Cybersecurity Resilience: One CISO’s Pandemic Takeaways

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Old Mutual’s Kerissa Varma on Being ‘Truly Resilient in Extraordinary Circumstances’





Kerissa Varma, group CISO, Old Mutual Ltd.





If anyone ever doubted the importance of thinking strategically about cybersecurity and laying the groundwork for expected future requirements, then the coronavirus pandemic will have made that clear, says Kerissa Varma, group CISO of Old Mutual Ltd.

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“COVID-19 really put us all in the same boat; we had to all go remote, with pretty much no planning,” Varma says. Organizations that already had cloud-based and digital transformation plans in place were of course better prepared than others, she notes, adding that the pandemic posed many unexpected challenges – for example, in the case of Old Mutual, having to train thousands of employees on how to use a laptop.


But Varma says that once it comes to handling a crisis – and not stumbling – some regions are better prepared than others. “I’m a strong believer that people that live and work in Africa are some of the strongest in the world, just by the nature of what we deal with every day,” she says. “Because Africans are so used to multiple crises coinciding, we live our lives with resilience built in every day, and that sort of approach to crisis and thinking about resilience all the time makes us really strong contenders for examples of how to be truly resilient in extraordinary circumstances.”


In a video interview with Information Security Media Group as part of its RSA Conference 2021 coverage, Varma, who is part of the RSA panel discussion titled “A ‘Great Equalizer,’ Until It Isn’t: Regional Security in a Global Pandemic,” discusses:


  • Regional perspectives on the seemingly overnight shift to remote work caused by the pandemic;
  • Strategies for addressing the skills crunch amplified by COVID-19 and digital transformation;
  • The challenge of managing supply chain security.



Varma is the group CISO of Old Mutual Ltd., which is one of the largest financial services organizations on the African continent with a vast footprint across 13 African markets. She manages information security, business resilience and technology strategy with dispersed teams across Africa. She has a demonstrated history of building and scaling security capabilities in a number of industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, transport, government and financial services and is a passionate advocate for technology and security.




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