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Coviello: Security's a Drag on Business

RSA exec says more than 80% of businesses have shied away from innovation due to security concerns

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA 2008 Conference -- Security concerns have become a drag on business innovation and are actually holding back companies' best thinking and creativity, according to RSA president Art Coviello.

And he had the data to back up this sweeping assertion.

"More than 80 percent of IT, security, and business executives surveyed admit that their organizations have shied away from business innovation opportunities because of information security concerns," he told the RSA audience in a keynote address Tuesday morning.

Coviello drew the statistic from research conducted by IDG and commissioned by RSA. And he said the source of these concerns was a result of the Internet's openness and pervasiveness, a changing regulatory environment, and new sophistication and daring on the part of hackers.

Users, for their part, are overloaded with information security protocols and policies, Coviello added. "One wrong click can jeopardize livelihoods and identities, and users of all stripes are confronted every day with cryptic dialog boxes that ask, 'Are you sure?'," he told the Moscone Center audience Tuesday. "It's the technology equivalent to 'Do you feel lucky today?'"

Worse, in most organizations security is viewed at best as a necessary evil, due to IT's primary focus on trying to constrain behavior and prevent some desktop mishap, "Although well-intentioned, the inevitable result is that security practitioners are not viewed as enablers but people preventing the business from doing what it needs to do,” said Bill Boni, corporate vice president of information security and protection for Motorola, and one of the IDG survey respondents quoted by the RSA exec.

To address this disconnect, Coviello suggested IT change its mindset from "no" to "how."

"The next time a new idea comes up, don’t start by saying it isn’t secure -- start by evaluating exposures, the probability of the exposures being exploited, and the materiality of the consequences. Then put forth a plan to reduce risk in all three areas. Nothing should be done unless it is in the context of risk."

This will test the strength of IT's relationships both inside the department and throughout the organization, and will require IT to discern where the business is going and do what it can to help move it in that direction. Wider use of automation and optimization will also free up staff from getting bogged down in lower-level functions and processes.

"The recommendations of our research group are clear: Align the [security] practitioner with the business and align the implementation of security with the risk," Coviello said.

He also pointed to the way state and federal regulations concerning data handling and privacy factor into this picture of risk-resistance. He encouraged regulators to refrain from more rules and laws that have little more effect than the creation of "make-work projects."

Coviello called on Congress to pass a breach notification law that creates a single federal standard, and a national standard for safeguarding sensitive information. He also encouraged the House of Representatives to pass the cyber-crime bill already approved by the Senate late last year. "Cyber criminals will continue to take advantage of legal blind spots and weak penalties until countries, especially the U.S., update their laws and provide more resources for law enforcement. Let’s punish criminals, not businesses."

In the meantime, vendors and IT staff can also adjust their mindsets to what Coviello termed "Thinking Security," consisting of high-level risk assessment; the collection and analysis of threat data; less burden on the user to adhere to policies; and greater interdependence between IT and the organization.

"The rise of 'thinking security' will mean that information-centric security is a reality that will catapult security to a new plane where it is widely seen as an accelerator of innovation," Coviello claimed.

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