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Joshua Goldfarb
Joshua Goldfarb
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Setting Security Professionals Up For Success

People, process, and technology are all integral to a successful infosec program. What's too often missing involves the concept of workflow.

When I was an Air Force Officer, I was taught the concept of setting people up for success. In other words, how to make the most of each individual’s talents and capabilities, put those individuals in situations where they can be successful, give them the proper training, tools, and focus for the job and enable, empower, and facilitate them. We didn’t want to send them into a situation where they would have no chance of success and are doomed to failure.

Sometimes, we forget this important lesson in the security realm. This is particularly true within the area of security operations as organizations struggle with timely detection and response and continually seek ways to improve. What I’m talking about is the concept of workflow.

Recently, I encountered a situation where a co-worker was occasionally forgetting to complete a specific task. Nothing particularly earth-shattering of course, but still unusual for this co-worker, whom I hold in high regard. After a discussion, it became clear that she was following a process that was not a good fit for the task at hand. Why was she following this process, despite it not being a good fit? The answer was simple. There was no other option. We had not given her the tools to properly accomplish this task. We had not set her up for success.

People cannot be expected to work miracles. In security, people, process, and technology are all integral to a successful security program. If we don’t provide people with adequate technology and a strategic, coordinated, efficient, streamlined process, we are not setting them up for success. We can’t expect timely detection and response if we don’t set our analysts up to successfully deliver it. What are some points to consider when setting the security operations team up for success? While not an exhaustive list, here are some thoughts:

  • Practice content development: As the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. The effectiveness of a security operations program is directly tied to its work queue. If you want the output of that work queue to be of high quality, populate it with input of high quality. This can be achieved by following a content development process focused on identifying behavior and events that mark the risks and threats the organization is focused on detecting and mitigating.
  • Follow an efficient process: The fundamental stages of the incident handling/incident response life cycle are: Detection, Analysis, Containment, and Remediation. Good content development will help with timely and accurate detection. For the rest of the life cycle, ensure that the organization follows an efficient process that facilitates analysis, containment, and remediation. This is the fastest way to timely and accurate response.
  • Love the virtuous feedback loop: Each stage of the incident-handling life cycle informs all others. Among their many benefits, lessons learned during incident response can improve detection, optimize process, identify gaps in telemetry, teach new analytical methods, highlight communication issues, and encourage bridge building within the organization and externally. Learn to love this virtuous feedback loop and exploit it to set your team up for success. 
  • Stay in the mix: Don’t be a stranger in the security community and always remember to learn from others. Many organizations face similar risks, threats, and challenges. There is no reason they shouldn’t learn from one another regarding how to counter those. Peer engagement and encouragement goes a long way towards ensuring successful security operations.
  • Never be satisfied: The work of a successful security operations program is never finished. As good or as mature as the program is, it can always improve. Continuous improvement keeps the team engaged and on their toes. If team members are continually learning and growing, they will generally be more successful.

Setting people up for success is more than just the right thing to do – it’s good security practice. Enabling, empowering, and facilitating individuals to achieve success in a security operations setting increases the overall security posture of the organization. As security professionals, we should ensure we do our part to make our teams as successful as possible.

Josh (Twitter: @ananalytical) is an experienced information security leader with broad experience building and running Security Operations Centers (SOCs). Josh is currently co-founder and chief product officer at IDRRA and also serves as security advisor to ExtraHop. Prior to ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
4/24/2015 | 10:16:26 AM
Re: excellent essay
I agree with all, except the second part of point 1.

I do not believe an OS can fully protect a user from every compromise, similar to how a firewall/IPS cannot protect a network from intrusion and anti-virus will not stop malware.  We are dealing with such complex systems that, while there is a LOT of room for improvement (limiting admin control, required password prompts for app installs, white listing software, etc), attack methods will continue to evolve and will find ways around the walls we setup.
User Rank: Ninja
4/20/2015 | 8:03:54 AM
excellent essay
"Planning for Success" -- is one of theose concepts civilians often miss.    after 30 years in the MIARNG though I must say I definitely advocate the concept

the starting point is to have effective tools and then add the training for personnel to make both the personnel and the tools effective

in the security field there are two main elements in tools and training that are in desperate need of attention

(1) secure operating software is REQUIRED.   A secure operating system will NOT allow itsself to be compromised by the activity of an application program.

(2) AUTHENTICATION is REQUIRED for ALL data transmittals: software updates, eMail, 1040s, Medical Records,-- all transmittals must be authenticated.    the software is available and proven: public key encryption either as Symantec/PGP or Gnu Privacy Guard.

and NO: it is not "too hard for people to use".   its one of two important things we need to start using : a training issue.
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