the CTO. Specifically, the model identifies and scores three main areas: 1) the assets of the organization, 2) the adversaries of the organization, what their objectives are, and how they would be accomplished, and 3) the protections or safeguards built into the organization. The important aspect of the threat model