Perimeter
3/15/2011
11:48 AM
Rich Mogull
Rich Mogull
Commentary
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Table Stakes

For years we wanted a seat at the executive table. Now that we have it, it's time to play the game or head home.

For years we wanted our seat at the table. We told ourselves that if only we could gain the ears of the executives, we could implement true change. Not out of selfishness or ego (mostly), but because we felt it was the only way we could do our jobs -- the only way we could truly affect security outcomes.

Now, for many of us, we have it. In 10 years, security has transitioned from a complete afterthought to front-page news and a major item in those boardroom discussions. And while not everyone has an actual seat, and most still toil two or more layers down from the CEO or agency head, we can no longer say security is a complete afterthought.

But the grass sure isn't as green as we expected.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the security community lately. Complaints about compliance, vendors, and the industry, or the general short-sightedness of those we work for who define our programs based on the media and audit results. Now we whine about developers ignoring us, executives mandating support for iPads we can't control (while we still use the patently insecurable Windows XP), executives who don't always agree with our priorities, or bad guys coming after us personally.

We're despondent over endless audit and assessment cycles, FUD, checklists, and half-baked products sold for fully baked prices, with sales guys targeting our bosses to circumvent our veto.

My response? Get over it. These are the table stakes, folks, and if you aren't up for the game, then here's a dollar for the slot machines.

These are all consequences of finally achieving what we strove for. Information security matters. The threats are real, the assets vital, and the challenges extreme. We're no longer toiling in the basement setting up RACF policies or cleaning defaced websites; now our mistakes or successes topple governments, sustain economies, and affect lives.

Hate the endless compliance cycle? For most of you it's the only reason executives listen to you at all. And don't feel so special -- if it weren't for regulations, the CFO would still be an accountant, and the legal counsel would still be the pip-squeak in the corner who the CEO pulls out when he needs a little paperwork.

Hate the "industry"? Name me one other area of society involving big money that doesn't become dominated by some sort of industry. Ask any writer how he feels about the publishing industry, or open any so-called parenting magazine to see real manipulation in action. And how many of you have bought some sort of useless holistic medicine or herbal remedy?

Despondent over lack of innovation? Then stop buying the same crap you buy every year and invest in the products struggling to innovate in the face of a market where the vast majority of your budget is dedicated to AV and firewalls. And don't even talk to me if you're more worried about the security problems of iPads over the impossible-to-secure Windows XP.

Tired of users who just don't get it? How about you stop pretending human behavior can change and that just because you see something a certain way you're any better than everyone else. They want to get their jobs done; your job is to enable that without having to make everyone with a keyboard a black-belt in security consciousness.

Pissed at careless developers? Go write a secure piece of software on time, budget, and specifications, and come talk to me again.

Shocked that the bad guys are targeting you personally? Why the f* wouldn't they try to remove or distract the guards? Do you want to be friends?

Angry at vendors that lie about capabilities? Then stop forcing them to have dozens of widgets and performance capabilities you won't ever use or send back for a refund.

This is the game, folks, and don't think for a moment that an army of unicorns will come storming over the rainbow, bringing peace and harmony to save all our souls. We work in security -- a field that's all about good guys, bad guys, and everyone in-between. Lines are gray. The higher the stakes the dirtier the table. You can relish working in a field with the kinds of day-to-day challenges the monkeys pulling the slot levers can only dream about, or you can whine about the very reasons you matter.

The security industry is far from perfect, and there's plenty to fix, but don't blame it for being what it is. It's only going to get worse -- or better, depending on how you look at it.

Rich Mogull is founder of Securosis LLC and a former security industry analyst for Gartner Inc. Special to Dark Reading

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