Too much security? How about just enough…
Allan Paller of the SANS Institute had a few interesting things to say at the ISSA-LA’s Security Summit IV, but two struck me as incredibly salient. The first is that CEOs actually do understand the importance of information security. I’ve heard security experts–smart and well-respected ones–utter that executive management doesn’t “grok” security. That’s true, but they don’t need to grok it; that’s the responsibility of us who inhabit the world of zero-days and hacktivists and APTs. CEOs need us to analyze and summarize our knowledge and present it to them in a business context. The problem isn’t just that we in security generally don’t speak the language of the boardroom, we simply aren’t wired the same. Security practitioners are a risk-averse group, by and large; CEOs are risk managers.
Which makes sense: CEOs are responsible for growing the business and there’s no reward without risk—hopefully well-calculated risk. We don’t want our executives pumping tokens into slot machines in Vegas hoping to hit it big. On the other hand, we don’t want them stuffing the cash from revenues into their mattresses. So when they decide to invest in new market opportunities or augment the current business model using technology, they want to be on the safe side of the risk threshold—but just barely.
But security folks’ impulse is to grab the business stakeholders by the shirt collars and drag them away from that scary precipice. We’re much like lawyers in that way. Their job is to minimize liability, a form of risk, optimally to eliminate it with the fabled iron-clad contract. Of course with lawyers it’s as much a negotiation tactic as dogma; each party stands on opposite sides of an issue with backs to their own walls, fully knowing they’ll both end up somewhere in the middle.
But security is not at odds with the business; it’s not a negotiation between the two parties. Our job is to determine appropriate responses and come to the table with the best, most informed decision possible with the given data. We need to find a happy middle between a purist security stance that discourages new initiatives (e.g., cloud, BYOD, partner portals, etc.), and a Wild West approach where the business does whatever it wants without addressing risk — and present that to executive management. They need to trust that we understand the business and are helping them to make the right risk management decision. Remember, “defend” is not the only response to a threat; other mitigating controls include transferring risk and accepting it.
Alan also said that CEOs want to know “how much is enough.” This is the heart of the matter. Finding the center of gravity that lets the business grow and thrive is the key to transforming the perception of information security from a cabal of naysayers to trusted risk analysts and business enablers.