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Information Security Strategy in Organisations: Review, Discussion and Future Research Directions

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Abstract

Dependence on information, including for some of the world's largest organisations such as governments and multinational corporations, has grown rapidly in recent years. However, reports of information security breaches and their associated consequences continue to indicate that attacks are still escalating on organisations when conducting these information-based activities. Clearly, more research is needed to better understand how organisations should formulate strategy to secure their information. Through a thematic review of academic security literature, we (1) analyse the antecedent conditions that motivate the potential adoption of a comprehensive information security strategy, (2) the current perspectives of strategy and (3) the yields and benefits that could be enjoyed post-adoption. Our contributions include a definition of information security strategy. We argue for a paradigm shift to extend from internally-focussed protection of organisation-wide information towards a strategic view that considers the inter-organisational level. Our findings are then used to suggest future research directions.
Australasian Conference on Information Systems Horne et al.
2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
Information Security Strategy in Organisations:
Review, Discussion and Future Research Directions
Craig A. Horne
Department of Computing and Information Systems
The University of Melbourne
Victoria, Australia
Email: chorne@student.unimelb.edu.au
Atif Ahmad
Department of Computing and Information Systems
The University of Melbourne
Victoria, Australia
Email: atif@unimelb.edu.au
Sean B. Maynard
Department of Computing and Information Systems
The University of Melbourne
Victoria, Australia
Email: sean.maynard@unimelb.edu.au
Abstract
Dependence on information, including for some of the world’s largest organisations such as
governments and multi-national corporations, has grown rapidly in recent years. However, reports of
information security breaches and their associated consequences continue to indicate that attacks are
still escalating on organisations when conducting these information-based activities. Clearly, more
research is needed to better understand how organisations should formulate strategy to secure their
information. Through a thematic review of academic security literature, we (1) analyse the antecedent
conditions that motivate the potential adoption of a comprehensive information security strategy, (2)
the current perspectives of strategy and (3) the yields and benefits that could be enjoyed post-
adoption. Our contributions include a definition of information security strategy. We argue for a
paradigm shift to extend from internally-focussed protection of organisation-wide information
towards a strategic view that considers the inter-organisational level. Our findings are then used to
suggest future research directions.
Keywords
Information security strategy, organisational strategy, security quality, strategic information systems,
business management
1 INTRODUCTION
Information resources play a critical role in sustaining business success by driving innovation and
opportunities for the development of competitive advantage. As such, preservation of the
confidentiality, integrity and availability of these information resources is a significant imperative for
organisations, as is the need for a viable information security strategy in organisations (ISSiO) to
facilitate information transfer at an inter-organisational level.
The aim of this paper is to identify a strategic approach to securing information resources for the
benefit of those decision-makers accountable for driving strategic-level organisational security and
ultimately organisational success. The scope of the research is to examine the conceptual construct of
ISSiO. In particular, the authors of this paper are motivated by calls from other information systems
researchers for the development of a comprehensive security strategic framework (Baskerville et al.
2014), and for future research into the role that boards of directors may play in information security
practices (McFadzean et al. 2006).
Significantly, some of the world’s largest organisations, including governments and multi-national
corporations, have quite publicly suffered security incidents. By broadly reviewing the extant
literature, a perspective will be established that can support the development of a comprehensive
ISSiO which could be generalisable to all organisations. This paper is a critical literature review on the
topic of ISSiO. Papers from various researchers were analysed and evaluated before being compared
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
for depth of understanding and conclusions drawn. The paper commentary is explicative,
interpretative and centres on the determination of the theory of ISSiO.
The paper continues in four major sections. Initially we introduce ISSiO, discuss its origins and
existing definitions whilst expanding on some of its more central properties. Second, we review the
construct space of ISSiO to understand prior research on how ISSiO is conceptualised, the level of
analysis from which ISSiO is approached and contend with propositions for measuring the distinct
elements of an ISSiO. Third, we review the nomological network space to assess the environmental
antecedents, conceptual elements, and possible yields from an ISSiO. Finally, we draw conclusions,
construct a definition, consider limitations and provide suggestions for future research to advance our
understanding of information security strategy.
2 DEFINING INFORMATION SECURITY STRATEGY
Definitions of ISSiO are infrequent in the information systems literature so in this section, in an
indulgent departure from convention, the discussion is largely author-centric rather than concept-
centric.
Information security strategy is defined by Beebe and Rao (2010, pg. 330) as “the pattern or plan that
integrates the organisation‘s major IS security goals, policies, and action sequences into a cohesive
whole”. These authors believe ISSiO is a documented plan which matches an assessment of external
cyber threats with a financially-informed set of internal countermeasures, including the required
supporting policies and procedures. Strategy is seen as the means to influence an organisation’s
environment through the careful selection of internal controls.
Park and Ruighaver (2008, pg. 27) define information security strategy as:
“an art of deciding how to best utilize what appropriate defensive information security
technologies and measures, and of deploying and applying them in a coordinated way to
defence (sic) organisation’s information infrastructure(s) against internal and external threats
by offering confidentiality, integrity and availability at the expense of least efforts and costs
while to be effective”.
These authors believe ISSiO has been developed from the military literature and therefore tends to be
focussed more on how to deploy strategies than focus on what goals the organisation is trying achieve.
In terms of attempting to classify ISSiO, their analysis of earlier literature leads them to the conclusion
that ISSiO balances three dimensions which are time, space and the decision-making process.
Ahmad et al. (2014b) and Park and Ruighaver (2008) believe ISSiO can be used to incrementally
improve the quality of the information security program, however there must be a strong link from the
ISSiO to the organisational strategic plan to support it. ISSiO is necessary to prevent threats to an
organisation’s information. ISSiO can take the form of one of a number of areas which include
deterrence, prevention, surveillance, detection, response, deception, perimeter defence,
compartmentalisation and layering. Senior business sponsorship of the security function is also
required.
Hong et al. (2003) do not define ISSiO per se but assert that it is a function of policy orientation, risk
management orientation, control and auditing orientation, management systems orientation and
contingency management. Contingency management is assessed by the authors as a function of the
organisational environment, management and technology. Sveen et al. (2009) contend that an ISSiO is
like any other business strategy: it is the process of building up resources. By simply explaining what
an ISSiO is, Sveen et al. (2009) describe the construct but have not provided a formal definition. Their
insights are still useful however in building up our cumulative understanding.
These definitions give an insight into the difficulties with achieving unanimity on defining ISSiO.
Using conceptualisation of ISSiO as an example, Beebe and Rao (2010) explain it is a plan, Sveen et al.
(2009) assert it is a process and conceptualisations from Park and Ruighaver (2008), Ahmad et al.
(2014b) and Hong et al. (2003) do not fit within either of these. There are many other researchers who
have used the term ‘information security strategy’ in their literature however they have not provided
an explicit definition.
2.1 Information Security Strategy: Plan or Process?
There are two main conceptualisations espoused by organisational scholars when describing ISSiO.
These include (1) a static plan, described as an artefact to be shared amongst stakeholders (Beebe and
Rao 2010; Bowen et al. 2006; Von Solms and Von Solms 2004), and (2) a dynamic process, to be
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
followed by stakeholders concerned with protecting organisational information (Booker 2006; Brotby
et al. 2006; Flores et al. 2014; McFadzean et al. 2006; Sveen et al. 2009; Van Niekerk and Von Solms
2010). A profound comprehension of these interpretations will shed light on how to apply them in
ISSiO research.
Some information systems researchers view ISSiO as a static plan; a central artefact to be developed
that describes the linkages between various organisational concepts such as goals, policies and action
sequences (Baskerville and Dhillon 2008; Beebe and Rao 2010). In a process orientation, ISSiO
involves using a strategy-setting process, whilst incorporating the organisational information systems
security goals, such as regulatory compliance, as input. This strategy-setting process can group actions
taken according to either the end product ultimately derived such as a strategic security plan, or the
processes required such as aligning ISSiO with organisational strategy (Baskerville and Dhillon 2008).
Finally some information systems scholars do not conceptualise ISSiO at all or characterise it in
abstract terms only (Hong et al. 2003; Park and Ruighaver 2008).
3 INFORMATION SECURITY STRATEGY IN INFORMATION
SYSTEMS RESEARCH
A number of information systems researchers have made individual contributions towards
understanding ISSiO from various perspectives. The focus of these researchers was to address
problems including adequate support for organisational strategic vision, information systems-business
cohesiveness and coordination of information security efforts. However, a complete and methodical
evaluation of ISSiO within the information systems literature has not been accomplished. Therefore
our research seeks to firstly examine what information systems researchers have analysed about the
ISSiO construct and secondly the ISSiO nomological network describing its various elements. The
ISSiO construct denotes the theoretical domain of ISSiO, specifically how it is conceptualised, at what
levels of analysis it can be stratified, and measurement proposals to ensure unit specificity. The ISSiO
nomological network refers to our understanding of ISSiO phenomena in the information systems
domain, captured through the completion of a thematic analysis.
3.1 Literature Review
Our initial search for information security strategy was for manifestations of it in peer-reviewed
information systems journals and selected conference proceedings, found through searching
institutional repositories, Google Scholar and A* information systems journals. Our search consisted
of articles that included the complete search string “information security strategy” in English. We
searched backwards to discover prior articles and forwards for articles that cited seminal articles
(Webster and Watson 2002). We did not restrict the search based on article age or grade of journal,
preferring instead to examine each artefact found for nuances, no matter how small, which could shed
light on our evolving understanding of the concept. We also included papers that referred to
“information security” but included the word strategies (plural) instead, to facilitate an investigation
for example into whether use of the singular ‘strategy’ or plural ‘strategies’ could indicate a shift in
level of analysis within an organisation. Finally, we included papers that centred on information
security but discussed an implicit aspect of strategy. Note that ‘organisation’ is a term used to denote
private companies, public governments, not-for-profit societies and educational institutions.
We included an international standard on information security, as we thought this could have
important implications for motivating the use of an ISSiO; however we did not include any practice-
oriented literature such as vendor white papers due to issues with accessibility and peer-review
process. Out of the results, 45 papers were deemed of interest.
We then examined each paper to explore how ISSiO relates to the article’s core paradigm. The
following four classifications stratify how central ISSiO is to each paper and is adapted from Roberts et
al. (2012):
1. Implicit use of the term. Information security forms the paper’s central theme and strategy is
implicit only. Information security strategy does not form the central argument of the paper,
e.g. (Van Niekerk and Von Solms 2010).
2. Provides conceptual support. Papers use information security strategy to support the
development of their concepts, e.g. (Flores et al. 2014).
3. Used in the research question or hypothesis. Papers use information security strategy
explicitly in their findings or analysis, e.g. (Posthumus and von Solms 2004).
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
4. Forms the conceptual base for the paper. These papers are entirely consumed with the
discussion of information security strategy, e.g. (Baskerville and Dhillon 2008).
In summary, 35 percent of articles that were collected implied some aspect of ISSiO when discussing
information security. 27 percent of articles provided theoretical or conceptual support for developing
the logic of ISSiO. 18 percent of articles used ISSiO in some part of their hypothesis, research question
or proposition. One fifth of articles were focussed purely on discovery of aspects relating to ISSiO. In
the next section, we discuss the role of ISSiO in information systems research in more detail.
3.2 The Information Security Strategy Construct
From the previous sections, it could be perceived that ISSiO has not been widely developed in the
information systems literature so a more profound analysis is warranted. The following sections
discuss in more detail ISSiO’s (1) conceptualisation, (2) levels of analysis and (3) measurement
domain.
3.2.1 Conceptualisation
We examined what researchers understood the main conceptual context for the ISSiO construct was.
The three groups used for this construct are firstly as a plan, secondly as a process, and thirdly neither
of these.
Table 1 presents some conceptualisations (i.e. plans, processes, or neither conceptualisation) and the
role of ISSiO in the information systems literature. Out of the 45 articles that were examined, 20
percent (9 papers) used ISSiO as the core of the entire article. 78 percent (35 papers) gave neither
explicit conceptualisation of ISSiO. In terms of patterns, when ISSiO is used in the research question
(row 3) or forms the theoretical basis for the paper (row4), it becomes apparent that ISSiO is largely
viewed by information systems authors as neither plan nor process.
Plan Process Neither Plan nor Process Total
1. Implicit use of the term 1 1 14 16
2. Provides conceptual support 1 3 8 12
3. Used in research question or
hypothesis 0 1 7 8
4. Forms theoretical basis for paper 1 2 6 9
Total 3 7 35 45
Table 1. Information Security Strategy Conceptualisations and Role in Information Systems
Research
3.2.2 Levels of analysis
For the purposes of clarification, in this paper a group is a set of individuals who are responsible for
some aspect of security within an organisation. Also, in this section where a paper discusses aspects of
responsibility for the application of ISSiO at two different levels, the higher of the two was recorded for
the purpose of this analysis. This is because the higher level is seen to be more complex, with greater
relationship interdependencies.
Table 2 shows that while ISSiO is acknowledged to be a multilevel construct, researchers (with only 3
from 45 papers, or 7 percent) do not typically characterise ISSiO from an individual perspective. A
significant 60 percent (27 from 45 papers) of the information systems literature examined contend
that ISSiO belongs at an organisational level. At an organisational or inter-organisational level, it is
apparent (with 35 from 45 papers, or 78 percent) that scholars believe ISSiO is neither plan or process.
Plan Process Neither Plan nor Process Total
1. Individual 0 0 3 3
2. Group 0 1 7 8
3. Organisation 3 5 19 27
4. Inter-organisational 0 1 6 7
Total 3 7 35 45
Table 2. Information Security Strategy Conceptualisations and Levels of Analysis
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
3.2.3 Measurement domain
When operationalising ISSiO, if conceptual elements cannot be measured, then their reliability cannot
be known. There are eight papers in the information systems literature that use the term 'information
security strategy’ and expand the theoretical base of ISSiO. Of these, 75 percent (6 from 8 papers)
contend that ISSiO exists at an organisational level. Half of these (4 from 8) papers hold that ISSiO is
neither a plan nor a process.
A number of these papers confusingly use the word ‘measure’ as an abbreviation for ‘countermeasure’,
which is a control installed to mitigate the risk arising from a threat to an asset (Ahmad et al. 2014b;
Beebe and Rao 2009; Park and Ruighaver 2008). Two papers contained no mention of ‘measure’ at all
(Hong et al. 2003; Kayworth and Whitten 2010).
Of the three papers that addressed the measurement of some aspect of ISSiO, the main areas which
were measurable included risk management, goal achievement and quality. Risk management can be
measured by efficacy, efficiency or effectiveness (Baskerville and Dhillon 2008), time can be a primary
measure of risk (Baskerville et al. 2014) or alternatively an examination of a finite set of risk-reducing
countermeasures can be measured (Beebe and Rao 2010). Goal achievement is measured by the
activities undertaken to achieve those goals (Baskerville and Dhillon 2008). Quality improvement can
be gained through the measuring of routine security tasks (Baskerville et al. 2014).
3.3 The Information Security Strategy Nomological Network
In this section we undertake a thematic analysis within the information systems literature to
conceptualise ISSiO at various levels within an organisation and develop a nomological network map
to explain the construct and its interrelationships. Thematic analysis is a common technique that has
been used by other researchers to examine large bodies of work within the information systems
literature (Leidner and Kayworth 2006; Roberts et al. 2012). Thematic analysis is the process of
conducting a qualitative content analysis on the literature of interest then listing meritorious ideas
from each article before organising them related groups (Cline and Jensen 2004). To conduct the
thematic analysis, we firstly analysed 45 papers for their interpretation of ISSiO and then grouped key
constructs according to similarities of themes. This resulted in three distinct themes emerging from
the analysis, which were antecedents, constituents and possible yields.
Antecedents are the precursor conditions that might prompt an organisation to consider the use of an
ISSiO. Examples include governments with top secret files, pharmaceutical companies conducting
extended clinical new drug trials and banks facilitating online trading. Constituents are the elements
that make up the core of an ISSiO, to be adopted by an organisation seeking to protect its information.
Examples include risk management process to understand persistent common threats, security
auditing to satisfy external regulators and governance activities to align organisational efforts. Yields
are the benefits that can be enjoyed after successfully adopting ISSiO. Examples include the
confidentiality, integrity and availability of information, protection of competitive advantage and
brand protection and trust.
Based on the thematic analysis and discussion in preceding sections, a logical grouping of the
conceptual elements of ISSiO can be elicited from the literature and is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Thematic Map of Information Security Strategy in Organisations in IS Research
The sections below discuss these themes in more detail. Our assessment is focussed on conceptual
elements that can be contributed from each paper and an overall understanding of what each author
believes ISSiO is.
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
3.3.1 Antecedents
Antecedents are the precursor conditions necessary to prompt the use of ISSiO and emerged as a
theme in the information systems literature after conducting a thematic analysis, as described in the
previous section.
At an individual level, there did not seem to be any antecedents apparent in the literature. It is
impossible to make an exhaustive claim about this but perhaps this is an area that warrants further
attention from researchers.
At a group level, one ISSiO antecedent is the requirement for global ubiquitous information availability
and the necessity to distil incomprehensible threat intelligence complexity and volume in a timely
fashion (Booker 2006).
At an organisational level, there are few antecedents for ISSiO apparent in the literature but gathering
intelligence about the external environment was one. An organisation’s information security strategic
posture involves a dependence on the external threat environment, not the continued successful
achievement of organisational goals. The increasing complexity and sophistication of dynamic,
targeted attacks over time naturally causes a general shift in posture balance from preventative
towards a more response-oriented approach (Baskerville et al. 2014). Organisational ownership of
information assets of value is also a key driver towards the adoption of ISSiO (Kelly 1999).
At the inter-organisational level, an ISSiO must take into consideration an organisation’s regulatory
compliance burden (Banker et al. 2010; Kayworth and Whitten 2010; Tutton 2010). This regulatory
compliance-driven approach however only forms part of a holistic approach to security (Anderson and
Choobineh 2008). Regulatory and legal compliance along with adoption of standards and best
practices is also required (Posthumus and von Solms 2004). Examination of the industry in which the
organisation competes and sufficient knowledge of industrial and economic considerations of an
organisation’s competitive landscape are also required (Baets 1992). The existence of a strategic
information systems plan is notable, as it dictates the formulation of the information security policy by
providing essential details of the business context or competitive landscape (Doherty and Fulford
2006). Failure of political pressure and economic sanctions are important preconditions that may
motivate the commencement of information warfare (Baskerville 2010). ISSiO is primarily based on
prevention of incidents arising from advanced persistent threats (APT) using technical controls against
external threats that are seen to be increasingly more frequent, novel and costly (Beebe and Rao
2009). Environmental and organisational conditions, managerial understanding and actions, quality
improvement initiatives and organisational achievement lead to use of ISSiO (Cline and Jensen 2004).
Regulatory, political and legal compliance plus adoption of standards and best practices motivate the
use of ISSiO (Kim et al. 2012; Posthumus and von Solms 2004). Standards exist which detail
management of information security which in turn could assist with ISSiO development (Brotby et al.
2006; ISO/IEC 2013).
3.3.2 Constituents
Constituents are the central conceptual elements of ISSiO and emerged as a theme in the information
systems literature after conducting a thematic analysis, as described in Section 3.3.
Individual level
This section seeks to explore what role an individual has in contributing towards the overall success of
the strategic use of information security. At an individual level, there were no constituent elements of
ISSiO however this is unusual because it is widely accepted that overall security depends on the
weakest link which is typically the individual. This may represent an opportunity for further research.
Group level
This section examines the IS literature to discover the dynamics of groups working to support the
strategic use of information security. At a group level, the constituent components of the ISSiO
construct are varied and numerous. One is the identification and protection of knowledge assets,
which can be resources forming a competitive advantage and can be either held in the human brain or
in organisational documents, routines, procedures and practices. Knowledge leakage is a security
incident which can temporarily affect an organisation’s competitive advantage and affect its
reputation, revenue streams, remediation costs and productivity. Mitigation or protection of
knowledge is achieved through initial classification of information assets, then compartmentalisation,
development of technical solutions, policies, procedures, culture and legal support (Ahmad et al.
2014a). ISSiO should guide the overall security budget for an organisation, to enable the security staff
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
group and their management to fund and implement security resources that optimise security
outcomes based on expense versus benefits (Anderson and Choobineh 2008). ISSiO includes the
examination of stratified responsibility within an organisation that cohesively achieves overall
information systems security. Decisions made by one layer of responsible agents affect decisions made
by agents in other layers and their communication is vital. ISSiO success depends on action taken by
responsible agents rather than technological controls. Achievement of ISSiO allows alignment with
policies and regulatory compliance efforts (Backhouse and Dhillon 1996).
An essential element of ISSiO is a mix of technical, formal and informal controls to ensure regulatory
compliance, protect the IT infrastructure that the information resides on and deliver CIA to users
(Beebe and Rao 2009; Posthumus and von Solms 2004; Sveen et al. 2009). Security education,
training, awareness and constant monitoring are required to ensure employees can use controls
(Taylor and Robinson 2014; Van Niekerk and Von Solms 2010). ISSiO includes the capability to
respond to attacks effectively, which stems from supplementary forces creating a time buffer through
the employment of defence-in-depth design to allow the responding forces enough to time to deploy to
the breach from the central holding point (Burnburg 2003). Information systems solutions underpin
business products and services and are therefore critical in maintaining an organisation’s competitive
advantage. An ISSiO must focus on how to maintain competitive advantage in the face of rapidly
changing ICT infrastructures (Cegielski et al. 2013).
Organisational level
The organisational level is where most influence can be exerted internally to achieve success in
supporting an externally-focussed strategic application of information security and deserves special
attention in our examination of the IS literature. At an organisational level, ISSiO can be used to
incrementally improve the quality of the information security program. There must a strong link from
the ISSiO to the business strategic plan to support it. ISSiO is necessary to prevent threats to an
organisation’s information (Ahmad et al. 2014b). It supports incremental quality improvement,
alignment with agency mission, and awareness and monitoring of external threats (Bowen et al. 2006;
Johnson and Goetz 2007). ISSiO protects only the more valuable information assets in order to reduce
expenditure. This is achieved through policies and communication structures, director-level
sponsorship of security initiatives, measuring success and administering sanctions for security policy
violations. Identity and access management is important to overall success as is security incident
detection and response activities (Ahmad et al. 2012; Kelly 1999). Corporate knowledge assets can
then be inventoried and values defined (Baets 1992).
If the labour involved with security functions is outsourced to other companies or individual
contractors, then they need to equally adhere to the security policies and strategy adopted by the
parent organisation (Baskerville et al. 2014). ISSiO can use SCP to introduce a deterrent option within
the risk management section (Beebe and Rao 2010). It is centred in risk management, identifying
controls to mitigate known threats (Da Veiga and Eloff 2007). Reducing risk lowers anticipated loss,
which changes an organisation’s security posture. Quantifying risk of anticipated loss requires
recording of previous loss from security incidents (Ryan and Ryan 2006). Conceptual constituents also
include regulatory compliance, teleworkers, organisational agility, business justification requirements,
reactive quality improvement and community cloud initiatives (Booker 2006). The external
environment places various demands on the organisation which changes to continue the achievement
of the organisational objectives. The ISSiO is contingent on the environment when changing to
maintain focus on the organisational objectives (Hong et al. 2003).
ISSiO uses governance to provide boundaries and procedures for employees along with their roles and
responsibilities and considers the organisation’s risks and culture, performance and assurance, SETA,
suppliers and customers (Brotby et al. 2006; Hinde 2002). Information security strategy is built on IT
products and solutions but extends to include the employees in the business. Specifically ISSiO
integrates director-level security sponsorship and hierarchical structures that provide security
governance (Kayworth and Whitten 2010). ISSiO requires the attention and support of the board of
directors and CEO because they are accountable for its outcomes. They affect ISSiO by using corporate
governance, specifically a corporate information security policy, as a tool to communicate with and
direct management in the organisation. Two-way communication is then required back from
management to the board and executive in the form of regular progress reports (ISO/IEC 2013;
McFadzean et al. 2006; Posthumus and von Solms 2004; Vroom and Von Solms 2004). ISSiO must
consider corporate governance and provide those responsible for security with autonomy (Von Solms
and Von Solms 2004).
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
ISSiO constituents include risk management components such as disaster recovery and business
continuity, insurance, audits and new business units and groups (Cline and Jensen 2004). Without a
focus on business continuity, it is entirely possible than in the event of an ICT infrastructure disaster a
lack of business continuity translates directly into quantifiable revenue loss (Van Der Haar and Von
Solms 2003).
Information security strategy needs to focus on people and process not tools, as these are the main
causes of security failure (Da Veiga and Eloff 2010). ISSiO is preventative in nature and seeks to
protect against rational individuals perpetrating attacks rather than automated technical attacks. The
preventative approach relies heavily on deterrence and advocates that effectiveness is derived from
sanctions being believed to be swift, severe and certain (D'Arcy and Herath 2011).
Inter-organisational level
The inter-organisational level of information security is where organisational benefits can potentially
be mutually shared by contributing organisations for their individual success and factors that influence
this are examined in the following section. At an inter-organisational level, compliance must be
audited and a firm’s auditing costs, incurred through engagement with an external auditor, can be
lowered through a focus on IT assurance. This IT assurance includes high-quality IT documentation
and an emphasis on systems security which lowers the cost because it makes the work of an auditor
easier and quicker, therefore considerably lowering the time and materials auditing cost (Banker et al.
2010).
ISSiO facilitates information warfare, which forms just one layer of a conflict with an adversary. The
four layers of a nation attack are political, which then escalates to economic sanctions, then
information warfare and finally full kinetic warfare (Baskerville 2010). Some information assets may
be resources that create strategic competitive advantage for organisations. If these lose their
confidentiality through a security incident, then their integrity may be lost forever, along with the
value of the advantage. When a security incident of this nature is disclosed to the market, there are
implications for the organisation’s share price (Campbell et al. 2003).
ISSiO is the process of dynamically assessing customer perceptions of the organisation’s online
transactions, with a view to increasing the security of transactions in order to prevent a decrease in
brand trust in the marketplace. Regulatory pressures have increased the requirement for this defensive
process (Datta and Chatterjee 2008). ISSiO must include an organisation’s business and policy cyber
considerations and depends on the political environment in an organisation’s country of origin, which
must synchronise with that of governments from other countries. The legal frameworks in various
countries must harmonise globally to allow prosecution in the event of an attack. Shouldering the
responsibility for lowering attacks will involve constitutional examination for potential conflicts, a
willingness to collaborate and a system for measuring attacks however the benefits are that the world
will be a safer place (Kim et al. 2012).
3.3.3 Yields
Yields are the goals achieved from the successful use of ISSiO and emerged as a theme in the
information systems literature after conducting the thematic analysis described in Section 3.3. At an
individual level, there were no apparent benefits arising from ISSiO, nor were there any apparent at a
group level of analysis.
At an organisational level, the security goals are to ensure knowledge assets’ confidentiality, integrity
and availability (Ahmad et al. 2014a). another yield is that high quality information is made readily
available (Doherty and Fulford 2006). Prevention of potential losses is an objective but depends on the
volume of organisational information assets, business continuity capabilities, profitability, threat
intelligence and risk appetite. Security budgets to achieve this prevention should be bounded by
expected probable losses (Anderson and Choobineh 2008). Loss prevention efforts should also guard
against revenue loss (Van Der Haar and Von Solms 2003). Performance reporting is another goal but
requires tracking of key KPIs including systems, assigned assets, people, processes, compliance and
auditing and customer service (Booker 2006). Finally, the protection of competitive advantage is an
obvious goal (Cegielski et al. 2013).
At an inter-organisational level, ISSiO yields can include the misdirection of an adversary’s attack
assets, even from other nation-states, to protect information assets and physical critical infrastructure
assets. Yields can also include the disablement of adversary CI, reduce foreign military abilities and
impair foreign government operations (Baskerville 2010). ISSiO can also lower the risk of adverse
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2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
litigation outcomes and achieve information confidentiality, integrity, availability, authenticity and
non-repudiation (Brotby et al. 2006). An important benefit is share price protection (Campbell et al.
2003). Regulatory compliance avoids adverse sanctions by ensuring external agencies are kept fully
informed (Banker et al. 2010). ISSiO yields also include retaining customers, security incident
prevention, improved business processes and public reputation (Cline and Jensen 2004). Failure to
implement an ISSiO sensibly may result in estranged customers and tarnished reputation (Datta and
Chatterjee 2008; Oshri et al. 2007).
3.3.4 Key findings of thematic analysis
A number of gaps in knowledge have appeared through the conduct of this research. At an individual
level of analysis, there appears to be very little research conducted into the role of an individual when
supporting ISSiO. There appears to be many contributors to various aspects of the ISSiO construct but
there does not seem to be any one unified conceptualisation or theory. Information security cannot be
managed only at an organisational level but must include an inter-organisational level as well to take
advantage of most of the yields.
Table 3 presents a thematic map of ISSiO derived from the results of the literature review, as described
in the previous sections, and summarises the key themes found.
Antecedents ISSiO Constituents Yields
Inter-organisational
Regulatory compliance
Industrial and economic factors
Political and economic factors
Political and legal factors
External threat environment
Standards
Inter-organisational
Regulatory compliance
Information warfare
Information asset protection
Environment scanning
Inter-organisational
Foreign adversary impairment
Litigation risk management
Share price protection
Regulatory compliance
Public reputation
Customer trust
Organisational
Valuable information
Organisational
Boardroom accountability
Quality improvement
Information asset management
Labour source
Risk management
Organisational agility
Governance
Business continuity
People and process
Incident prevention
Policy
Organisational
Confidentiality, integrity and
availability
Probably loss mitigation
Performance reporting
Competitive advantage
protection
Group
Ubiquitous information
availability
Group
Knowledge leakage prevention
Security budget
Responsibility
Controls
Incident response
ICT infrastructure
Group
None
Individual
None Individual
None Individual
None
Table 3. Thematic Map of Results from Literature Review of ISSiO
Australasian Conference on Information Systems Horne et al.
2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
4 CONCLUSION
This literature review illustrates various aspects of ISSiO and key themes were explored and grouped.
Yet, there is no single, well-developed conceptualisation apparent in the literature that
comprehensively explains the ISSiO construct and its relationships. Additionally, information security
is ostensibly lacking to a large extent from the strategic organisational literature and even from
strategic information systems literature. A paradigm shift is required to extend from internally-
focussed protection of organisation-wide information towards a strategic view that considers the inter-
organisational level. The following section offers suggestions to address these gaps through the
conduct of future research, which could include positing a general framework to allow information
systems researchers to investigate how ISSiO relates to inter-organisational strategy.
4.1 Contribution
Based on our review and a cumulative research tradition, we now construct a definition proposing the
meaning of ISSiO:
“Information security strategy is an organisational-wide framework of conceptual elements from
individual up to inter-organisational level, which is informed by antecedent threat conditions in
order to yield measurable information security benefits internal or external to the organisation.”
4.2 Limitations of Research into Information Security Strategy
The ISSiO construct developed so far is potentially of great benefit to organisations seeking to adopt an
overall strategy for their information security. We understand firstly, the precursor conditions which
when met, cause organisations to consider the use of ISSiO; secondly, the constituent elements of an
ISSiO for operationalization; and thirdly, the benefits that can be enjoyed by an organisation upon
successful implementation. Given that, we still have limitations impeding our understanding of ISSiO.
These are described in the next section.
Firstly, a significant amount of research conceptualises ISSiO as a plan, which identifies the construct
as a static document, bereft of dynamic processes to ensure its validity when responding to immediate
changes in the external environment. This gives rise to construct validity issues as having a plan is
important, but not a precondition for an organisation to vary its ISSiO based on persistent incident
detection and response (Straub et al. 2004).
Secondly, the information systems literature contains analysis on ISSiO from various levels within an
organisation, largely focusing on the organisational perspective. This stratified perspective has its own
properties and varies from an inter-organisational level, for example in terms of complexity and focus
on external factors. Therefore, the nomological network of terms will be different for each level.
Thirdly, measurement issues arose in our study when we found that information systems researchers
either did not adequately explain the dimensions with which to measure the elements of the ISSiO
construct at each level or defined theoretical measures for one level and then operationalised them at
another (Baskerville and Dhillon 2008). Additionally, tangible aspects of ISSiO such as the use of
technical controls were perceived to be very measurable through reporting but intangible aspects such
as employee attitudes towards security less so.
4.3 Future Research Directions
In addition to conducting further research on the gaps identified in this paper, there are several
prospects for information systems researchers to develop the body of knowledge that currently exists
on ISSiO. Answers to these questions have implications for practice. This study provides the impetus
hopefully for future research into ISSiO, strategic information systems and organisational strategy.
Firstly, military strategy has influenced business management theory in many ways, most illustratively
by the adaptation of the de-militarised zone (DMZ) concept by computer network architects. How can
military strategy contribute to our understanding of ISSiO? What aspects of warfare, including
embodying any supporting theory e.g. possibility theory, are pertinent to ISSiO?
Secondly, given the strong links from ISSiO to organisational strategic theory apparent in the
literature, what lessons does business strategy have for ISSiO? How can ISSiO be integrated with
business strategy? Is there a dependence on ISSiO to achieve organisational success, and if so, how is
this success defined? What preconditions would prompt an organisation to strategically consider the
use of ISSiO? Are there avenues to generate additional competitive advantage through ISSiO? Are
there differences in ISSiO between public and private sectors?
Australasian Conference on Information Systems Horne et al.
2015, Adelaide, Australia Information Security Strategy in Organisations
Thirdly, information systems researchers could generate a framework or model to explain the
phenomena that collectively form the ISSiO construct. What are the constituent elements of ISSiO and
how do these relate to each other? How would ISSiO be operationalised within an organisation? To
what extent will compliance culture influence the effectiveness of ISSiO operationalisation (Shedden et
al. 2010; Tan et al. 2010)? How does ISSiO relate to strategic information systems? How does ISSiO
relate to organisational strategy? What is the role of the individual level in ISSiO? How do levels of
analysis apply in the digital realm?
Finally, there are a number of information systems scholars who have researched the theory
underlying ISSiO, including for example deterrence, prevention, surveillance, detection, response,
deception, perimeter defence, compartmentalisation and layering (Ahmad et al. 2014b; Beebe and Rao
2009; D'Arcy and Herath 2011). What would further analysis of these theories reveal about ISSiO?
What does systems theory have to offer ISSiO?
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their valuable contributions to this paper.
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