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5/16/2012
01:23 PM
Mike Rothman
Mike Rothman
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Time To Deploy The FUD Weapon?

When suffering from compliance fatigue, you may have only one option to getting the funding you need to do your job

I liked the recent Dark Reading column from Glenn Phillips because it's real. Folks who run companies need to make decisions every day about resource allocation, and the compliance hammer doesn't always work to secure funding for security projects -- not when it's competing for resources to keep the business running. But that doesn't help you, the security professional, does it?

Your charter involves protecting the critical information assets of the organization. Over the past few years, compliance has been pretty handy, right? Just whisper PCI or HIPAA, and the money tree sprouts manna to feed all of your security sales reps, service providers, consultants, and the like. At least that's the way it has been. Yet all good things come to an end. As I wrote last month, PCI could be a dead man(date) walking, which would be a cursor to the end of the compliance gravy train. Until we see some serious enforcement actions, there is only so long that CFOs and other bean counters will continue footing the bill. Compliance fatigue is happening.

So what now, professor? It's time to redeploy the FUD weapon. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. You see it from the vendors all the time. They try to use Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) all the time. They come equipped with a variety of press clippings about this breach, that attack, or word of nation-states hacking each other and knocking down nuclear reactors. All of that could happen to you, unless you buy Product A, right? (With the side benefit of helping the rep make the monthly payment on his too-expensive car.)

Obviously, you can tell I'm not a big fan of FUD within the context of selling security products. But that doesn't mean you can't use FUD to help sell your security program. Yes, there is a time and a place for FUD; in the hands of a skilled security practitioner, you can make a very important point to your executives and have a better chance at securing the funding you need for the projects critical to achieving your charter.

A good example of this FUD can be found in a recent interview on NPR. It seems the Department of Defense has been deploying the FUD weapon on large companies for years. It brings CEOs in and scares the hell out of them. It gives them a day-long Top Secret clearance and provides some visibility into the tools and tactics our folks are using to attack our adversaries. Think about Stuxnet. Yeah, that kind of stuff.

I'd imagine this would be a pretty powerful technique to get CEO-types to take security more seriously. Of course, you probably don't have the Cyber Command at your disposal to brief your senior team. But that doesn't mean the approach isn't worthwhile at times. You can do a post-mortem on a recent breach and show how that stuff can happen to you. Not that it will, but that it could. Not in a Chicken Little way, but in a matter-of-fact way. It's important that your FUD weapon isn't perceived as a shakedown, but, rather, an educational briefing to make sure your senior team is aware of the latest and greatest attacks.

I'm all too aware that FUD is a slippery slope. In a perfect world, you should have buy-in for the security program and not have to fight for every nickel and dime used to stay current. In the real world, you see examples like Glenn's above, where the senior folks are OK with taking the risk. Guess what happens when the inevitable happens? Right, you (the security person) get thrown under the bus.

To be clear, the FUD weapon should be used as a last resort -- kind of like a self-preservation act that happens right before you send your resume off to your favorite security recruiter if things don't go your way. But every so often, the weapon hits its mark and cracks open Fort Knox -- which is a good thing for your security sales rep. It also allows you to play, at least for a little while. Though it's probably not a bad idea to keep that resume updated in any case.

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 grapple with the dynamic security threatscape. Mike specializes in the sexy aspects of security, like protecting networks and endpoints, security management, and ... View Full Bio

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