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4 More Application Security Strategies For SMBs

Don't have the time, staff, or budget to go all-in on application security? Read this expert's take on how and what to prioritize.

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Strong security practices don't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Sometimes, staying secure simply means you're good at prioritizing.

That's particularly true for application security. Not all applications are equal in terms of complexity or importance to your company. With that in mind, some small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are better suited to spend their time and money safeguarding critical applications while taking a laissez-faire approach in areas that have less at stake. In fact, acknowledging limits and working within them can become an advantage, according to George Baker, director of information security at Exostar.

"Resources--time, people, and financial--will be limited, but an SMB’s advantage in competing with larger organizations is your agility and ability to adapt," Baker said.

Like his peer Yaron Baitch over at midmarket retailer Bob's Stores, Baker's 100-person firm places a heavy emphasis on security because it's crucial to the bottom line--albeit for quite different reasons. Exostar provides enterprise application integration and collaboration services, and its customers include very large companies. A breach would be very costly both in terms of real dollars and reputation value.

[ Is your network hosting a bring-your-own-device party without your knowledge? See 4 BYOD Security Strategies For Small Business. ]

Also like Baitch, Baker sees some common ground for SMBs when it comes to application security; the two recently shared a panel at RSA. For example, outsourcing certain skills or needs isn't something to shy away from when it provides the best bang for your buck. Yet the pair calls attention to another SMB truism: No two companies are quite alike. SMBs, especially, can differ wildly in terms of security goals and needs. In a combination of phone and email interviews, Baker shared his own advice for how other SMBs can better address application security when there are many other areas competing for resources.

1. Don't be intimidated. SMBs that approach security with a defeatist attitude are, simply put, much likelier targets for hackers and other threats. If you don't think you can achieve real security, you won't.

"You may feel as though you are at the base of the mountain, but just focus on taking your first step. Then, take another," Baker said. "Before you realize it, you’ll be scaling that mountain."

2. Build a business case. Security threats are tough enough--don't add to the challenge by butting heads with the rest of the business. Build a solid case that stakeholders can understand and buy into; then you'll have the backing you need to succeed.

"Map out the cost to execute your plan for the first quarter, the first year, and the next several years. At the same time, identify the cost of not securing those apps, in terms of hard (dollars lost) and soft (reputation or customers lost) dollars," Baker said. "Make it easy for executives to weigh the go/no-go decision."

3. Prioritize. Baker believes a good plan is comprehensive enough to secure everything over time, but pragmatic enough to allow for a reality that you might never reach that 100% bar. To do so, start with the simple recognition that some applications are more important to your business than others and make a list. Don't be too concerned with what other companies are doing; worry about what's actually important to your business.

"Rank all of your apps and start with those with the highest priority," Baker said. "Priority can be a function of app importance, app vulnerability, and anticipated cost, time, and ease to secure."

4. Start with quick wins. Sometimes, the process of ranking priorities can itself feel like more than your SMB can handle. Baker advises starting with the quick wins. Among other reasons, these give you tangible results to show executive management that security isn't a theoretical practice. Baker's top candidates include public-facing websites, collaboration applications (email, IM, and so forth), financial information, and any applications developed in-house.

InformationWeek is conducting a survey to determine the types of measures and policies IT is taking to ensure the security of the full range of mobile assets on cellular, Wi-Fi, and other wireless technologies. Upon completion of our survey, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an 32-GB Apple iPod Touch. Take our Mobile Security Survey now. Survey ends March 16.

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