As the industry descends on the RSA Conference to discuss the latest and greatest in security, the underserved midmarket continues to struggle with basic blocking and tackling. The industry machinery is not built to solve that problem
I'm not much of a tennis player, but I remember from my lessons as a kid that area between the baseline and the service boxes is a bad place to be. A hard ground stroke will get past you, and you aren't close enough to volley. If you get caught in no-man's land, then your chances of winning the point are not very good.
In the security practice, we have our own version of no-man's land, and that's midsize companies. Wendy Nather refers to these folks as being below the "Security Poverty Line." These folks have a couple hundred to a couple thousand employees. That's big enough to have real data interesting to attackers, but not big enough to have a dedicated security staff and the resources they need to really protect anything. These folks are caught between the baseline and the service box. They default to compliance mandates like PCI-DSS because they don't know any better. And the attackers seem to sneak those passing shots by them on a seemingly regular basis.
In a few weeks the security industry will descend on San Francisco for its self-aggrandizing, antennae-rubbing annual ritual, the RSA Conference. We'll see all sorts of shiny objects and companies claiming to block this and block that. If you believe the hype, then you'd think we're actually winning the battles out there. A security n00b leaves RSA figuring that buying the latest overhyped widget will fix the issue. We all know the folly of that thought.
The problem is the security industry, in general, in the personification of the largest industry conference, caters to the large enterprise. What's another box in yet another rack? The seven-figure CISO signs the PO for two. They'll try anything, and they should. What's the issue taking technology that is largely a science experiment and throwing a bunch of bodies at it to make it kind of functional? Those folks have the resources, and they can't take the risk they'll miss something that could help. But that's not representative of most of the world, and certainly not those in security no-man's land.
Back when I was on the vendor side, I'd joke about how 800 security companies chased 1,000 customers -- meaning most of the effort was focus on the 1,000 largest customers in the world. But I wasn't joking. Every VP of sales talks about how it takes the same amount of work to sell to a Fortune-class enterprise as it does to sell into the midmarket. They aren't wrong, and it leaves a huge gap in the applicable solutions for the midmarket.
Well, that's not exactly true. A lot of service providers now offer SecaaS (yes, a terribly unfortunate acronym) to get smaller companies out of the business of monitoring firewalls or blocking spam. You are starting to see more purpose-built security products for the midmarket, which is helpful, but it's not a solution. Too many of these offerings are dumbed-down enterprise products, which doesn't really solve the midmarket company's problem.
What folks in security no-man's land need most of all is a security program. They need an adviser to guide them through the program. They need someone to help them prioritize what they need to do right now. They have some resources, but not a lot. They don't want or need someone to do everything for them. And they certainly don't need a shiny object to stop the attack du jour. They don't need a box pusher to install whatever gear has the best distributor incentive that month. They need a partner -- someone to help them with blocking and tackling.
Dan Geer is exactly right in his recent column talking about these midmarket security challenges. I really like Dan's idea about a "mentor" to help the midsize company figure how to prioritize their controls. With the advent of maturing packet capture and security analytics with a little dose of Moore's Law thrown in, it's close to being possible to monitor a modestly sized network for a couple of days and figure out what needs to be fixed first, second, and third.
To be clear, folks in security no-man's land don't go to the RSA Conference, probably don't read security pubs, or follow the security echo chamber on Twitter. They are too busy fighting fires and trying to keep things operational. And that's fine. But all of the industry gatherings just remind me that the industry's machinery is geared toward the large enterprise, not the unfortunate 5 million other companies in the world that really need the help.
Mike Rothman is President of Securosis and author of The Pragmatic CSO
Mike's bold perspectives and irreverent style are invaluable as companies determine effective strategies to
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