Can't Fix What You Hide
Willful ignorance may be bliss, but rarely is it compliant
The CEO I was talking with didn't understand his own company's compliance requirements. And he didn't want to understand them. He had delegated this, as many in business do, to his IT director. "Technology will fix this problem" is a common approach.
The company's IT director had actually made a good-faith effort to understand the compliance regulations. He had implemented a number of changes to his team's processes and procedures: new password rules, more detailed logging, database security changes, and so forth.
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There are actually major problems with this all-too-common approach:
1. Much of compliance and security cannot be addressed through technology alone. Technology is a tool used by people. No matter how great the technology, the "people factor" cannot be ignored.
2. Hiding behind technology, or blaming it, is socially acceptable, unfortunately. Too many business leaders, technology leaders included, shrug off their role in compliance and security with a, "Well, we just need to update our computers," or, "Our servers need more security." This attitude is more than simplistic; it's inaccurate and potentially dangerous.
3. The IT team may be assigned compliance responsibility, but not adequately trained or enabled to deal with many of the regulations. To make this worse, businesses rarely spend the money to educate the IT team on these issues or to bring in an expert to help.
4. IT rarely has the authority to change either business processes or employee behavior. Assigning new passwords and securing databases will not make a system secure if employees have bad habits that leave important information open and available.
5. Many business leaders give only lip service to making priorities of security and compliance. They fail to understand these business functions are not options or add-ons, but, in reality, are outcomes of the business processes they oversee.
Everyone I talked with at the company in question told me security was important. Some even said they were certain their company was compliant with its industry's regulations.
The truth is, the company's leaders were actively deceiving themselves. Compliance is a headache no one wanted to take the time to deal with, and it was easier to assume someone else had already addressed the issue.
The assumption that company data is secure, even without testing or assessments, is common. Assuming compliance is accomplished with a simple IT checklist is common as well, and commonly encourages small risks to grow into enormous ones. The shock when data is lost or a compliance audit fails -- that's common, too.
Ignorance is bliss, but where compliance and data security are involved, it is also an invisible, but completely avoidable, danger to the health of your business.
Glenn S. Phillips does not want you to suffer from avoidable danger. He is the president of Forte' Incorporated where he works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. Glenn is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.