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11/12/2016
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Security Metrics Checklist

Which metrics are the best indicators of a strong cybersecurity team? Experts say security pros should be recording and reporting these data points to demonstrate their success.
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Image Source: Shutterstock

Image Source: Shutterstock

It's easy to assume the best sign of security success is an absence of malicious activity. However, it's unrealistic for security pros to adopt the "no news is good news" approach to defense, security experts say.

Pete Lindstrom, vice president of security research with IDC's executive program, says the argument of "when we're successful, nothing happens," is the wrong approach. He says security departments tend to focus more on incidents and less on the "bits and bytes" of their programs.

CISOs, IT managers, and other security leaders need to record and report metrics to their CIOs and business executives to demonstrate the performance of their teams. But right now, most security teams lack definitive guidelines for gauging their success.

"The challenge with measuring security metrics is you never know what your security operations are not seeing," explains Jeff Schilling, chief of customer operations and security at Armor. This causes some metrics, like the number of hosts, to be false because teams have a tough time parsing false positives and don't know if they're finding all their infected hosts.

With so many unknowns, he continues, it's difficult to paint a full picture of performance. 

There are a few metrics today's security leaders are studying to gauge the success of their employees, explains Joseph Carson, CISSP, who handles EMEA product marketing and global strategic alliances for Thycotic. 

Some businesses measure their success by the number of security incidents they are experiencing and handling at any point in time, for instance. Others evaluate their system vulnerabilities by recording where their systems are patched, where they have been exposed, and the number of identified viruses trying to compromise systems within the organization, he says.

Security pros also evaluate the behavior of the perimeter, and record instances like firewall incidents and potentially dangerous websites. The number of solutions implemented is another common metric considered when evaluating security posture.

"Most of these things relate to different types of security measurements," Carson says. "But it also comes down to how well organizations can collect inventory from Web system applications and users in the environment." 

The problem with many of these metrics is they don't bridge the gap between business and security. Security pros should be focusing on metrics like the location and accuracy of information, and efficiency of alerts, to paint a better picture of their security strategies. 

"Many of the metrics we measure today don't translate into the business," Carson explains. "If an incident occurs, what is the business impact?" 

Here are eight key metrics for measuring the success (or failure) of a security program:

 

 

Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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